Category Archives: Events

Integral Church Expands to Hungary

Erzsébet Vizinger – instructor at Integrál Akadémia – recently led a circle at the Everness Festival in Balaton, Hungary (pictured) and will be starting up a regular monthly circle (every second Sunday) at a beautiful outdoor location in Kecskemét, Hungary.

We are honored and excited to support her in this endeavor and I hope you join me in thanking and congratulating her in the comments below.

Our “we” space just got a lot bigger. Say “Hello!” to our sister Integral Church community in Europe.

* If YOU are interested in starting an Integral Church in your community, please drop us a line.

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Tampa Bay Interfaith Week 2016 (with Video)

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L-R: St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman, Dr. Frank Tedesco (True Dharma International), Alchemy Oppelt, Imam Abdul Karim Ali, Joran Oppelt (Integral Church), Dennis Lemmermann and Catie Warren (Community Tampa Bay) and Soledad Loba (Unitarian Universalists of Clearwater).

Three years ago I had a vision for what Interfaith Week might be. It was a grand vision. And because my background is in marketing, media and events, that vision included lots of complicated moving parts. It included big corporate sponsors like Best Buy and ValPak and Dex Imaging and Bloomin’ Brands — local companies that could get behind the cause of tolerance and peace and pluralism. Community-based companies that could afford to cut checks so that we might get the message out to as many people as possible using billboards, print, radio, and TV.

The vision included bringing famed keynote speakers to town like Karen Armstrong, Krista Tippett, Richard Rohr, Eboo Patel and the Dalai Lama. I imagined that we would screen documentary films and enjoy music and dance performances from well-known artists and musicians. My vision was that we would put on a show — because that’s what I knew and that’s what I’m good at.

What actually happened is that we opened up the programming to the community itself. And I never could have predicted the outcome. Proposals began to come in from faith communities willing to collaborate with one another to create something really special and unprecedented — not from the top down, but from the ground up.

What Interfaith Week has actually become is greater than I could ever have hoped.

This year, our opening ceremony was hosted by St. Mary our Lady of Grace Catholic Church and featured calls to prayer from Jewish, Buddhist and Muslim communities from all around the bay. Hearing Imam Azhar Subedar singing the Arabic call of the Muezzin in that sanctuary was simply sublime. And hearing Frank Tedesco talk about the lack of theology in Buddhist traditions in the hallowed halls of Catholicism was unforgettable.

This year, over shared meals all across this area and over the past seven days I have seen faith leaders and communities come together to plant the seeds of relationship, and enter into dialogue, in order to find solutions together. These solutions look like cooperative service projects and community cleanups, increased collaboration with city government, inter-congregational visits and sister community programs, increased religious literacy among neighborhoods, more support and programming for our youth and our children, and a concerted effort to focus on nonviolent language and demonstration.

What I have seen this year is not merely a show put on for the public. What I have seen, and continue to see every year, is the actual work of interfaith dialogue and bridge-building being done in our city. This year’s event saw an increase in geographical participation as well, taking us across the bridge to Tampa and north to Clearwater. This means not that there’s more work to do, but that there are more people willing to do it.

If the purpose of this week is to get together in a safe collaborative and educational place in order to talk about our faith and beliefs, then here’s what I believe — I believe that as the future of Interfaith Week and the work you all are doing unfolds, so unfolds the future of religion itself. Continue reading


The Future of Religion in 5 Minutes

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I was recently asked to prepare a five-minute talk on “The Future of Religion.”

I thought five minutes would be easy, compared to the 30-minute talks or 90-minute workshops I’ve led. I was surprised to learn that the shorter the presentation, the more difficult it becomes.

Ignite Tampa Bay forced me to refine things I have been teaching and talking about for years. It encouraged me to make my language more accessible and less academic. It is probably the talk I’ve given that I’ve learned the most from.

Below is the video and full transcript. I owe a huge thank you to Matthew Fox, Stephen Prothero, and Ken Wilber who inspired portions of this talk.

We’re told not to talk about sex, politics, or religion. Continue reading


Affirmation for the Summer Solstice

Sun-compressed

I rise today – on the Summer Solstice – as Father Sun (Father/Son) ready to reclaim my place on the cosmic throne. On this, the longest day of the year, I will burn away all that no longer serves me. I will give my light, love and life to the world. I will hold the most beauty, the most justice and the most truth for the most people. I will allow myself to shine brighter than ever. I will plant the seeds of biophilia* (the love of life) wherever I go. I will tend to them and watch them grow. I love. I live. I am.

*Thanks to Matthew Fox for the word “biophilia”


Parliament of the World’s Religions 2015: A Look Back [Photos and Video]

The Salt Palace Convention Center

The Parliament of the World’s Religions was held on October 15-19, 2015 in Salt Lake City, UT. Roughly 10,000 people attended this year’s event, representing hundreds of nations and over 50 faith traditions. Attendees included academics engaged in roundtable talks of peace, disarmament, conflict resolution and climate change; leaders of various faith communities (Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, pagan, indigenous, interspiritual and more) committed to spreading peace and compassion in the world; as well as spiritual seekers and activists dedicated to healing their own communities from within and using interfaith dialogue to bridge some of those divides.

Guest speakers and panelists included biologist Jane Goodall, author Karen Armstrong, activist Eboo Patel, New Thought minister Michael Bernard Beckwith, Sojourners founder Jim Wallis, and many more, including His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who fell ill at the last minute and had to return home.

Several impromptu groups and coalitions were formed during and after many of the lively discussions and plenaries in order to leverage the momentum created at this historic event. The halls of the Salt Palace Convention Center stayed active and alive all weekend long with talks of peace, interfaith harmony and global awakening.

HIGHLIGHTS

The theme of this year’s Parliament was “recovering the heart of humanity.” With the overwhelming (and refreshing) presence of the Inaugural Women’s Assembly, the focus on indigenous peoples, and the continued conversation around climate change, much of the event was spent turning social issues and recently-identified problems into concrete actions or takeaways.

The Assembly kicked off the Parliament on Thursday with a rousing closing speech from author and recent congressional candidate, Marianne Williamson. Williamson addressed the majority of female leaders in the crowd (a notable shift from the last Parliament, held in 2009) by saying, “We are the mothers of the world. Those who are inspired by the religions of the world should not ignore the problems of the world. We know how to hold the suffering in the world. We know how to give birth to the radical joy in the world.” And referring to increased violence and corruption across the globe, she got the crowd on their feet when she implored, “We who are the mothers of the world — it’s up to us to say, ‘this will not be happening in my house.'”

Marianne Williamson

Marianne Williamson

The Red Tent Movement (based on the popular book by Anita Diamant), was the sponsor of the Women’s Sacred Space. Men were welcome to enter the gauzy, red room (a meeting room modified to resemble the inside of a darkened, Persian tent and lovingly referred to as the “womb of the Parliament”), but when the doors would occasionally burst open releasing huge crowds back into the flow of the bustling hallways, most everyone I saw was female — and they were beaming. It was like a charging station for the female soul.

The Red Tent. Photo by Giuliana Serena.

The Red Tent. Photo by Giuliana Serena.

Stories circulated about The Indigenous Grandmothers — a group of female elders from the various tribes present at the Parliament. If you were lucky enough to fall in with this group, you were treated to prayers, songs and dances from various faith traditions; entrusted into a circle of maternal power forged by language and culture; and part of a historic, once-in-a-lifetime gathering. As these languages and cultural practices shrink from the earth (some are simply gone forever), the Grandmothers seemed to plant what remaining seeds they had.

A traditional Langar (community meal that is shared regardless of faith or caste) was served every day to conference attendees by the Sikh community who donated all the food and volunteered their time each day to prepare, serve and clean up. The menu was a rotating blur of rice, lentils, curry, naan, yogurt, fruit, vegetables, coffee and chai tea. People lined up each day at noon (hair covered and shoes removed) to be seated on the floor in long rows and share a meal with strangers and newfound friends. Each day the line was longer, as word spread of the fragrant Basmati rice and spicy lentils. Truly one of the best meals I’ve had. After the event, nearly 1,000 lbs. of leftover food was donated to a local Catholic charity that served the homeless.

Serving of the Langar. Photo by Carl Jylland-Halverson.

Serving of the Langar. Photo by Carl Jylland-Halverson.

Alas, not everything at the Parliament came up roses and rainbows. On Friday, the Council on Foreign Relations sponsored a luncheon at the Marriott which featured Farah Pandith and Graeme Wood (the journalist who wrote the recently-gone-viral article for The Atlantic, “What ISIS Really Wants”). The session was moderated by Lee Cullum. By the time the Q&A began, the attendees (who had already been fed) were restless. Some in the crowd weren’t satisfied with the positions taken by Pandith and Wood and became combative. Cullum pulled the plug on the session, ending it early.  

FRIDAY

Former Catholic priest and iconoclastic author, the Rev. Dr. Matthew Fox, was on hand Friday to lead 300 or so lucky people in a Cosmic Mass. And those who had managed to squeeze into Ballroom H were treated to a transformative experience.

The Cosmic Mass is typically held in Oakland, CA and resembles a Catholic mass but with a 21st century twist. It includes electronic music, video projection, and ecstatic dance as well as prayer, communion, and a grieving ritual which asks attendees to get on all fours and moan until they are emptied of their suffering.

I had run into Fox’s assistant and director of The Cosmic Mass, Skylar Wilson, on Friday morning. I had offered my services, and was promptly given the job of puppeteering the Green Man during the Cosmic Mass event. The Green Man was a huge disembodied papier-mâché head on a pole, draped in green gauze and flanked by two large hands, also on poles. The figure required three people to operate. The Green Man was accompanied by a second puppet — the female figure, Gaia (Mother Earth). These two gigantic puppets (created by Mary Plaster) in their full splendor on the dance floor, represented the union of the sacred masculine and the divine feminine.

Fox began the ceremony by providing a brief introduction to his Creation Spirituality movement. This teaching includes a belief in a spiritual connection to the earth, a replacement of the concept of “original sin” with “original blessing” and the four paths of the via positiva, via negativa, via creativa and via transformativa, which align with the cardinal directions of north, south, west and east.

There was an invocation, a calling-in of the directions, music and drumming (including a standout vocal performance by Michelle Jordan), the grieving ritual, a reading of Neil Douglas-Klotz’s Prayer of the Cosmos, and the “passing of the peace” (in which attendees wandered the room, touched hands, and greeted each other with “namaste”).

Then it was time for the dance. The Green Man and Gaia, powered by their six volunteers, took to the dance floor and swayed and pumped to the pulsating electronic rhythm until the event was over.

Matthew Fox leading The Cosmic Mass.

Matthew Fox leading The Cosmic Mass.

As a leader of spiritual community, The Cosmic Mass was a revelation. It was a religious experience like none other — connecting everyone in attendance directly to each other and to the Source of all. It held the elements of masculine and feminine power in exquisite balance and oriented us to the cycles of the season (not only in the world, but in our own hearts). It was joyous, heart-breaking, contemplative and awe-inspiring. It also is ceremony and ritual that proudly wears the clothing of 2015 (video, technology, social media). For those who are seeking a post-modern worship experience, one that as Fox likes to say is rooted not is “text” but in “context,” then the Cosmic Mass is that experience. It will keep me fed for the upcoming year (or until I can experience it again).

That evening, I had the honor of being invited to dinner with the association of Creation Spirituality Communities and learned more about how Fox’s teachings were being implemented in churches and religious communities in Pittsburgh, Asheville, Austin, Toronto and beyond. Continue reading


Interfaith Week 2015 Recap [Video + Photos]

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1 week
1 city
2 films, 2 keynote presentations
4 shared meals
7 panel discussions/workshops
Over 15 faith leaders engaged in dialogue
43 events listed on this year’s calendar
hundreds of attendees and participants

and thousands of people made aware of this important event happening right here in our city.

By all counts, the second annual Interfaith Week St. Petersburg was a huge success.

Interfaith Week Graphic Recording copy

On September 13-20, 2015, the community of St. Petersburg, FL celebrated many things — religious tolerance and respect, peaceful activism, deep listening, open communication, leading by example, the building of bridges between people and communities, the healing of deep-seated wounds and historical divides, the planting of new seeds for the future.

In short, the week was an inspiring whirlwind of collaboration and connection that usually happens at conferences and symposiums in towns other than our own. This time, it happened in our own backyard.

Thank you to everyone who participated in Interfaith Week on any and every level. It was truly an honor to be a part of such thought-provoking and mind- and heart-opening activity and dialogue. New friends were made, and we look forward to seeing what grows from the many seeds that were planted.

Here are just a few of the people involved with the planning and production of the various workshops, panel and book discussions, performances, films and keynote presentations that made up this year’s second annual Interfaith Week event.

Imam Abdul Karim Ali, Imam Abdul Q. Aziz, Aiyana Baida, Lisa Brekke, Beverly Banov Brown, Rev. Dr. Lori Cardona, Vandana Dillon, Rev. Jack Donovan, David Enfield, Sepideh Eskandari, Lauren Haddad Friedman, Mayor Rick Kriseman, Erica Leggatt, Bishop Preston Leonard, Cynthia Lukas, Jan Magray, Dr. Kerry McCord, Rev. Doug McMahon, Rev. Russell Meyer, Susan Meyers, Janell Miller-Evans, Eric Rainbeau, Denise Rispoli, Rabbi Ed Rosenthal, Rev. Libby Shannon, Katherine Taylor Robinson, Ruth Broyde Sharone, Ashley Sweet, Dr. Frank Tedesco, Rev. Dr. Grace Telesco, Sarah Trinler, Rev. Shinkyo Will Warner, Denise Whitfield, Robin Whitlock, Martha Williams

Thanks also to this years sponsors and promotional partners: St. Petersburg Interfaith Association, Suncoast Institute of Noetic Sciences, The Bridge and The Connection Partners.

If you’re interested in helping out next year, or getting more involved with interfaith activities in your area, please contact me. We’re always searching for warriors willing to wage peace and build a brighter future.

Looking forward,
Joran Slane Oppelt
Founder and Committee Chair, Interfaith Week St. Pete

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Watch the mayoral proclamation of St. Pete Interfaith Week.


A Declaration of Spiritual Independence

freedom-in-the-shape-of-a-cross

“When freed from that which binds,
when the lust for life has come to
an end, one is not born again. He
is released now and forever.”

– The Buddha, Dhammapada


Note: Some define “spiritual independents” as those who are unchurched or have left a mainline religious affiliation — like a third-way political party. For our purposes, “spiritual independence” means anyone who insists on critical thinking in religious matters.

On July 15, 1838, Ralph Waldo Emerson addressed the graduating students of Harvard Divinity School. As the ministers-to-be listened eagerly with freshly-opened minds, he told them, “Let me admonish you first of all to go alone, to refuse the good models, even those which are sacred in the imagination of men, and dare to love God without mediator or veil.”

He spoke of an “indwelling Supreme Spirit,” and of a vision, described by Philip Goldberg of the Huffington Post as “similar to that of the Eastern sages, where we are neither fallen nor depraved, and where divinity incarnates at every instant, not just once in the distant past.”

“God is, not was,” Emerson told the students, and each of us is “an infinite Soul” who is “drinking forever the soul of God.”

The graduates (and religion itself) were forever changed — their minds and hearts opened to a direct relationship with the Divine. The parents and faculty were angry and upset, and Emerson was banned from Harvard for over two decades.

If we are to claim spiritual independence for ourselves, then we need to cultivate a similar relationship with our Source. John Dominic Crossan writes about this kind of life in The Essential Jesus, saying it is the life that Jesus died for — a life “of human contact without discrimination and of divine contact without hierarchy.”

If we are to be truly free, we need to equip ourselves with the appropriate support on all levels and lines, and surround ourselves with the right types. We will need access to sound spiritual teachings, a free-standing system outside the mainline institutions, the right spiritual tools necessary to do the actual work, and the benefits of a rich community of practice.

Teachings

We’ll need teachings that help us to seek inspiration and guidance, and live with heart, for the road will be rough. They will need to be teachings that consider the health of the whole person (body, mind and spirit); that encourage not just temporary epiphanies and insights, but continual freedom (or moksha), spiritual liberation and unfolding, allowing us to “transcend and include” what has come before. They will need to be teachings that remind us to look within for the answer. Teachings that promote right behavior, right action and right speech; that allow for and encourage highly-developed lines of ethics and morality. We also need new stories, updated myths and well-drawn maps of the spiritual territory. Continue reading


Summer Solstice: The Sacred Union of Father Sun and Mother Earth

Rising or setting sun and clouds, over water

This talk was delivered on Friday, June 19, 2015 as part of the Summer Solstice Service at Unity Campus St. Petersburg. It was followed by a chant of the mantra: “The Kingdom of God is within me; The Queendom of God is among us.”

Astronomically speaking, Litha (Midsummer, Gathering Day, Summer Solstice) is the longest day of the year, representing the Sun God at his full power and utmost potential. In the sky overhead, ruling from on high — in his chariot, shining down upon us, giving light, heat and life to our Goddess, Mother Earth.

The term “solstice” is derived from the Latin words sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still), because the sun seems to be literally frozen at its zenith overhead.

Father Sun and Mother Earth seem locked in this warm, life-giving embrace. And time has seemed to slow down so that we may honor that embrace and that consummation — the intimate relationship between God and Goddess, masculine and feminine.

Although the hottest days of the summer still lie ahead, from this point onward we enter the waning parts of the year. Each solstice (and equinox) marks a “turning” of the comic clock. To many cultures, the solstice can mean a limitation or a culmination. A climax or demarcation on the calendar. And even in summer’s beginning, we find the seeds of summer’s end. Each day the Sun recedes from the skies a little earlier, until the Winter Solstice (Yule) arrives and the days begin to become longer again.

Tonight, we honor the arrival of the Summer season, and celebrate the sacred union of God and Goddess, in which both of their energies are poured into the service and the substance of life.

We’ve done a lot in recent times to revive and give footing to the idea of the Divine Feminine. and rightly so. Spiritually and socially we have shifted to a place where female-ness is allowed it’s own voice, it’s own place at the table with integrity and without having to compromise any of its qualities or values.

Matthew Fox said, “If we liberate the Divine Feminine, she is deserving of a worthy consort — a cleansed and detoxified and resurrected Sacred Masculine.”

This union is of course reflected and manifested in our relationships. How we treat one another. Our partners, our spouses, our children, our co-workers, even strangers. It is a constant dance, sometimes tug-of-war, with one party exerting power or will in one moment, and the other party bending and allowing. But a healthy relationship is not one-sided. A healthy relationship is dynamic, is constantly growing and flowing, and allows for rhythmic exchanges in this power struggle.

We’re not talking about gendered men and women, we’re talking about the masculine and feminine energies that show up in us all.

Keeping those energies in a constant flow, a constant balance. Allowing them to feed, sustain, nurture each other as well as to challenge and push against each other when the time is right. Continue reading


Alchemy Fest 2015 [Photos and Video]

photo by Tanya Sharkey

photo by Tanya Sharkey

Thank you so much for making our 10th Annual Alchemy Fest event an amazing celebration of transformation and community. We’re already looking forward to next year.

Thank you to our leadership team and to the rest of the planning committee and all the volunteers. This event would literally NOT be possible without you. Thank you to all of our vendors and sponsors. This event could not happen year after year without your contributions and financial support, and we appreciate you so much.

We saw over 400 attendees over the course of the day, over 90 pre-sold tickets (the most we’ve ever had), 36 completed Green Cards, 3 big raffle winners and 38 satisfied vendors (again, a new record).

I can’t say how happy it makes me to see that this community and family-friendly event continues to grow and stay true to its mission of connecting and showcasing amazing and talented LOCAL people while honoring Earth Day, the arrival of Spring, the spirit of transformation, and so much more.

Thank you, again. I know that next year will be even bigger and better and I know that we will cross paths in the meantime to create more meaningful and transformative events and experiences (though not quite as labor-intensive as this one) for the members of our community.

You have my sincere gratitude.

Looking forward,
Joran

photo by Cassidy Brooks

photo by Cassidy Brooks

Obscure Belly Dance by Caroline Hekate.

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Spring Equinox: A Time of Creation and Resurrection

planet-in-a-green-nebula-cr

Let’s get the death talk out of the way, shall we?

In Buddhism, we are constantly taught to die to our attachments (things, desires, thoughts) and also to the ego.

In Islam, there is not much written about what happens after Yawm ad-Din (The Day of Judgement), but one is expected to die to oneself at least figuratively, to put aside pride and ego and fully submit to the loving and redeeming 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 forgiven for good.

I recently came across something in Kabbalah, or Jewish mysticism, called the Shevirah, or “the shattering.” It teaches that there were seven original energetic centers or “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 gave way to new and more complex forms, an unfolding that continues to occur throughout the universe, an unfolding whose center is now everywhere. And this sustained state of shattering, when applied to our lives, is a form of dying to oneself.

Supernovae leave elements behind in great explosions that seed other solar systems, planets and even our own bodies. Every being leaves something behind as food for others. Einstein said “no energy is lost in the universe” and Hildegard of Bingen said “no warmth is lost in the universe.”

Ostara/Easter is not about celebrating death. Yes, 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. We celebrated death in December during the Winter Solstice when we entered the Void, the darkness, the silence. When we were witness to the death of the Sun God at the hands of the Earth Goddess.

And now we celebrate his return.

Easter is about what comes after death. This time we celebrate resurrection — what fills that darkness, silence and emptiness after our denial, elimination and renunciation has occurred. We celebrate our own resurrection from the forms that no longer serve life, and the resurrection of the Christ within us. That’s what we celebrate now. This time allows us to focus on what we choose to carry forward, and to meditate on the new abundantly healing light and energy, the new and invigorating ideas, the new faith in ourselves and the self-love that fills us up and make us whole and that will sustain us for another year.

Make no mistake, spring is a time for celebration. It’s a time when day and night are at equal length, a time when things are in balance. But they are also at a tipping point — tipping towards the light as days are becoming longer and the Earth (at least in our hemisphere) begins to warm up and bring forth new life.

The spring equinox (or Vernal equinox) is a sacred time, when we turn our attention to the dawning of a new year, to new birth and growth, the coming harvest, abundance and fruition, to the long-awaited rising Sun God in the east.

And we celebrate the goddess, Eostre, by decorating and dyeing bright and colorful eggs. By breaking our fast with sweets and chocolate. By surrounding ourselves with the 4-footed creatures of the Earth (the rabbit, the deer) and the winged creatures of the Air (the duck, the eagle).

And we recognize Spring as a time of new life — within and without.

So, today, we celebrate three things — the new year, the coming of spring and resurrection.

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The New Year

In many traditions, this is the start of the new year. The Roman year began on the ides of March (15th). In England and Ireland, between the 12th and 18th century, March 25th was the day the calendar reset. And, the astrological year begins on the equinox when the moon moves into Aries — Aries is the first sign of the Zodiac, The Greek Ares is the equivalent to the Roman Mars, March is the month of Mars.

The Coming of Spring

This equinox also marks the beginning of the Spring season. In Greek mythology, it is the time when Zeus and Demeter are reunited with their daughter, Persephone (who had been abducted and trapped in the Underworld for six months) and a time when the earth is once again crawling with life. The month of March also contains holidays dedicated to the great mother goddesses: Astarte, Isis, Aprhrodite, Cybele as well as the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary on March 25th. The goddess and the divine feminine get to show off a little bit in spring — manifesting herself in the blossoms, the leaves on the trees, the sprouting of the crops, the mating songs of the birds, giving birth to new life in all its forms.

Resurrection

We also re-tell and celebrate the myths of the resurrected Gods — Attis, Adonis, Osiris and Dionysus — who like Christ die and are reborn each year. They are sons of a God and a mortal woman. They are saviors who are sacrificed. They are the fruit and vegetation, that die each year (at harvest) and are eventually reborn.

In metaphysics, we are taught that the crucifix represents the “crystallization of two currents of thought — the inner (vertical) current of Divine Life and the cross current of human limitation and the mind of the flesh.” The intersection of these two currents is the center of action that is our being. It is in that crux, or that cross, that we encounter the final overcoming. The birth of the I AM that occurs in “the place of the skull.” Golgotha (the site of Jesus’ crucifixion) was called the “cranial place” or the “place of the skull.”

Continue reading