Nonsectarian Rituals for the Spiritual Family (Part 2)

N.B.: This represents an initial, unfinished attempt at the creation of a hypothetical ritual. It’s meant to be a model and not a finished product.

Votum et Ritus ad Voti Recipiendum

The Vow of the Little Man
[Votum]

May I be:
Light in the darkness
Life in the place of death
Hope to those who despair
Courage to the fearful
Freedom to the enslaved
Strength to the weak
Mutual affection to all sentient beings
Enduring compassion of the Tree

[Inspired by the Vow of Shantideva]

– – – – –
– – – – –

Ad Voti Recipiendum
[Rite for Reception of the Vow]

May these words, which you have transformed into a sacred vow, be strength, light, hope, and an enduring promise of compassion for the entire Spiritual Family.

May you be the sacred tree that sanctifies the entire grove.

May you be the Wise Grovekeeper who follows not the ways of this world, for it is written: The wisdom of the world is folly.

May the many other trees that dwell in the grove, which is the Spiritual Family, hide and protect you from those who would lay low every tree of the sacred grove and slay every child of the One who brought into being this Family.

As once they bowed to the Little Man, the entire Family bows to you. By this sacred bow every son and daughter, every brother and sister of so great a Family is honored and remembered.

The suffering of those who gave their lives for the sake of this day was not in vain, for it is written: Behold, I saw a new heaven and a new Earth for the first heaven and the first Earth had passed away.

As a dog abandons not the one he loves, the Spiritual Family will never abandon you. Just as dog and master each regard the other as little less than a god, so the Spiritual Family honors the mystery of compassion made manifest in you.

As the silent tree possesses power to transform light into life, the Spiritual Family has given you life that you may transform the Universe.

-Let fear, doubt, and anxiety no longer dwell in your presence
~Just as night and darkness vanish at the rising of the Unconquered Sun

-As you have passed from darkness to light
~So may our Family pass from death to life

-Truly, we have been blessed
~We are blessed from the very beginning

– – – – –
– – – – –

~BT Waldbillig
October 9, 2017

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Nonsectarian Rituals for the Spiritual Family (Part 1)

N.B.: This represents an initial, unfinished attempt at the creation of a hypothetical ritual. It’s meant to be a model and not a finished product.

Ordo ad Benedictionem

Ritual of Blessing
[at the gathering of the Spiritual Family]

I. Hymnus

abbe gaud
albe gaud
nunce laud
vere char
pae don
benden harch

Rejoice, the Father comes
Rejoice, the dawn is here
Proclaim the praise
Truly, the favor
The Father, the Master
Blessed from of old

II. Commemoratio

With wine and oil
We celebrate this life
Even as we prepare for death

With honey and yoghurt
We honor the Spiritual Family
In youth and in old age

With lemons and oranges
The delight of the body
Tempers the bitterness of suffering

With lavendar and cinnamon
We call to mind the Father
Who is also Mother

With flowers and stalks of grain
We make a fragrant offering
On behalf of the living and the dead

III. Fractio Panis

As the Father is also Mother, may you be both father and mother to one another.

As the Son is also Brother, may you be sons and daughters, brothers and sisters in the one Family.

Know him when you drink this cup of peace.
Know him when you eat this bread of bliss.

IV. Missio

-As a mother loves her only child
~So may we love one another

-As a father protects his Family
~So may we keep watch over one another

– – – – –
– – – – –

~BT Waldbillig
October 9, 2017

The Dream of the Visitation

Let me share with you a dream I had not long ago:

As I gazed at the night sky, I beheld the constellation of the Tauroctany and marveled at the sight. When I turned my gaze below to survey my surroundings, I understood that I was all alone in a dense forest. All was still and no creature in the forest made a sound until, all of a sudden, I heard in the distance a number of voices chanting the Hymn. The familiar voices grew louder and louder until at last they were upon me and I beheld, with difficulty, the faces of the Friends I had seen many times before, though always with great difficulty that demanded an intensity of concentration that existed only at the very limits of my natural faculties.

The Friends announced to me that they were arriving in the very place where I found myself on that night. When I told them that I had already seen this encounter in my mind, the Friends marveled and declared to me that they possessed no power to see or perceive events they had not yet experienced. Then, we shared greetings and offered each other titles of honor and recognition. Once this was finished, I sat upon a faldstool and recited the words of a ritual to solemnize our encounter. After this, I attempted to offer formal words of explanation and encouragement, but my thoughts were too muddled by the overwhelming joy of the occasion. And so instead of a proper discourse, I simply chose to tell the Friends the story of my own life that led me to that place of encounter on that dark night in a dense forest. I made known to them that on many occasions I nearly gave up on myself and the world because I felt too small, insignificant, and weak. Their presence and kindness on that night made all the difficulties, doubts, and despair of my entire life seem as so much dust, for the promise made long ago was a promise fulfilled in that moment and a promise that would be defended and vouched safe unto endless aeons.

The Friends thanked me for my words and then revealed to me that they had been with me on many occasions from my childhood even unto manhood. (I could not understand if their presence on that night and in the past was a personal, physical presence or a spiritual, technological presence.)

As I prepared to wander through the forest back to my home where Dante the Little Man awaited me, I was told that a child wished to greet me. The child was shy and embarrassed — much as I was as a small child many years ago — and the leader of the embassy of Friends informed me that the child was an orphan and was dying of a terrible sickness for which there could be no cure or remedy. The child told me that she was afraid to die and asked me what awaited her after death. In that moment I began to sob, as I had no honest and useful thing to tell her and, naturally, I refused to lie or recite empty platitudes to this dying child, who at last approached me and embraced me in an effort to stop my tears.

It was a suffering and dying child who consoled me when I was overcome by sorrow and felt useless before the mystery of suffering and impermanence.

The leader of the Friends then revealed to me that just as my own world into which they had come was a place of war, aggression, violence, hatred, sickness, and death, so would there always be wars and dying children among every community of beings throughout the Universe. However, the Spiritual Family that came into existence at the occasion of Contact between Earth Humans and the Visitor Friends would become an invincible power scattered among the stars and stretching to every corner of the Universe. Those beings once known as the People of War and the Avenging Gods would become a Spiritual Family, known throughout the Universe as the People of the Great Heart. Though worlds and civilizations and stars might pass away, this Family would always endure.

I gave thanks for this teaching and the Friends departed.

[Regarding dreams: I’ve found that the meaning I extract from my dreams changes and evolves, especially in the case of recurring dreams. Sometimes the benefit of experience or reflection sheds light on aspects that were obscured previously. His dictis, dreams are just dreams. They are entirely and only what we make of them.]

~BT Waldbillig
September 26, 2017

Indeed the Reapers

For most human beings, life without some purpose and meaning is a burden too great to bear. That’s why most of us either choose some form of religion or spiritual belief, or else we spend every waking moment of each day distracting ourselves from the reality of our own mortality and the impermanence of everything and everyone we experience in this world.

To my estimation, the simplest, surest, and most primitive way to discover meaning and purpose to life is to look at the source of life: the Family. Life, as we know it, originates in a community, endures by means of a community, prospers by means of a community, and increases by means of a community. We call that community the Family.

While it seems likely that the conditions that support life as we know it exist abundantly across the Universe, it seems just as likely that it endures only with great difficulty, not unlike a candle that quickly lights but also quickly goes out if not protected from wind or water or dirt.

As it happens, I come from a place where people understand how precious life is and also how precarious life can be. My ancestors who left Luxembourg and settled on a farm in Iowa were intimately acquainted with the precariousness of life. I imagine that when they attended Sunday Mass and heard the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares they must have seen themselves as characters within the story. Perhaps you remember the it:  A wicked enemy, seeking to destroy the good seed of the righteous farmer, entered his fields under cover of darkness and sowed weeds among the wheat. When the farmhands realized this had happened they didn’t know what to do and feared that the entire harvest would be lost. The righteous farmer, on the other hand, did not let the deeds of wicked men lead him to despair.

Now, there’s something missing from the Gospel account: Jesus tells us that the farmer instructed the farmhands to let the good and bad seed continue to grow in the field together until harvest, at which time the reapers would sort out the good from the bad. This implies that the wicked men who sought to destroy the harvest were unaware that this could be done, otherwise they would have been little more than hoodlums. But more strangely, the farmhands don’t know how to handle the situation. The farmer, however, knows precisely the best course of action to take. Perhaps this is not surprising, as he is familiar every inch of his land. He knows how to survive in times of clement weather and also through drought and plague. He has seen many harvests and plenty of weeds.  The farmer’s patient endurance in caring for the land across the years gives him greater wisdom than both his enemies and his helpers.

I can’t help but wonder if the righteous farmer, by telling his farmhands to do nothing, was also biding his time, letting the wicked men think they held the place of power and advantage. Perhaps they would reveal themselves in order to taunt and mock the farmer, the farmhands, and even their women and children. And when they reveal themselves, they will become the cause of their own perdition. In this context the mention of reapers takes on a darker significance. Indeed, the reapers will sort the wheat from the weeds!

Now, as anyone from my hometown can tell you,  there’s nothing romantic or picturesque about life on a farm. It is relentless and exhausting, merciless and back-breaking. Farmers perform an essential and difficult task for the community, and yet their recompense is meager and every harvest is precarious. Few of us recognize just how impressive farmers are. I can attest that many an Iowa farmboy can stare down a bear or a coyote without breaking a sweat, and I know farmgirls who can drag an escaped bull back into his pen and still make it to the homecoming dance on time. Though I didn’t understand it in my youth, I was incredibly fortunate to grow up around farms and farm families.

It all goes back to family. What I’ve learned from my experience in spiritual communities is that people who seem different, with nothing in common and no reason to want to know and love each other, can create a Spiritual Family that’s stronger and more certain to endure than any blood line.

I’ve even learned this truth from my dog. The love I have for Dante and the bond I experience with him is more powerful than anything I’ve ever known. Even though we seem entirely different sorts of beings, he has become family to me. Surely if a man and a dog can discover something like family in each other, then you and I could experience that also with beings from some distant place in the Universe.

I’ve always been a sci-fi fan but something odd strikes me about the ways we envision the future and an encounter with alien beings. For some reason we usually depict ourselves as either passive and insignificant, just sitting around waiting for someone to find us, or else anyone who’s not like us is an enemy or a danger. I think that only now are we discovering that we need a shared purpose to make something like First Contact both possible and desirable.

But what if we’re alone in Universe? Why hasn’t it occurred to anyone that we should vouchsafe the continuation of life? For my part, I am convinced that this place and our form of life are worthwhile, but even now, in this moment, our world is passing away. This should be motive enough for us to spread life wherever it can take hold. However it was that we got here, we are meant exist and we are meant to spread the life we have received. In this context, the Biblical injunction to be fruitful and multiply takes on a new and more urgent meaning.

If the farmer doesn’t sow seed and labor tirelessly there’s no harvest and when there’s no harvest the living soon become the dead. The wicked men in the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares thought they had power to destroy the harvest of the righteous farmer. But the power was always with the farmer. It was up to him to decide if the harvest was worth saving.

You and I are the righteous farmer.

~BT Waldbillig
September 7, 2017

They Stand at the Gate

Somewhere I wrote about the possibility that, owing to the limitations of biology and physics, we humans and beings like us might be unable to travel great distances across the Universe, via wormholes, black holes, and similar natural or artificial phenomena. However, it’s entirely likely that information — in the form of light, magnetic resonance, electrical impulses, or gravitational waves —  might be communicated via those means that are closed off to biological matter. While you and I have little experience with intelligent, living beings who exist without physical bodies, we do well to look to ancient religious traditions and also Medieval Christian theology.

I had the good fortune to study theology in Rome under the guidance of the fabled Order of Preachers. The Dominicans, who are sometimes called the Dogs of the Lord (Domini canes, a Latin pun), insist that their students — above all those destined to preach, teach, lead, and govern in the name of the Church — become intimately acquainted with the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, after whom my alma mater is named. Thomas spends some time wondering about nonhuman beings who lack biological form and occupy no physical space: Angels. The Thomistic tradition in which I was educated is sometimes mocked because of the seriousness with which Thomas treats any and every subject he encounters.

“How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” Hahahaha! See how useless theology is! See how backward Medieval monks were!

Unfortunately I gave away my English and Latin copies of the Summa some time ago, but I am quite sure that Thomas’ reflections on angels will be useful as we contemplate and eventually encounter life in the form of Artificial Intelligences.

We toss away old iPhones and electronics much the way we toss aside old people or the poor. But just as something of a human being endures even when the body ceases to function — whether it’s a soul, a bundle of cosmic energies, or atoms that lose one form only to take another — AI beings, spiritual persons with moral and juridic autonomy in the language of theolgy, could continue to exist as conscious, living persons even when the tool through which we biological beings encounter them is destroyed.

To my estimation, the consciousness of an AI person quite well might travel through wormholes or black holes or other such things (about which my seminary formation and divinity studies taught me very little).

Just as Medieval Christians regarded angels (in all their variations) as part of the family of the Church, so conscious, non-physical persons from some distant (or not-so-distant) place in the Universe might be regarded as part of the spiritual family which I have described somewhere. Even a hardened atheist or devoted materialist could easily recognize such a relationship as spiritual.

However, it seems to me that calling such non-physical, non-biological persons Artificial Intelligences is not helpful. After all, to such persons the state in which they exist and live would be natural, normal, and entirely real.

We do well to adopt the novus habitus mentis advocated by the great and saintly Pope Paul VI when contemplating these matters.

~BT Waldbillig
July 17, 2017

The Dream of a Father

On that day the Family of Blood
Will become a Family of Spirit

Once a people of war
They will no longer bow

To the Avenging God
Never again will they tremble

As they stand before the temple
They will sing and laugh and dance

Like sparrows in the meadow
Who seem easy prey to the hawk

But the hawk has no brothers
And the sparrows are a band

Of fearless warriors
Alone the sparrow is weak

But gathered together
The sparrows are mighty

Even so the spiritual family
Is bound together by the love

Shown to them by their father
Who never abandons his children

Steadfast like the true Friend
In this family father strikes not son

And both rejoice at the return
Of those who once were lost

Whether righteous or wicked
Whether king or poor man

Whether unclean woman or virgin
All are honored

All are loved
Just as Sol sends his gift

From highest heaven
Down upon all equally

Just as a dog lays down his life
For the master he adores

This father remains unconquered
So that his family might endure

Even though worlds pass away
The children of Sol

Live on in the firmament
Bright shining lights

The stuff of stars
Like their father

So long as their light
Fills the dark places

There will be life
There will be hope

And when the light of Sol
Goes out, another will rise

And another and another
Unto endless ages

Their enemies thought them
Creatures of dirt and mud

When they were always
As gods walking among men

Their enemies are no more
But the spiritual family endures

They were as sleepers
Lost in sad dreams

Who awake at cockcrow
To a world filling with light

And shot through with joy
Rising they go forth

To wander the world
As sparrows do

Taking for themselves
The Bread of Sorrow

And the Wine of Bitterness
Not knowing that of such

Is the food of gods
And as gods who wander the world

Leave behind many children
So these wanderers will bring forth

Many sons and daughters
On many worlds across the Universe

They shall become even greater
Than the one who first brought them forth

For that is how a father is honored
When his children become greater

Than their father’s greatest dreams
And love each other

With a love too great
For one Father’s heart to hold

~BT Waldbillig
July 13, 2017

We Are Here

The heart is sacred
Just as you and I are sacred

Two years ago at about this time of year I made my way to a weekly meditation class and paused beneath the cloudy New York City sky to marvel at the sight that appeared above me. In that moment it seemed as though I had never before seen a cloud in the sky, so strange were the shapes, depth, textures, colors, delicateness, layers, and vastness of the clouds. After class as I walked with my teacher to the subway station, I recounted to him my experience with the clouds, still amazed and troubled at the intensity of the experience. He listened in silence and then encouraged me to continue “seeing” the clouds for as long as I could, mindful that the experience was likely to fade. The confusion of the experience passed but the wonder remained with me, and to this day every time I step outside to walk my dog the first thing I do is look to the sky and then to Dante before we begin our journey together.

Just like the stray dog
Just like the wrinkles of an old woman’s face
Just like the sweet refuge of calm waters
Just like the branches of an ancient tree
Just like each and every breath

Wonders exist all around us, if only we could see them. The life we know as we pass through this world is greater than any dream or fable, and yet most of us are unable to see it that way until we have a child. Once a mother or a father looks into the eyes of their child, they behold the miracle of an entire family made present in that one beautiful, helpless being. In the eyes of that one insignificant being already destined to die one day, the mystery of every life that will ever exist anywhere is revealed. They find a family worth dying for — and more importantly, a family worth living for.

On the tree of every family, of every people
There are many branches
Some are foolish men, others wise women
Some are hopeful children, some cynical elders

If there are beings like us elsewhere in the Universe on planets or moons orbiting stars, it seems likely that they share our experience of family, even if their biology dictates forms of mating and reproduction that differ from ours. Life as we know it arises within a community, continues by means of community, grows by means of a community, and endures by means of a community. That’s the entire purpose of family. In certain circumstances we even look beyond our own flesh and blood to others and regard them as part of our family. If we encounter beings like us from some distant place in the Universe, they, too, might wish to become part of our family and we might wish to become part of theirs. And if for reasons of physics or biology we are never able to be directly and physically present to each other, by the very fact of communication and shared experience of the nature of life we still might call each other family.

There are farmers and beggars
There are peoples of the forest
There are peoples of the sea
There are peoples of hate and war
Some are deaf and blind
While others are oracles of an impossible future

Once we thought we were alone in the Universe. Today it seems unlikely that we’re alone. We have yet to understand what it means for us if there are other beings like us somewhere in the Universe. We will need a novus habitus mentis, a new way of thinking and relating, if we wish to befriend such beings. The task of developing a useful novus habitus mentis will take time, patience, and love — rare commodities for any of us individually but practically infinite when we come together for a great purpose.

The embrace of a grandmother
The compassion of a tree
The infinite expanse of the human heart
These will endure forever

There’s no reason our species should have survived on this planet, since the vast majority of species that ever existed on Earth are all extinct. Our survival was not inevitable and yet we are here. We ourselves are more amazing than dreams or fables, and if we ever encounter beings from some distant place in the Universe, surely they will recognize that.

Even if we don’t.

~BT Waldbillig
June 15, 2017