Are You Shining Like the Sun? Part Two

merrill sunIn EfM I learned the art of theological reflection, similar to dream work. In “TR,” one works with images and metaphor to see God acting in the world and in one’s life. Both of these practices dissolve the walls of separation.

In discussions with spiritual seekers from around the country, I have encountered resistance to Biblical language. I am a Christian, but I, too, have struggled with the way the Christian language has been co-opted into a framework of dualism, a framework that no longer works for the modern, spiritually mature, thinking person.

In theological reflection, the cycle of salvation history is used as a lens through which to view the action of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The cycle consists of 4 (wholeness) components: Creation, Sin, Judgment and Redemption.

One (Creation) is Unity. There is one God. Two (Sin, separation) is a split. When Adam and Eve ate the apple in the Garden of Eden, they were given a new lens, that of the knowledge of good and evil. They were transported into the world of opposites, jolted inside the space-time continuum.

Three (Judgment) is the transcendent third: the result of the dialectical process. Only from a tension of opposites can a third, synthesized option arise and action take place. Four (Redemption) is completion, transcendence.

In theological reflection, we look at a life story, such as the scene of Fr. Louis’ vision on 4th and Walnut. We could also work this scene as a dream. What are the givens in this image (Creation, One, “In the beginning…”)? There are people, going busily about their lives, traffic, and buildings. There is ugliness, imperfection. One might imagine dirty streets, cigarette smoke, unhappiness and happiness in indulging in the practice of our culture of material comfort in the shopping district. All that is, is.

In this scene, what separates, divides, or causes conflict (Sin, Two)? One might imagine that there is joy in shopping, happiness in being alive, satisfaction in busy bodies walking…but also sadness, tired bodies heading to work they don’t love, people looking for happiness they will never find in material things. Dirty streets, chill March wind… you imagine. If it were your story, the details could be filled in by you or a group.

What causes in a change of heart in this scene (Judgment, Three, synthesis)? What causes one to be called to “turn around,” repent? Perhaps the idea that I am a person, too; That I struggle with my daily tasks; That I sometimes look to the material world to provide my happiness instead of to God; That I, too, have an unhappy soul within me who trudges dirty streets and practices unhealthy habits.

Where is the healing and goodness in this image (Redemption, Four, wholeness)? I see creatures of God, just like me. They may be tired, dirty or sad, but they are on a journey, whether they know it or not. Inside they are divine. They want to become one with God. We are all in this together. They are beautiful in their very existence. They feel the emotions I feel: the pain, the joy, the struggle. “There is no way to tell them they are walking around shining like the sun.” “The Kingdom of God is within them”, and someday they will see it, too.


Thomas Merton’s vision began at a corner, the corner of wholeness, number 4 (4th Street). He was seemingly instantly transported into a transcendent state. He didn’t have to work out the puzzle in his head in the moment. He was touched by grace. This moment occurred on a date (March 18, 1958) that adds up to 8, the doubling of four and symbol for infinity (see the book Creating Mandalas by Suzanne F. Fincher, A Dictionary of Symbols by Cirlot and the work of Carl Jung for more information on the meaning of numbers). It also represents a new beginning and resurrection, as in the 8th day.

Merton’s vision transported him to a new dimension, one where “the night and the day are both alike” (from hymn #490 in the Hymnal 1982 of the Episcopal Church, I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light). Infinity, as double 4, encompasses all, night and day, conscious and unconscious, spirit and matter.

No separation. The kingdom of God is within you. There is no way to tell you that you are, indeed, walking around shining like the sun. I see it in you. I struggle to see it in myself. We must all be mirrors for one another. The more time we spend in silence and prayer, emptying ourselves in order to be filled by God, the more we will change the world. We just might be able to convince others of their shining light within by letting our own out into the world, not hiding it behind monastic walls or under bushels.

Practice gaining knowledge of self. Study your coping mechanisms through the Enneagram and learn how your crutches (sins) are your gift and can lead to transformation. Study your nightly dreams. Know and trust that God is persuading you to become whole, not divided and separated from anyone or anything. Empty yourself. Go deep. Practice centering prayer and mediation. In that still, quiet space within, you will see yourself walking around, shining like the sun.






Are You Shining Like the Sun? Part One

marshas sun

There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.

~from Thomas Merton’s vision at the corner of 4th and Walnut in Louisville, KY

When Fr. Louis Merton had his vision in Louisville on March 18, 1958, he realized that the Kingdom of Heaven is here and now. The idea that for a place to be holy it must be separated from the world vanished from his understanding. In that moment, he understood, as Fr. Richard Rohr titles his book on the subject of wholeness, that “everything belongs.”

Merton was able to see the divine within each creature, each setting and scene, as he experienced his revelation. He was a great spiritual leader of the 20th century and even if not very familiar with his work, most people remotely interested in the spiritual life have heard of Merton’s powerful influence in the life of the world. Do you believe his vision that the divine is within you? Jesus taught, “The kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:21) Maybe for the first time, Merton, at the corner of 4th and Walnut, knew in his heart the meaning of what Jesus was saying. Interestingly, and in sync with Merton’s vision, the NRSV translation speaks this passage as “the kingdom of God is among you.”

Merton was outspoken in his dislike for war (especially the Vietnam war) and in his death he joined the ranks of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy in that life-changing year in American history – 1968. It was a year where the theme of non-violence that Jesus and Gandhi and others have taught, was gaining momentum and achieving change.

Paradoxically, at the same time, all the bravery that worked for non-violence in the world was countered by a war many did not believe in.

I wasn’t yet born in 1968 and I have often wished that I might have walked or crawled on the earth at the same time as some of my heroes, some of the most powerful and loving agents for change that have ever lived: Martin Luther King, Jr., Thomas Merton, and Mahatma Gandhi. Remarkably but perhaps not surprisingly, these saints and martyrs who fought to end violence in the world all died violent deaths. Peace versus violence. Polar opposites. Paradox.

Science is proving the important role numbers play in creation. They are related to music, vibration, energy and time. They play a prominent role in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. My birth date and year add up to 11. 11 added together = 2. Two represents a split, conflict, paradox.

One is God. There is but one God. God is unity. The unity of God is above and beyond the space-time continuum. Merton understood this concept, especially after his vision, and attempted to communicate it to the world through his writing.

For the past 11 years, I have been studying dream work at the Haden Institute in NC. I have attended and keynoted at the annual Summer Dream & Spirituality Conference and graduated last year (March 2014) from the Haden 2-year Dream Leader Training program. In this intense program and through the summer conference I have studied dream work as a tool for spiritual transformation, trusting that each night, whether we remember our dreams or not, God is working in us to balance us and brings us one step closer on the journey to wholeness. In this work we believe that all dreams, no matter how violent, come in the service of healing and wholeness. In the dream world, everything belongs.

At the Haden Institute we practice dream work in a community, creating sacred space and instituting guidelines that insure this work is practiced in the safest of conditions, non-therapeutic and non-analytic. Dream work can be done trustingly in community when proper guidelines are followed.

What it teaches is that even the darkness, even the despicable, is part of our wholeness and that of the world. Nothing is separate and nothing can separate us from the love of God. It is this lack of separateness that Merton experienced during his famous vision. Perhaps one of the best principles that dream work teaches (based on the work of Carl Jung) is the concept of synchronicity, or meaningful coincidence. Synchronicity can be shocking, giving one goose bumps, or it can be quite silly (God does have a sense of humor, after all). For example, it seems almost ridiculous that the monastic name Thomas Merton was given was Fr. Louis. Fr. Louis, who had his life-altering vision in Louisville. Is it coincidence, or the Holy Spirit at work in a world infused with meaning?

The same level of meaning applies to numbers. As mentioned, my birth date adds up to conflict: I dream of the number 11 quite often. I believe that one of my calls in this life is to help others see the lack of separation that Merton experienced in Louisville. I have been prepared for this work through a spiritual crisis, a dark night of the soul, as well as a revival, a resurrection.

After experiencing deep emptiness following crisis, I began to come back to life through the study of the Enneagram (originally a Sufi tool for spiritual transformation based on human coping mechanisms and involving 9 types equaling the face of God).

In the same year that God synchronistically sent me to the first Haden Summer Dream Conference, I answered a call in my church bulletin to join the Education for Ministry (EfM) program: a four-year distance-learning course in Scripture, theology, philosophy, church history, ethics and theological choices from the Sewanee School of Theology.

Somewhere along the EfM journey, I was introduced to a poem by Merton called “In Louisville.” It’s last line, quoted at the beginning of this article, struck me where it counts. In EfM, and through extended reading, I had learned to understand that everyone is a divine child of God. I had learned to believe that the divine in everyone is like a diamond: Some people’s diamonds are more covered in the gunk of ego, lust for power, resentment, anger, fear, injustice and oppression than others’.

Studying dream work, I had learned that everything belongs, that even the most unthinkably grotesque images in dreams are part of a whole and can lead to redemption.

The most important thing I learned from both courses of study was the concept of non-dualism. There are not two worlds, but one world. The Kingdom of heaven is here and now and only when we embrace the concept that everything (and everyone) belongs, can we see it.

By the grace of God, Thomas Merton had a vision. By the grace of God, I was given what I needed to be transformed.

Legos: More Than Tiny Pieces of a Broken Life?


Lego movie

You mean they are not just maddening, sharp pieces of plastic that cause fights and hurt your feet in the night? For years my boys have been into Legos (as I’m sure your children and grandchildren have, too): First it was Ninjago, then Star Wars, then Ninjago again, the Chima (briefly because we felt too much violent behavior coming from them as a result of that particular engagement) and now Star Wars again.

Every Christmas brings great demands from Santa for more and more elaborate and expensive “sets.” The sets arrive – Santa can only bring ONE big one and a few smaller ones; He told us himself. But since Legos are all the boys want, grandparents get to give some and before you know it, we’ve got a stack of boxes. And unlike the old days, where Legos were a creative tool for the imagination, these sets have replaced toys for my children’s generation. This situation is problematic because once the “toy” is built, it’s not really tough enough to be played with. It falls apart. The specifically engineered pieces color coded and shaped to build that particular Star Wars ship scatter. The model will never emerge again from the rubble.

It’s all my husband and I can do to keep the pieces of the sets in the box they came in. We run, tackling the boys, barking at them not to open another set “just to get ‘the guys’ out!” Our boys almost do not know what a real toy is; a doll, even a Star Wars plastic doll, is beyond their understanding. They only want Lego minifigures. And then there is the internet. They get online and surf for videos that are not stories of the Lego characters, but pornography for children. They sit rapt as an adult slowly unwraps each piece of a Lego set and shows them coming together, being built into a beautiful masterpiece…

I work all morning attempting to have QT with the kids, building one of these big sets and before you know it, pieces are missing and vacuumed up, the beautiful finished product gone forever. And yet, the children would still rather have them than not, more than anything else!

Last weekend I took the boys to see the Lego Movie. I had heard it was great and they are lucky if we get to theater once a year. So we went. And it was great. At first I thought I might have a stroke from the fast action and dialogue pinging from one character to the next, colors swirling and spinning enough to make me dizzy.

But I got used to it and the message of the film began to emerge: Everything belongs, everyone matters. Each person’s light and creativity shining in the world is not only important, but is far more important than a beautiful finished model, no matter how much hard work went in to creating it. And even if all those pieces were designed to produce a specific model, they, too can be used creatively to produce a one-of-a-kind original piece, even if the price for that creativity is in the $100 + range – yikes! We have seen our boys make peace with this. They are disappointed when the model breaks, yet they can play with the pieces for hours. We have had to let go of our protection of the set and encourage their creativity.

Your coach wants you to be your best self, but not at the cost of your creativity. Your best self is the person you were created to be. When we quash our dreams in place of perfection, success or duty, the world loses out on a light that was meant to shine, progress is hindered, and we all live in a little more darkness.

Always be on the quest for who you really are and what you are meant to be doing. In the Lego movie, not surprisingly, it takes the wisdom of a child and the power of his creativity to conquer the bitter perfectionism of the enemy, Lord Businessman, otherwise known as Dad. The innocent wisdom of the child within you can show you why you shouldn’t be superglueing Legos together in an attempt to preserve yourself in a state of permanent perfectionism, but fighting to be yourself in a culture that tries to engineer you as part of a set.

Force Lessons


“Mommy, I’m going to hold it (an olive wood holding cross used for prayer) on my heart so I can learn to use the Force.”

“Aw,” says Mommy (knowing Joe means the Force, but has in mind its representing the love of God because we talk that way in our house, my spiritual kookiness pervading everything). “That’s so sweet.”

Says Joe, “I want it to make things pick up when I don’t want to pick them up.”

“Oh, I don’t think the cross will help you with that, but it will help you use the power of love.”

“Can it make you do cartwheels?”

“Well, maybe, but you can take gymnastics for that if you want.”

“I wanna take Force lessons.”

Well, Joe, so do I. Synchronistically my husband and I had just been talking about instituting Mindfulness practice into our household to help the whole family – with anxiety, with moodiness, with staying present, paying attention, and getting things done. This Star Wars conversation the other night sealed the deal.

Just last week we were watching A New Hope, the boys and I, and Joe (while watching the scene where Yoda demonstrates using the Force to lift Luke’s X-Wing Fighter out of the swamp) asked me if the Force was real. I said, “Of course, it is.” He said, “Really?” I said, “Really.”

Jesus used it, after all. And Jesus told us again and again that we have it in us, too. We can heal the sick, transform lives and make the blind to see. We have it in us. And, Like Anakin Skywalker, we have the potential to let grief, pain, jealousy, fear, anger and more take us on a dark journey of using our power to do harm. As Yoda says in the newer Star Wars Trilogy, “The fear of loss leads to the dark side.”

I think Mindfulness practice is a great way to begin Force lessons. Without the ability to be fully present, to concentrate all of our energy into one moment – past, present and future – our intentions, prayers and vision won’t have much force, good or bad. Monastics of old led a life of balance that allowed plenty of time for study, prayer and Sabbath. Time to allow the Force to coalesce, to crystallize. They cultivated it inside the monastery walls and we might not have survived these centuries if not for their prayers.

But this new century brings a new calling. In our wild and fast-paced culture we must train as Jedi, not under shelter, but while changing diapers, breaking up fights, managing organizations, paying bills, cleaning, cooking, coloring our hair, dressing sharply for work…

So let’s begin our Force lessons, with the intention of using them to make the world a more whole and healthier place. Tomorrow I’m going to buy I book I’ve known about for some time, Planting Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness with Children by Thich Nhat Hahn. Over the years I have put much energy into my own spiritual journey and in helping to guide the spiritual journeys of adults in my church and dream work community. It’s time I got back to basics and started in my own home. I’ll let you know how it goes.