The Newsletter of the Northwest Branch of the Theosophical Society
November 2009 – Vol. 12 Issue 9
On October 22 three Branch members had the pleasure of attending the 5th Annual Dialogue and Friendship Dinner in Bellevue. It was sponsored by the Acacia Foundation of Redmond, WA, which draws much of its inspiration from the work of Turkish educator, imam, and social activist Fethullah Gülen. The Foundation promotes cross-cultural dialogue emphasizing universal values such as love, truth, faith, brotherhood, solidarity, and sharing. Its members seek practical ways to encourage a society where people love, respect, and accept each other as they are.
The 140 guests were warmly welcomed and treated to a delicious meal accompanied by stimulating conversation. An informative and entertaining demonstration on Turkish carpets followed, along with the presentation of the first Dialog Award to Sister Joyce Cox, superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Archdiocese of Seattle, in recognition of her outstanding interfaith contributions.
The main speaker was David L. Myers, director of FEMA’s Center for Faith-Based & Community Initiatives. This office was established in 2009, and Mr. Myers, a Mennonite minister, pointed out that its existence represents the US government’s recognition that its power and resources are inadequate to meet all the needs of citizens in times of natural disasters or other emergencies. The substantial effort and material aid provided by individuals working within faith, community and volunteer groups is essential. The value of interfaith disaster work had come up earlier at our table when a doctor spoke of how he had been called to Houston after Hurricane Katrina to work with the 200,000 refugees who descended overnight on the city only to learn that they wouldn’t be going home. His experiences with interfaith aid groups there impressed him deeply and led to contact with the Acacia Foundation and later a trip to Turkey.
In his speech Mr. Myers pointed to the Acacia Foundation as an example of a non-profit group forging the person-to-person links of respect and friendship that not only help in natural disasters, but that may even forestall warfare and violence. To illustrate the value of personal relationships, he told of a Muslim who led a group of fighters that sought to drive foreigners and those of different religious views out of his region of Indonesia in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Prompted by hatred and distrust, his fighters killed many and suffered significant losses in return. A moderate rival reached out to him during long negotiations over conflicting radio broadcasts, and they gradually developed a relationship based on respect and understanding. This led both to participate in an international relief event helping those traumatized by the tsunami of 2004. As he looked out upon the crowd, which included many he would have killed before, the warrior was overcome to the point of tears with the realization that those he had demonized and hated were worthwhile human beings like those he had sought to protect. Because of the transformation triggered by contact with his former rival, he now teaches his followers that peace is better than war.
Besides Dialogue and Friendship Dinners, members of the Acacia Foundation seek to promote peace and harmony through activities such as interfaith trips to Turkey, evening discussion series, picnics, cooking classes, and celebrations. By changing ignorance into knowledge and trust, and fear and hatred into friendship based on personal experience, they represent a practical example of the old adage, “Between hearts there is always a way.”
"This month "The Universe Within" is our subject. We'll be discussing such questions as: Who are we? How can we describe our nature and awareness? Are we in fact a miniature universe? Is our inner self finite or boundless? How do the various aspects of our being relate to each other and to the surrounding cosmos? What are the pros and cons of various methods of self-exploration? How does more self-understanding benefit our lives? Come and share your ideas!
Open to the public, unsectarian, non-political, no charge
These subjects are currently being considered for the Monthly Discussion group. As always, those who have a particular topic they would like to have featured are encouraged to contact us.
December 10: Service to Humanity
January: Collective Consciousness
Catholic priest, scholar, and eco-religious activist Thomas Berry died June 1, 2009 at the age of 94. These excerpts from The Sacred Universe (2009), a collection of his essays edited by Mary Evelyn Tucker, embody his vision of the oneness of life and a more expansive and responsible spirituality.
In its every aspect, the human is a participatory reality. We are members of the great universe community. We are not on the outside looking in; we are within the universe, awakening to the universe. We participate in its life. We are nourished by this community, instructed by this community, governed by this community, and healed by this community. In and through this community we enter into communion with that numinous mystery whence all things depend for their existence and their activity. *^*
Never before have any people carried out such an intensive meditation on the universe and on the planet Earth as has been carried out in these past few centuries in our Western scientific venture. Indeed, there is a mystical quality in the scientific venture itself. This dedication, this sacred quest for understanding and participation in the mystery of things, is what has brought us into a new revelatory experience. *^*
All religious expression by humans should be considered participation in the religious aspect of the universe itself. We are moving from the theology and the anthropology of religions to the cosmology of religions. *^*
. . . It may be one of our greatest challenges to develop such an integrated cosmological perspective that celebrates the human as arising from and dependent on the universe. *^*
We will [then] be able to appreciate the primordial unity of origin of every being. Through this unity of origin, every being in the universe is kin to every other being in the universe. This is especially true of living beings of Earth, all of which have descended through the same life process. Through this sharing in a common story, we come to recognize our total intimacy with the entire natural world. An impenetrable psychic barrier is removed. We are no longer alienated objects but communing subjects.
We will now recognize that the universe itself is the only self-referent mode of being in the phenomenal world. Every other being, including the human, is universe referent. Only the universe is a text without a context. Every particular mode of being has the universe as context. In this manner, we circumvent the problem of anthropocentrism, which is at the center of the devastation we are experiencing. We recognize that in every aspect of our being, we are a subsystem of the universe system. *^*
We need to move from a spirituality of alienation from the natural world to a spirituality of intimacy with the natural word, from a spirituality of the divine as revealed in the written scriptures to a spirituality of the divine as revealed in the visible world about us, from a spirituality of justice only for humans to a spirituality of justice for the devastated Earth community, from the spirituality of the prophet to the spirituality of the shaman. The sacred community must now be considered the integral community of the entire universe, and more immediately, the integral community of the planet Earth. . . .
. . . The attitude that the primary purpose of the non-human world is its use by humans can no longer be accepted. This attitude has contributed to our devastation of the natural world. In reality, every being has three basic rights: the right to be, the right to habitat, and the right to fulfill its role in the great community of existence. Likewise, every being has a right not to be abused by humans, a right not to be despoiled of its primary dignity whereby it gives some manner of expression to the great mystery of existence, and a right not to be used for trivial purposes. *^*
. . . In general, we think of the universe as joining in the religious expression of the human rather than the human joining in the religious expression of the universe. This has been the difficulty in most spheres of activity. We consistently think of the human as primary and the universe as derivative rather than thinking of the universe as primary and the human as derivative. *^*
This, then, is our challenge – to move from a purely human-oriented or personal-salvation focus in our religious concerns to one that embraces the universe in all its forms. This will require an immense shift in orientation, one that recognizes our emergence out of the long evolution of the universe and the Earth. *^*