Karma Unbound

(Yes, this is in the key of Radiohead, while imagining Jean Valjean on the run from Javert…for richest effect, play this while reading…)

Karma Unbound 

O Grace-in-Chief
Unbind this man
he talks in tongues
his heart is like a dirge
It’s playing for the mourning

O Grace-in-Chief
Release this girl
Desire bound
is bound to press the world
We’re grapes hard-pressed for the party

Now is how we’re met
Now is how we’re met
Now is how we’re met
When we’re met with you…

O Grace-in-Chief
I’ve given all I can
It’s not enough
Ac(/Ex/)cept I AM
Drawing you in through mouth and lungs

Now is how we’re met
Now is how we’re met
Now is how we’re met
When we’re met with you…

For a lifetime
I lost myself, I lost myself
In our breathing, now –
I lose myself, I lose myself

For a lifetime
I lost myself, I lost myself
In our breathing, now –
I lose myself, I lose myself…

* * * * *

The story behind the meditation…

I’ve had an incredibly full past two weeks – from spending time in Memphis with people (like DonSarah, Doug, George, Wendy, Drew, Riley, Brian, Dani and Mark) at the Great Emergence event in Memphis, to checking-in with my MKP brothers in IGroup, to ringing in seven years of marriage, to staffing alongside some of the most brilliant souls I know at H Opp (getting to know equally brilliant – and courageous, inspiring – participants), to showing my dear friend Aline around Raleigh while she stayed with Jasmin and I this week, to delving into ecstatic dance at Carrboro’s FlowJo, to – finally – he pauses to take a breath – participating in yet another spirited, loving exchange between Muslims and Christians at the IITS/Divan Center in Cary co-hosted by Peace Catalyst International.

I am overflowing with the goodness and abundance of a wildly diverse group of friends and colleagues who are showing up and offering their gifts and presence to the world.


It seems to me that we still haven’t found what we’re looking forGranted, some of us are far more contented along the journey, while others of us are more ravenous. I judge neither. But last night, driving home from a biblical-Qur’anic discussion on Adam and human origins, while reflecting on my abundantly divergent friends and experiences in this past couple of weeks alone, I had this overwhelming, beautifully aching feeling: we long to be seen in our individuality, and to merge in communion.

I Tweeted:

We are the all, aching for All;  
we are the many, longing for union.

Now – I realize that I’m using “we” generously here, maybe even presumptuously. I have no idea what you are consciously (or subconsciously) longing for.  There’s a saying in personal-work settings: Use “I” statements. So – if this fits for you, claim it. Either way, feel within myself a spaciousness and constriction that I identify with “the human condition” – I feel the ache of longing for connection, for communion:

With my wife and child,
With friends, new and old;
With family members,
With strangers that who catch my eye for the first time,
With people who, by virtue of initial dislike or slow-conditioned disdain, have become enemies.

This is why – whatever else I am – I’m a committed Perennialist. (and I’m in good company!) When it comes to my basic orientation toward reality, it seems that

  1. There is something bigger than us
  2. We either are (West) or seem to be (East) separated from it
  3. Through various means [or perhaps One Mean, apprehended in a diversity of forms] we can become reunited with it (or realize that we already are)
  4. Once the separation is overcome, we will lead larger, richer, fuller lives

Valjean ImagesFor whatever reason, I feel further called to steward this universal Mystery in her Christian manifestation (which, believe me, sometimes feels like more trouble than it’s worth!) As a Trinitarian (some fun little rabbit trails in that link), I would say that my tradition’s highest conception of God points to the paradox that reality is ultimately One, and yet, also Many. This is the (or at least a) mystery that the Three-in-One God points to. Oneness and plurality, transcendence and immanence, individuation and communion. And grace is the aroma that’s shot through – the All in all.

I hear this in the cry of Jesus to his Abba, just before he was betrayed with a kiss:

My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will trust me through their message
That all of them may be One, Father, just as You are in me and I am in You.
May they also be in Us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be One as We are One
— I in them and You in me—
so that they may be brought to complete union. 
(John 17:20-23a)

We long to feel this union – with the Divine, with each other, with our surroundings and environment, with our own spit and sinew, bodies and selves – and yet…so often we feel chained.

‎”I always rely on the kindness of strangers.” – says not just Blanche DuBois, but Everyone, to Everyone Else. Interdependence – recognized or unrecognized, cozy or cruel – is everywhere. It seems to me that we are all aloft on a streetcar named Desire.

With this desire unusually palpable in me, and reading an awesome re-written Psalm by a friend who emailed it to me, I sat down to my Centering Prayer practice this morning. In the midst of the silence – and, if I’m candid, some tears of recognition – the tune to Radiohead‘s Karma Police welled up within me. And then, the words you read above began to come. I bent the rules of Centering Prayer to step away and put them down, and then some more, adding flesh to bones. (I will resume in the Unconditional Silence early this evening, I hope.)

This may not be its final form; its derivativity (that should so be a word) feels mildly kitschy but it’s hitting me in a deep place considering the life I’m living.

Your feedback is welcome. You feelin’ me?

12 Responses to Karma Unbound

  1. Gene Smith January 25, 2013 at 5:37 pm #

    :::deep breath::: thanks. By virtue of the wonderfully free spirit that you are derivativity, as a word, is. This update is awesome.

    • zoecarnate January 25, 2013 at 7:19 pm #

      Thank you, Gene. We’re all derivative, contingent, I think. And we’re all shimmeringly original. Selah.

  2. Howard Pepper January 26, 2013 at 1:48 pm #

    Beautiful, Mike. Thanks.

    I’m one who less often FEELS the need for closer connection, though I used to much more. (Hopefully that means I now AM better connected, but also that expectations have adjusted.) It’s been a difficult thing to connect “perennial philosophy” with Christianity but I feel that Process theology has done so adequately, on the way to doing so better. But it still requires a bit more attentiveness and (dare I say?) study (or at least reading and reflection) than most people these days want to do.

    • zoecarnate February 1, 2013 at 12:59 am #

      Hi Howard – I’d like you to say more about the difficulties you’ve found connecting the Perennial Philosophy with Christianity, and how Process theology is helping you out…

      • Howard Pepper February 1, 2013 at 3:13 pm #

        Thanks for that invitation Mike. (Doesn’t take much to launch me, so watch out 🙂 First, I’m not sure what all defines “Perennial Philosophy” so let’s just say, for present purposes, that it either is or is closer to “Eastern” pantheism, with its cyclical view of history and personal destiny than to typical “Western” theism and its linear, often-apocalyptic/utopian “ending” (into the “eternal state”).

        Now Christianity builds upon and is closely tied to ancient Israel’s prophetic coming kingdom (as supposedly inaugurated by King Jesus, per early Christians, and who was/is expected to return bodily to consummate the Kingdom, bring in the Millennial reign and then the eternal state). This clearly is NOT “perennial”, at least that I can see. So CS Lewis (with others) is right: as to major worldviews, there are 2 main options (forgive my possibly distorted memory): Theism and pantheism (or Christianity and Buddhism/Hinduism, or West and East, oversimplified).

        Christianity is the predominant theistic system. Justifiably so (per orthodoxy) because it is divinely revealed by God in an authoritative, reliable (if not inerrant) Scripture. Also it is supposedly “perspicuous” (clear). (The more I’ve studied it, the less clear I’ve found it, to which my brighter-than-me-but-not-as-studious “orthodox” sister says I’ve studied way too much 🙂

        So, in the period of about 20 down to 15 or 16 years ago, ongoing theological and biblical studies (some, but not primarily “higher critical” studies) combined with a deeper look at physical and “paranormal” sciences led me into movement toward the “perennial” side. This was after almost 3 adult decades (age 18-44 or so) of serious study of the Bible, theology, apologetics, etc. (with pertinent creds like M.Div., apologetics and church ministry, PhD theology, etc.).

        From age 40-44, I was in PhD coursework at Claremont School of Theology (theology, psych, and edu.) so got exposed to a bit of Process theology (John Cobb, Mary E. Moore, etc.). I remained basically orthodox Christian – Evangelical, tho probably left-of-center because of my psych/counseling degrees (BA, MA) and practice. Then enter that period starting almost 20 yrs. ago, after finishing coursework at Claremont, in which I relatively quickly took all my extensive biblical knowledge and ran it through a new paradigm (not truly “process” yet, but one which allowed God to NOT be “supernatural”, especially in revealing truth solely or primarily through the Bible.) Among other things, it allowed that maybe reincarnation is a viable alternative to the view of one lifetime as a test, so to speak, to pass or fail as to one’s eternal destiny.

        Low and behold, there appeared LOTS of evidences, from multiple sources in many forms, of a broader-than-Christian spiritual cosmology, of a longer-than-conventional history of advanced civilizations ON EARTH (plus a good likelihood, via visual evidences on Mars, etc., probably even earlier in the solar system or elsewhere).

        Add to that that I discovered a fast-increasing amount of scientific (or approaching scientific and weighty) evidence for reincarnation, not as “automatic” but as at least one soul-development option. Of course, there has “always” been the assumption by over 1/2 the world’s population, that reincarnation took place, one way or another. But the plusses of Western science were now nailing down some pretty irrefutable indications of not only its reality, but also some of its potential mechanisms.

        Well, this is too long already, so fast-fwd. ahead: Process theology allows for and encourages further investigation of things like reincarnation and the broader “paranormal” category. In so doing, it also leaves not only room, but the “central” place for God. God as creative “mind” and persuasive love; not as coercive or omniscient power. The Bible is one of God’s revelations; Christ is the ultimate expression of God’s love and lure-toward-growth.

        Dialog with Buddhism (primarily but not exclusively among other religions) is welcomed and pursued. Incidentally, Buddhism has a very well developed approach to psychological/spiritual self-development and self-management, while it speculates less on the reality and implications of God. Thus it can prove a good complement to Christianity and vice-versa; and other major Christian systems don’t recognize or pursue this.

        So, in that waaaay-oversimplified version, I think you can see that Process helps me account for the aspects of Scripture and Christian influence on societies that are positive, with now a long history. The clearly negative inputs of Christianity can often be explained as the “supernaturalist” and overly-literalist versions of the faith which remain in the “magical” and “mythical” (not to discount the positive power of myth) levels of human development. The less God is “used”(!) to justify our fears and hatreds and the more God is seen and celebrated as the intelligent, intentional (and even “personal”) force of evolution and human love, the better we thrive, personally and as humanity. To me, that’s the power of Process, in a small nutshell.

  3. Riley O'Brien Powell January 28, 2013 at 10:58 pm #

    Yes, feelin’ you. Wonderfully put. Voices like yours – pointed, yet open, thinking, yet deciding. Journeying, yet getting somewhere, and with wit, grit and informed optimism, make me feel I’ve found good company in the Christian-y Path (should SO be a concept) we’ve chosen to be a part of. In short, You give me hope.

    • zoecarnate February 1, 2013 at 1:00 am #

      Riley! Thank you, so much, for your kind words. Here’s to the journey – together.

  4. pamela chaddock January 30, 2013 at 4:53 pm #

    What kan i say, Mike. You keep getting more beautiful by the day, and everso more articulate. I’m so happy for you … And thanks for the Jean Valjean inclusion (I’ve become transfixed by that story & am now reading Hugo’s Les Mis.) I crave to sit with you and exchange uninterruptedly for, let’s say, even 15 minutes! Just keep doinwhatcherdoin and sharin’ the ride…

    • zoecarnate February 1, 2013 at 12:42 am #

      Do you hear the people sing?
      Lost in the valley of the night
      It is the music of a people who are climbing to the light
      For the wretched of the earth
      There is a flame that never dies
      Even the darkest nights will end and the sun will rise

      They will live again in freedom in the garden of the lord
      They will walk behind the ploughshare
      They will put away the sword
      The chain will be broken and all [wo]men will have their reward!

  5. Kelly January 31, 2013 at 11:40 pm #

    Totally unintentional, I know, but your “self-indulgence” led to a much needed internal mental release this evening. I thank you so much. Peace and love. 🙂

    • zoecarnate February 1, 2013 at 12:38 am #

      Wow, Kelly – that’s awesome. I’m glad we could share in some virtual connection in this way. 🙂

  6. Don February 5, 2013 at 3:17 pm #

    I’m trying to think of something brilliant to say but words escape me. You are such a gifted writer and the passion leaks out on to everything you write. Reading your poetic, maybe prophetic, words force me to confront my own comfortable place. Connect–I’ve been connecting all my life. It is what I do as you know better than most. However, I am not sure I feel the urge, as powerfully as you do, to become one with others. I have a few that I would like to disconnect from….written with a smile. There is a part of me that just wants to retire (yes, I am old enough to retire) and take a break and yet there is that other part that knows there will be no contentment in that. So, casting caution aside I will join you. Love you my friend.

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