The Eternal Flame Newsletter - February 2, 2003
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Events come so quickly these days. It gets to the point where one does not want to turn on the radio or TV. But it's the background, the stage upon which we live our lives, that we want to turn our attention to now, and not get distracted from our calling by the affairs of the world.
This is the 4th Open Letter to the Brotherhood. It deals with an issue that lies at the heart of our effectiveness in the world - legitimacy. At a time when so many of us are trying to do the Work, each according to our own particular calling, this is a topic we must discuss.
There is another L-word we will all be considering in the not-so-distant future. That word is legacy. How difficult a topic it turns out to be depends on how well we deal with this one.
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Yours in Christ,
by Michael Maciel
The fear of illegitimacy runs deep. Even in our enlightened, postmodern-ish society, the stigma of being born out of wedlock still lingers. No one wants to be called a bastard.
The most powerful fears operate in the background. They are invisible. They hide themselves by living right under our nose. Our fear of illegitimacy manifests as our obsession with credentials, diplomas, certificates of training, official uniforms, and a host of other outward badges that proclaim our right to exist. We live in a crisis of confidence with no inner back-ups, no authority, and no one to open our doors for us. In panic, we turn to the world "out there", allying ourselves with some aspect of it, some official institution that we can point to and say, "It's okay for me to be here, because I'm one of them."
Maybe Diogenes, the philosopher who walked the streets holding a lantern, wearing nothing but a barrel, and searching for an honest man, maybe he was looking for someone who needed no credentials, someone who carried his legitimacy on the inside. Maybe Diogenes was a spiritual seeker looking for a teacher whose link to the truth was direct and not filtered through a "time-honored" tradition, set of dogmas, or established religion. Maybe Diogenes was looking for the real deal, like many of us were in the 60's and 70's and were fortunate enough to find. Maybe he had gotten to the point where nothing that the world had to offer was of any significance, and he was seeking something truly legitimate. He was no longer willing to wear the outer garb of college degree or ordination. His lantern was not so much a searchlight as it was a beacon, not a way for him to see, but a way for that which he was seeking to see him. "Here I am, Master, the ready student."
Are we like Diogenes? Are we willing to strip ourselves naked, to let go of the desire to look good (legitimate) in the eyes of the world, so that we can be seen by the Master? Or are we going to cower to its demands and rid ourselves of every thought that does not fit its "time-honored" mold? Each of us must make this decision for ourselves. It is the first test every disciple must take. And like any other certification exam, we must take it alone, without back-ups and without coattails on which to ride.
I'm not saying that official-ness is not useful or even unnecessary. I am saying that the temptation to put it first, ahead of the inner reality, is strong. It is constantly running in the background of our concerns. Insidiously, it can pull us off course. How many times did Jesus cite the imbalance between inner reality and outward form? Obviously, it is a major obstacle on the spiritual path and in the Work. In our eagerness to appear bona fide, we anaesthetize the truth, strip the guts out of it, and turn it into a commodity.
Jesus chased the moneychangers out of the temple, but he never once criticized tithing. The truth cannot be sold, but the servant is always worthy of his hire. When it comes to books and seminars, we must always ask ourselves, what is it that I'm trying to sell? What am I offering here - the truth, or myself? As long as our audience, and we ourselves, are clear on this point, we can charge whatever the market will bear.
My teacher, Father Paul, once walked me over to his office window, and pointing to the people across the street playing and relaxing in the park, said, "You know, the people in here are no different from the people out there." He also said in one of his lessons, regarding the spiritual progress of students, "It's not the zigs that are important, it's the zags." It's not important that we have perhaps looked too much to the world for our validation, or that we have placed too much importance on the outward symbols of legitimacy. The important thing is that we "zag" back to the truth, the undeniable fact of the presence of God in each and every human being. There is nothing that any of us can do, either collectively or individually,that can add to another's inherent divinity. The light of Christ does not come from the outside. It is always present in everyone, regardless of his or her readiness to receive it in the body. The important thing is that it's the Christ light, not our light. As long as Christ is present, how can we go wrong?