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  • Writer's pictureThe Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples

Redeeming the Warrior | June 11, 2023 by Rev. Dr. Kathryn Benton

The warriors tame the beasts in their past

so that the night’s hoofs can no longer

break the jeweled vision in the heart.

The intelligent and the brave

open every closet in the future

and evict all the mind’s ghosts

who have the bad habit of barfing everywhere.

For a long time the Universe has been germinating in your spine

But only a Pir (Sufi spiritual guide) has the talent,

the courage to slay the past-giant,

the future anxieties.

The warrior wisely sits in a circle with [others]

gathering the strength to unmask Herself, then sits,

giving, like a great illuminated planet on the Earth.

- Hafiz

The opening music is a “Zikr”…a meditative song from the Sufi tradition. The opening quote is from the Sufi mystic, Hafiz and was read by Matthew Fox at my ordination ceremony many years ago. It was during that powerful ritual that I was given the charge to be a ‘spiritual warrior’…to stand tall…to come into my power…to step into my inheritance. At the time I was not sure what this meant, but in the years since then, this charge has come more into focus.

Spiritual Warriorhood is, as the name implies, about power. It is about the power of the individual to perform great works…to be a catalyst for transformation and change. But it is also about the power of connection…connection to others and connection to all life, for without this connection, we are merely ‘wild beasts’ pursuing our individual dreams of fame, fortune and pleasure.

As Hafiz says, these ‘wild beasts’ need to be tamed…to be saddled with love and compassion for ourselves and for others. We must saddle the night hoofs in order to keep them from trampling the jeweled vision of the heart. It is not the wildness of the beasts that needs to be subdued so much as the damage that can be done by their hoofs. It is the wildness, I think, that contains the jewels…the stuff of which dreams are made. Howard Thurman wrote of these dreams…

Our dreams must be saddled by the hard facts of our world before we ride them off among the stars. Thus, they become for us the bearers of the new possibility, the enlarged horizon, the great hope. Even as they romp among the stars they come back to their place in our lives, bringing with them the radiance of the far heights, the lofty regions, and giving to all our days the lift and the magic of the stars.

So it is the saddling of these dreams…these wild beasts that is important. Thurman says that they must be “saddled in the hard facts of the world”…they must be useful. Ignoring these dreams means that we scale down our hopes and our own possibilities in life…we forget the wonder and awe of life. And without these dreams, we are unable to strive to higher states of grace and wisdom we were born to reach suggested by Sobonfu Somé in last week’s message…we are unable to work through the breaking of the heart and the devastation of grief and loss.

Hafiz says that it takes nothing short of a warrior to saddle this dream…tame the wild beasts. Now, many of us do not like this metaphor of the warrior. It is something that is commonly used in ancient texts in most of the world’s religions. Valerie Kaur calls this the warrior-sage. In the tradition of so many before her, she seeks to redeem this metaphor. She says that there is no warrior without love. She reminds us that:

Joy is the gift of love.

Grief is the price of love.

Anger is the force that protects that which is loved.

And this is the force that must be saddled.

Gandhi, who called the Bhagavad Gita – the Hindu spiritual text about a “war” between members of Arjuna’s own family – his mother, redeemed the surface meaning of the great battle and said that it was rather a depiction of a constant, ongoing battle within the human heart…an internal struggle rather than war, which would mean the killing of individuals. Gandhi said further that at the end of the story,

…the victor is shown lamenting, and repenting, not only the outcome, but the very idea of causing so much pain, such gigantic devastation and violence.

And of course we know that his life was a testament to the true meaning of non-violence, not wanting to kill even a small creature. This was hard work for Gandhi, as it is for all of us…to tame the wild beasts and is not done without spiritual sustenance. Like the Zikr music that we opened with, Gandhi drew strength from his own spiritual music. Here is an example of this music…actually a chanting of the names of the divine…one of Gandhi’s favorite songs...this recording made by Russill Paul, a former teacher of mine…

We need to acknowledge this awe and wonder for our creator and for our own spiritual nature…in order to strengthen us for the journey…in order to give us a vision. It reminds us that…

For a long time the Universe has been germinating in your spine

This is not something that is external to us…we are indeed one with the All…made of the same stardust.

So it is, according to Hafiz, the brave and courageous warrior that does this work…the work of “evicting the mind’s ghosts”…of transforming our grief and depression of the past and our anxieties about the future. This is the work that we must do in order to move forward…in order to protect that which we love…that jeweled vision of the heart.

This is the work that I am often involved in as a therapist. It is necessary work…opening all the closets and bringing what is found there to the light of day…to the light of the present…to the divine light. Hafiz says that we must, “sit in a circle with others gathering the strength to unmask ourselves”. This is the other source of strength for this work…the strength of community. It seems that it takes the witness of the ‘other’ for this journey to be undertaken…it takes community to actually get things done.

We have the great fortune to be in such a community…a place where we are sometimes able to unmask ourselves and prepare for our work as a warrior…as a transformer of the current reality. In 1945, soon after the founding of the church, a declaration was written. It reads:

The Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples is a creative venture in interracial, intercultural, and [interfaith] communion… It affirms the validity of spiritual insight wherever found and seeks to recognize, understand, and appreciate every aspect of truth whatever the channel through which it comes. It believes that human dignity is inherent in human beings as creatures of God, and it interprets the meaning of human life as essentially spiritual. It recognizes and affirms that the God of Life and the God of Religion are one and the same, and that the normal relationship of people as children of one God, is one of understanding, confidence and fellowship.

So, we are each meant to be committed to the application of these principles…that all people are children of God, worthy of respect and dignity…that life is essentially spiritual in nature and that our normal relationship with one another is meant to be one of understanding, confidence and fellowship. This is a tall order in our present time.

Our founders stated further that, ”each member is called upon to find his or her avenue of practical expression in fulfilling the Commitment." We must find a practical avenue…not a philosophical avenue…not a conceptual avenue, but a practical one. In case you are not familiar with it, the Commitment reads:

I affirm my need for a growing understanding of all peoples as children of God, and I seek after a vital experience of God as revealed in Jesus of Nazareth and other great religious spirits whose fellowship with God was the foundation of their fellowship with all people.

I desire to share in the spiritual growth and ethical awareness of people of varied national, cultural, racial, and creedal heritage united in a religious fellowship.

I desire the strength of corporate worship through membership in The Church for The Fellowship of All Peoples, with the imperative of personal dedication to the working out of God’s purposes here and in all places.

Does this sound like the circle that Hafiz described? Are we not all called to be spiritual warriors, with the imperative of personal (and communal) dedication to the working out of God’s purposes here and in all places? This is the practical expression of our commitment to each other and to All-pervading presence. It is practical…rooted in the reality of the present and, at the same time provides a model…an inspiration for others…like a great illuminated planet on the Earth a beacon of hope in a tattered, fractured world, reminding all that we must lay down our burdens and redeem the meaning of the warrior, to represent our deepest need…the need to protect that which we love and to study war no more…

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