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

Will the Circle Be Unbroken | December 10, 2023 Rev Dr. Kathryn Benton


The opening music is sung to the familiar tune of We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder. The lyrics upend the symbol of the spiritual quest to one of a circle rather than a ladder. In his book, A Spirituality Named Compassion, Matthew Fox writes of this important shift. The shift to the circle makes dialogue possible, for we are looking at each other face to face…no one is at the head of the circle. He also points out that instead of seeing things as up/down, we can begin to see them as in/out…much like a circle dance, we go within to greet the God in each other and step away to show ourselves to the world. Instead of being in competition with each other, we are in cooperation…we are looking to transform and to ‘feed’ ourselves.


A good example of this comes to mind. When I was in early recovery from alcohol dependency, I attended AA meetings. It was there that I first truly understood the nature of the circle…it was a place where we were all on the same level…no one is better than (or worse than) anyone else. We were there to learn from each other as we shared our experience, strength and hope. We are there to transform ourselves rather than to compete with each other. Imagine if that were the way of the world…would we still have war? What would it take for us to make this shift in our awareness?


Well, I don’t have a definitive answer but I do remember years ago I took my class on a field trip to the labyrinth at Land’s End in San Francisco. We went because one of my students was involved in building (and rebuilding) it.


The experience my students had was amazing! Most of them were born and raised in San Francisco, but never knew about this spot. They each took the path to the center of the labyrinth quietly and thoughtfully. It had a profound influence on them and on me.


Symbols such as the labyrinth may encompass the power needed to make this shift…the shift from the one-way street of the ladder to the enriching, nurturing vision of the circle. Charles Lathrop, a poet writes in his poem, In Search of a Roundtable:


For God has called a People, not ‘them and us’.

‘Them and us’ are unable to gather around, for at a roundtable,

there are no sides and ALL are invited to wholeness and to food…

Roundtabling means being with, a part of, together and one…it means room for the Spirit and gifts and disturbing profound peace for all…


These words struck me as a way of being with each other…making room for the Spirit and that profound peace. I was drawn to these words while listening to a dream experienced by one of my clients. She dreamed of a statue of a woman…very large and strong. Coming out of her side was a large faucet. The faucet was stuck in the open position and water was gushing out. It was apparent that nothing was coming in. For my client, and I suspect for many of us, this is a strong symbol…a metaphor for how we feel sometimes. We may feel alone…having to be strong. We may feel like we are constantly being depleted, with nothing being replaced. We may feel empty…like we have nothing more to give. It may be time to refill our well…but how do we do that? The old metaphor of Jacob’s Ladder has failed us…we have kept climbing, but we have not reached that place of peace…of contentment…of belonging that we have searched for. Why not try Sarah’s Circle instead?


This is not an easy shift…it goes against our socialization…the very nature of our culture. Sufi poet Hafiz describes this shift…this journey to the circle like this. By using the word warrior he means spiritual warrior…someone trying to attend to the sound of the genuine within. He writes:

The warriors tame

The beast in their past

So that the night's hoofs

Can no longer break the jeweled vision

In the heart.

This is, I think, a good description of the spiritual journey…the journey to our core…the journey to uncover ourselves by taming our past trauma…by confronting the beasts. We want to protect that jeweled vision in the heart…the precious core of the self in the trysting place…the altar of the soul. Hafiz continues:

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.

Hafiz uses words that elicit a visceral response…we feel it in our gut. He says that the mind’s ghosts barf everywhere. This makes it clear that we want to evict these ghosts…they are no longer serving us. They are perhaps draining us of our courage to live life, much like that open faucet my client dreamed of. Hafiz puts this spiritual journey in context. He writes:

For a long time the Universe

Has been germinating in your spine

But only a Saint has the talent,

The courage to slay

The past-giant, the future-anxieties.

This is indeed not new…it may only be new that we are confronting it, for it has been germinating for a long time in our very spine. We are connected to the universe by our very bodies! And in confronting the mind’s ghosts, we are able not only to slay the giant of the past but quiet the anxieties of the future!

This describes pretty well the journey the soul can take toward healing and wholeness. But I think it is fitting that Hafiz uses the term warrior. The journey is not for the faint of heart. It takes a willingness and a commitment to dare the dark…to enter the center of the circle…the place where we can sit with others to gather strength…

The warrior

Wisely sits in a circle

With other men

Gathering the strength to unmask



Sits, giving,

like a great illumined planet on

The Earth.

As we gather the strength to unmask ourselves and to unmask our outmoded spiritual paradigms, such as the ladder, we will be able to give off a light that others can see…a light that can be shared in the circle of the planet.


May we ignite the fire this Advent/Hanukah season…the fire that will light the way for our own spiritual journey, but also a journey of another kind…a fully inclusive journey…one where the well-being of each of us is valued. May we sit in that circle…or dance in that circle, knowing that we are together in this circle of existence.


As Hildegard of Bingen reminds us:

Good people, most royal greening verdancy.

Rooted in the sun, you shine with radiant light.

In this circle of earthly existence you shine so finely,

It surpasses understanding.

God hugs you, you are encircled by the arms

Of the mystery of God.


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