Sooner or later we will all experience the tragic quality of life. Perhaps this quality of life is brought to us through illness, or the death of a loved one, or losing a job, or an unexpected accident, or having your heart broken. But we will all experience this tragic quality of life in both small and overwhelmingly large ways over the span of our lives. Whether we want to face it or not, life, with all of its beauty, joy, and majesty, also has a tragic element to it. This is exactly what the Buddha saw, and it inspired his entire spiritual search.
It seems that most people look for various ways to escape from this tragic quality of life, but ultimately to no avail. There is no escaping it. And it must be faced sooner or later. The question is, when we are faced with this aspect of life, how do we respond? Surely, to avoid it only leads to denial, fantasy, life-numbing withdrawal, cynicism, and fear. It takes great courage to face the totality of life without withdrawing from it or trying to protect ourselves from it.
Paradoxically, to face the totality of life we must face the reality of death, sorrow, and loss as well. We must face them as unavoidable aspects of life. The question is, can we face them directly without getting lost in the stories that our mind weaves about them? That is, can we directly encounter this tragic quality of life on its own terms? Because if we can, we will find a tremendous affirmation of life, an affirmation that is forged in the fierce embrace of tragedy.
At the very heart and core of our being, there exists an overwhelming yes to existence. This yes is discovered by those who have the courage to open their hearts to the totality of life. This yes is not a return to the innocence of youth, for there is no going back, only forward. This yes is found only by embracing the reality of sorrow and going beyond it. It is the courage to love in spite of all the reasons to not love. By embracing the tragic quality of life we come upon a depth of love that can love “in spite of” this tragic quality. Even though your heart may be broken a thousand times, this unlimited love reaches across the multitude of sorrows of life and always triumphs. It triumphs by directly facing tragedy, by relenting to its fierce grace, and embracing it in spite of the reflex to protect ourselves.
In the end, we will either retreat into self-protection, or acknowledge the reality of sorrow and love anyway. Such love not only transcends life and death, it is also made manifest in life and death. You give yourself to life out of love, and it is to love more fiercely that you walk through the fires of sorrow that forge the heart into boundless affection.
I once saw a funny birthday card. On the front it read Happy birthday to my daughter, the princess. On the inside, it continued, From your mother, the queen.
What is a princess, and what is a queen? Why is princess often a pejorative description of a certain type of woman, and the word queen hardly ever applied to women at all? A princess is a girl who knows that she will get there, who is on her way perhaps but is not yet there. She has power but she does not yet wield it responsibly. She is indulgent and frivolous. She cries but not yet noble tears. She stomps her feet and does not know how to contain her pain or use it creatively.
A queen is wise. She has earned her serenity, not having had it bestowed on her but having passed her tests. She has suffered and grown more beautiful because of it. She has proved she can hold her kingdom together. She has become its vision. She cares deeply about something bigger than herself. She rules with authentic power.
Our kingdom is our life, and our life is our kingdom. We are all meant to rule from a glorious place. When God is on the throne, then so are we. When God is in exile, our lands are at war and our kingdoms are in chaos.
To be a princess is to play at life. To be a queen is to be a serious player. Audrey Hepburn was a queen, Barbara Jordan is a queen, Gloria Steinem is a queen. Most of us are a little of both. The purpose of life as a woman is to ascend to the throne and rule with heart.
The growth of a girl into a woman, a princess into a queen, is not a liberal transition. Like any true creative flow, it is radical. That is not to say it is angry or harsh. But it is radical, the way truth is radical—and birth and art and real love and death. It changes things. It represents a shift in core beliefs, a belly-up of dominant paradigms. Without this shift, a woman seesaws between the brink of disaster and the brink of salvation. She goes from moments of bliss to moments of terror. And then the children, and the world, begin to seesaw with her.
When a woman has owned her passionate nature, allowing love to flood her heart, her thoughts grow wild and fierce and beautiful. Her juices flow. Her heart expands. She has thrown off crutch and compromise. She has glimpsed the enchanted kingdom, the vast and magical realms of the Goddess within her. Here, all things are transformed. And there is a purpose to this: that the world might be mothered back to a great and glorious state. When a woman conceives her true self, a miracle occurs and life around her begins again.
Mary's was a virgin birth, and the word virgin means "a woman unto herself." The actualized woman is powerful unto herself and gives birth to things divine. Today we have the chance to give birth to a healed and transformed world. This cannot be done without a major uprising of the glorious in women, because nothing can be healed without the female powers that nurture and protect, intuit and endure. What does this mean for the individual woman living day to day in a world that resists her expansion and makes her wrong for her passions? It means finding others who have seen the same light. They are everywhere, and like us they await instruction. They are men and women, young and old, who have heard the joke but take it too seriously to laugh. It is funny but also tragic, this cutting off at the pass of the life-force of half of humanity. Something new is brewing, and let's be grateful that it is. The Queen is coming to reclaim her girls.
When the Queen emerges, she is magical and enchanting. She is calm and happy. She creates order where there was none. She has grown new eyes.
When a woman rises up in glory, her energy is magnetic and her sense of possibility contagious. We have all seen glorious women, full of integrity and joy, aware of it, proud of it, overflowing with love. They shine. I have known this state in other women and, at moments, in myself. But it could be a stronger statement, a more collective beat. We don't have to do anything to be glorious; to be so is our nature. If we have read, studied, and loved; if we have thought as deeply as we could and felt as deeply as we could; if our bodies are instruments of love given and received—then we are the greatest blessing in the world. Nothing needs to be added to that to establish our worth.
Just stand there. Sit there. Smile. Bless. What a hunger is left unfulfilled in our society for no reason other than that women have been so devalued by others and so dishonored by ourselves.
Every woman I know wants to be a glorious queen, but that option was hardly on the multiple-choice questionnaire we were handed when we were little girls. Rarely did anyone tell us we could choose to be magic.
When I was a child, there was a woman who lived across the street named Betty Lynn. She was sort of a cross between Auntie Mame and Jayne Mansfield. I thought she was the most beautiful, most fascinating, most wonderful woman in the world. Betty Lynn was wild and gorgeous and drove a Cadillac. I thought it was beige, but she called it the color of champagne. She wanted a thatched roof on her guest house. She obviously had sex with her husband. She always told me I was wonderful.
Years later, I remembered the scotch and water that was almost always in her hand, and many things began to make sense that hadn't made sense when I was young. But at the time, she was a model of sorts, a glamorous woman who made me see magic when all I found on my side of the street was a lid placed on my emotions and disapproval of my more outrageous passions.
Why, in the thirty-odd years since I knew this woman, have I never forgotten her? What did she represent that struck me as so real, so passionate, so enchanted?
Whatever it was, the alcohol helped her let it out, but then the alcohol enslaved her, and then it killed her. That's clear. But why do people who have the most ardor, the most enchantment, the most power so often feel the need for drugs and alcohol? They do not drink just to dull their pain; they drink to dull their ecstasy. Betty Lynn lived in a world that doesn't know from ecstatic women, or want to know, or even allow them to exist. In former times, she would have had her own temple, and people from all around would have gathered to sit at her feet and hear her pronounce them marvelous. She would have mixed herbs and oils. But an unenlightened world began to burn these women, and the world burns them still. Betty Lynn crucified herself before anyone else had a chance to. Many of us are a little like her, choosing to implode rather than take on society's punishment. Those of us who don't must bear society's wrath. But we live through it, bruised and battered though we might be. And more and more of us are now living to tell the tale, surviving the fire, surviving sober, and, hopefully, altered in such a way that our daughters will have an easier time.
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(excerpt) A Womans Worth by Marianne Williamson
We cannot solve life's problems except by solving them. This statement may seem idiotically tautological or self-evident, yet it is seemingly beyond the comprehension of much of the human race. This is because we must accept responsibility for a problem before we can solve it. We cannot solve a problem by saying "It's not my problem." We cannot solve a problem by hoping that someone else will solve it for us. I can solve a problem only when I say "This is my problem and it's up to me to solve it." But many, so many, seek to avoid the pain of their problems by saying to themselves: "This problem was caused me by other people, or by social circumstances beyond my control, and therefore it is up to other people or society to solve this problem for me. It is not really my personal problem."
The extent to which people will go psychologically to avoid assuming responsibility for personal problems, while always sad, is sometimes almost ludicrous. A career sergeant in the army, stationed in Okinawa and in serious trouble because of his excessive drinking, was referred for psychiatric evaluation and, if possible, assistance. He denied that he was an alcoholic, or even that his use of alcohol was a personal problem, saying, "There's nothing else to do in the evenings in Okinawa except drink."
"Do you like to read?" I asked.
"Oh yes, I like to read, sure."
"Then why don't you read in the evening instead of drink-ing?
"It's too noisy to read in the barracks."
"Well, then, why don't you go to the library?"
"The library is too far away."
"Is the library farther away than the bar you go to?"
"Well, I'm not much of a reader. That's not where my interests lie."
"Do you like to fish?" I then inquired.
"Sure, I love to fish."
"Why not go fishing instead of drinking?"
"Because I have to work all day long."
"Can't you go fishing at night?"
"No, there isn't any night fishing in Okinawa."
"But there is," I said. "I know several organizations that fish at night here. Would you like me to put you in touch with them?"
"Well, I really don't like to fish."
"What I hear you saying," I clarified, "is that there are other things to do in Okinawa except drink, but the thing you like to do most in Okinawa is drink."
"Yeah, I guess so."
"But your drinking is getting you in trouble, so you're faced with a real problem, aren't you?"
"This damn island would drive anyone to drink."
I kept trying for a while, but the sergeant was not the least bit interested in seeing his drinking as a personal problem which he could solve either with or without help, and I regretfully told his commander that he was not amenable to assistance. His drinking continued, and he was separated from the service in mid-career.
A young wife, also in Okinawa, cut her wrist lightly with a razor blade and was brought to the emergency room, where I saw her. I asked her why she had done this to herself.
"To kill myself, of course."
"Why do you want to kill yourself?"
"Because I can't stand it on this dumb island. You have to send me back to the States. I'm going to kill myself if I have to stay here any longer."
"What is it about living in Okinawa that's so painful for you?" I asked.
She began to cry in a whining sort of way. "I don't have any friends here, and I'm alone all the time."
"That's too bad. How come you haven't been able to make any friends?"
"Because I have to live in a stupid Okinawan housing area, and none of my neighbors speak English."
"Why don't you drive over to the American housing area or to the wives' club during the day so you can make some friends?"
"Because my husband has to drive the car to work."
"Can't you drive him to work, since you're alone and bored all day?" I asked.
"No. It's a stick-shift car, and I don't know how to drive a stick-shift car, only an automatic."
"Why don't you learn how to drive a stick-shift car?"
She glared at me. "On these roads? You must be crazy."
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I was a mere twenty years old when I first read the works of Carlos Castaneda. His interactions with the mystical Yaqui teacher Don Juan fascinated and inspired me. His lively words allowed my eyes a glimpse into a deeper meaning of life, the universe and love. Here are a few insights from the Yaqui teacher.
I’d love to here your comments.
Everything we do, everything we are, rests on our personal power. If we have enough of it, one word is enough to change the course of our lives. If we don't, the most magnificent piece of wisdom can be revealed to us and that revelation won't make a damn bit of difference.
Do you know that at this very moment you are surrounded by eternity? And do you know you can use that eternity, if you so desire? Do you know that you can extend yourself forever in any direction and use it to take the totality of yourself forever in any direction? Do you know that one moment can be eternity? If you had enough personal power, my words alone would serve as a means to round up the totality of yourself and get to the crucial part of it out of the boundaries in which it is contained.
-From Tales of Power
When nothing is for sure we remain alert, perennially on our toes. It is more exciting not to know which bush the rabbit is hiding behind than to behave as though we knew everything.
-From Journey to Ixtlan
Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary. Then ask yourself, and yourself alone, one question . . . Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good; if it doesn't it is of no use. Both paths lead nowhere; but one has a heart, the other doesn't. One makes for a joyful journey; as long as you follow it, you are one with it. The other will make you curse your life. One makes you strong; the other weakens you.
-From The Teachings of don Juan
As long as a man feels that he is the most important thing in the world, he cannot really appreciate the world around him. He is like a horse with blinders; all he sees is himself, apart from everything
-From Journey to Ixtlan
We talk to ourselves incessantly about our world. In fact we maintain our world with our internal talk. And whenever we finish talking to ourselves about ourselves and our world, the world is always as it should be. We renew it, we rekindle it with life, we uphold it with our internal talk. Not only that, but we also choose our paths as we talk to ourselves. Thus we repeat the same choices over and over until the day we die, because we keep on repeating the same internal talk over and over until the day we die. A warrior is aware of this and strives to stop his internal talk.
-From A Separate Reality
"Belief in Inerrancy May Be Hazardous to Faith (PART 2) — Problems with Biblical Inerrancy" (from: Religious Tolerance.org)
Intentional translation errors: No Bible translation into English is free of bias. Essentially all versions of the Bible are the product of translators who come from a similar theological background. Being human, they sometimes produce versions of the Bible that tend to match their own belief systems. For example:
The original Hebrew and Greek texts contain a number of different concepts for the place where people will live after death: Sheol, Gehenna, and Hades. Some translations transliterate these place names, and so they appear in the English text in their original forms as "Sheol," "Gehenna," and "Hades." The reader is thus aware that they refer to different beliefs about life after death. But the King James Version and some other Bible versions rendered all three locations as "Hell." This makes the Bible appear more internally consistent than it really is, and clouds the meaning of the original text. That may be successful for those people who cannot read Hebrew and who have no access to other English translations of the Bible. But with the multiplicity of Bible translations available today, such techniques are no longer as successful
Many Bible translations contain what appear to be intentional errors in relation to some activities. Exodus 22:18, in the original Hebrew orders the death penalty for "m'khashepah" The word means a woman who uses spoken spells to harm others - e.g. causing their death or loss of property. Clearly "evil Sorceress" or "woman who performs evil, black magic" would be a clear translation. But many versions of the Bible render this word as "witch," thus inverting the meaning of the original text. Witches and many other Neopagans are specifically prohibited by their Wiccan Rede from doing any harm to others.
A similar intentional mistranslation in some versions of the Bible relates to the Greek word "pharmakia" from which the English word "pharmacy" is derived. It refers to the practice of preparing poisonous potions to harm or kill others. "Poisoner" or simply "murderer" would be an accurate translation here. But many versions of the Bible invert the meaning of the original text by again rendering the word as "witch." These inverted translations have caused a few modern-day, devout Christians to persecute Neopagans, believing that they are following the will of God. Although such attacks have been decreasing over the past two decades, they still occur in some areas of North America.
Copying Errors: A small number of conservative Christians believe that a particular English translation of the Bible is inerrant. Often this is the King James Version (KJV). first published in 1611 CE. However, most believe that it is only the original autograph copy as written by the author in Hebrew, Aramaic and/or Greek which is inerrant. This leaves open the possibility that subsequent manual copying introduced mistakes into the book. Thus, copies made after the mistake may be errant. Often, we have no way of detecting where errors or later insertions have occurred.
Symbolic vs. Literal Interpretation: Not all passages in the Bible can be interpreted literally. For example: John 15:1 describes Jesus as saying:
"I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman." (ASV)
In this case, Jesus is obviously not a vine. He is using symbolic language. Other passages in the Bible are more ambiguous; they might be translated literally or symbolically. For example, Genesis 3:15 describes Jehovah talking to the serpent in the Garden of Eden. He says:
"and I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed: he shall bruise thy head, and thou salt bruise his heel." (ASV)
Some Bible scholars interpret the verse literally, that the men and women who are descendants of Eve (i.e. the entire human race) and the descendants of the serpent (i.e. all the snakes in the world) will hate and attack each other. The phrase "he shall" is interpreted in the collective sense to refer to all of humanity. Other Bible scholars interpret the verse symbolically. They believe that it is linked to Romans 16:20:
"The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet."
The "he shall bruise thy head" phrase in Genesis refers to Jesus triumphing over Satan. As a result of this interpretation, Genesis 3:15 is sometimes referred to as the "protean", the first gospel. 1
There are many Bible Passages that have been interpreted literally by some groups and symbolically by others. This generally leads to conflict, and has historically triggered many church schisms.
Multiple Authorship: Some passages in the Bible appear at first glance to be completely written by a single author: e.g. the Pentateuch (Genesis to Deuteronomy) states that the five books were all written by Moses. The book of Isaiah was written by Isaiah; the Book of Daniel by Daniel; the Gospel of Mark by a single author. But analysis of the books' content and style reveals that the Pentateuch was written by several authors from different traditions over many centuries. The books appear to have been edited later by still other unknown persons. Isaiah also appears to be written by multiple authors. The Book of Daniel appears to have been written circa 180 BCE -- over 4 centuries after Daniel's death -- by an unknown author. The Gospel of Mark originally ended abruptly at Mark 16:8. However:
Some other writer subsequently added verses 9 to 20, to make a "longer ending" to Mark; these additional verses were apparently based on Luke, John and some other sources.
Another writer created a "shorter ending" consisting of two sentences after verse 8. It was also a later addition, probably based on Matthew. Some translations include both endings.
Still other Bible versions include additional material after verse 14.
All of this multiple authorship raises the question whether the later additions by unknown authors are inerrant, or merely attempts by later believers to augment the text to better match some early Christian group's evolving belief system.
Multiple Versions: There appears to have been two versions of Mark: "Secret Mark", "for those who had attained a higher degree of initiation in to the church than the common crowd." 3 and the shorter, edited version that has survived to the present time. The latter was the freely available, public version, and was probably a later, smaller version. This raises the question as to which version should be considered inerrant.
More conflicts in interpretation: Some biblical passages are unclear or ambiguous. For example, the Bible contains many references to parents using physical punishment in order to discipline their children. All but one of these passages come from the book of Proverbs. The book itself says that they were written by Solomon, although many mainline and liberal theologians believe that the book was assembled long after Solomon's death. The author(s) appear to have considered corporal punishment of children as the preferred method of discipline. One can assume that he followed his own advice in the raising of his son Rehab. The son became a widely hated ruler after his father's death. He had to make a hasty retreat to avoid being assassinated by his own people: 1 Kings 12:13-14 and 1 Kings 12:18 describe how he acted in such an evil manner towards his people that they killed his representative. Ultimately, Rehoboam fled Jerusalem to avoid being assassinated by the subjects that he mistreated. The passages from Proverbs and 1 Kings can be interpreted in at least two ways:
Some conservative Christians accept the verses in Proverbs at their face value: Proverbs requires all believers to use corporal punishment on their children as the main method of discipline.
Some liberal Christians might interpret Proverbs as accurately representing Solomon's parenting style, and interpret 1 Kings as indicating the horrible outcome of that form of discipline. Thus, 1 Kings is a warning to parents to not follow Solomon's advice, to avoid hitting their children, and to rely on other, non-violent forms of discipline.
Since these two interpretations are mutually exclusive, at least one is probably false. But a consensus cannot be reached at this time as to which is in error. The secular belief that hitting children is counter-productive appears to be gaining ground at this time, and is supported by studies linking the spanking of children with increased levels youth rage and criminal activities, and of alcoholism, drug addiction, clinical depression and anxiety once they reach adulthood.
Internal Conflicts: Various passages in the Bible appear to be in conflict with each other. To liberal/progressive Christians, these disagreements are consistent with their beliefs that the books of the Bible were written over a period of about 1 millennium, by authors with very different religious views. But to conservative Christians who believe in Biblical inerrancy, conflicts present a problem. If all passages of the Bible were inerrant, then no passage can truly contradict any other passage. Such problems have been resolved using various techniques:
• Many conflicts can be handled by interpreting one passage in its literal sense, and other, apparently conflicting, passages either in some narrow sense or symbolically. Unfortunately, different faith groups will often select different passages to interpret literally.
• Some passages cannot be harmonized in this way. Conservatives usually believe that the latter passages can be resolved in theory, but not with our present knowledge. Books harmonizing hundreds of apparent conflicts have been written. One attempts to solve over 500 such difficulties. 7
• The ultimate resolution method is to assume that errors have crept in to the original autograph copy as it was manually copied and recopied through the years. Religious conservatives are often reluctant to resort to this approach because it throws doubt on some passages in current translations of the Bible.
The nature of Truth - absolute or relative: It is sometimes not obvious whether a portion of the Bible refers:
• Only to a particular society at a particular time, or
• Only to one society for all time, or
• For all societies only at a particular time, or
• For all locations and all times.
In 1 Corinthians, chapters 11 & 14, Paul advises the Christians at Corinth to restrict the roles of women to positions of little or no authority and under the supervision of men. These passages are often quoted in debates over whether women should be allowed to be ordained as clergy.
Other passages, particularly from the Hebrew Scriptures, describe the position of women as greatly inferior to men, and often as an item of property.
Some liberal Christians believe that Paul's instructions to the church at Corinth was in response to a specific problem in that city in which women were disrupting services; they might interpret limits on the roles of women in the Hebrew Scriptures as being accurate representations of the oppression of women within early Hebrew society. But they might also believe that such passages are not applicable in today's society where limitations and restrictions on women have been largely removed after centuries of effort by pro-democracy movements and the feminist movement. Meanwhile, many conservative Christians regard St. Paul's instructions to the Corinthians as being equally valid today; their denominations often deny ordination to women.
The Bible has many references to slavery. Much of the conflict that led to the American civil war was fueled by differences in interpretation of Biblical passages on this topic:
• Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America, said that slavery "was established by decree of Almighty God...it is sanctioned in the Bible, in both Testaments, from Genesis to Revelation."
• Rev. Alexander Campbell, a Christian leader at the time said: "There is not one verse in the Bible inhibiting slavery, but many regulating it. It is not then, we conclude, immoral."
• A contemporary of Campbell, Rev. R. Furman, said: "The right of holding slaves is clearly established in the Holy Scriptures, both by precept and example."
Meanwhile, abolitionists argued that the teachings of Jesus made the ownership of human beings a sin. Many of the arguments over slavery revolved around whether the institution was an acceptable practice for all times and all societies, or whether it was no longer permissible in 19th century North America. Clearly, the matter could not be resolved theologically at the time. In North America, it was eventually settled by a political consensus in Canada and, much later, by a civil war in the U.S.
The combination of source ambiguity, intentional translation errors, copying errors, symbolic vs. literal interpretation, multiple authorship, multiple versions, interpretation conflicts, internal conflicts, the nature of truth, etc. make it quite impossible to prove that a particular passage in an English translation of the Bible is inerrant. Or if the passage is assumed to be inerrant, it is not necessarily obvious how the passage is to be interpreted today.
One can hope to minimize the effect of intentional and accidental translation errors by accessing many versions of the Bible to compare the full range of translations. Many Christians use parallel Bibles for study. These have two, four or eight translations side-by-side on the page. Also, by comparing verses on the same topic in other parts of the Bible we may obtain a consensus of what the Biblical authors intended. But we are largely stuck with the remaining factors.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
1 Christians for Biblical Equality has a home page promoting non-discrimination on the basis of gender. See: http://www.cbeinternational.org
2 S.H.T. Page, "Powers of Evil: A Biblical Study of Satan and Demons," Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI, (1995), Page 20 to 23.
3 C.M. Laymon, "The Interpreter's One-Volume Commentary on the Bible," Abingdon Press, Nashville TN, (1991) Pages 670 - 671.
4 Robert J. Miller, Ed., "The Complete Gospels", Polebridge Press, Sonoma CA, (1992), Pages 402-405.