This was the week of the three Trumps: the Fort Meyer Commander-in-Chief Trump, the axe-wielding Phoenix rally Trump, and the Reno call for unity Trump. It’s enough to make my head swim. Some suggest that’s the whole purpose, a carefully choreographed ploy to keep us all insanely off balance. This mandala is a reminder of the perfect balance that lies at the real center of it all. The two triangles represent the divine feminine and masculine forces in perfect balance despite the chaos of the world in which they rest.
It is an impossible task to make a mandala that transcends the possibility of nuclear war and the destruction of the human race. I note how this mandala seems rigid and closed (in mandala parlance, a stage 5 target mandala). The only light in at is in the North Korean flag. A scary commentary that if there is to be a way through this mess, it’s going to have to comes from the likes of Kim Jung Un.
The headlines opined: “Trump v. Nixon- No Comparison.” Of course, everyone has been making the comparison, with the Russia scandal so front and center in the headlines and the growing fear that our entire Constitutional system is under attack. I remember the day Nixon resigned. I was watching TV with some friends of a friend in Paris. Reading the subtitles as President Nixon made his much-heralded announcement, one of them asked me, “Why would Americans force Nixon to step down? He was a respected diplomat. He ended the Vietnam war and opened China. He founded the E.P.A. and enforced the desegregation of schools. He was a good president.”
“But he was a liar and a cheat,” I responded.
The French speaker looked at me incredulously. “You Americans are so naive. Do you really expect politicians to be honest?”
The answer back then was yes. It still is.
As much as I am opposed to Trump’s politics and the rise of red state conservatism in America, I am far more troubled by the loss of our Enlightenment ideals- those powerful (and often conflicting) beliefs that have been the hallmark of American political rhetoric for almost two hundred fifty years: freedom, equality, democracy, individualism, hard work and the optimism that comes from a belief in progress and perfectability. Perhaps these were never actually the basis for American politics. My daughter’s Turkish boyfriend certainly scoffed at that claim. Perhaps they’ve always just been rationalizations for brute aggression and capitalist greed, and Trump is just claiming our true national birthright.
But how I hope that’s not the case. How I pray that there is still a place for a constitutional government based on these ideals and that our congressional leaders will find the courage to stand up to this President and reclaim the moral leadership that has.
This week’s Transforming Trump mandala makes use of the star of life, the paramedics’ symbol for emergency medicine. Our medical system is so clearly on life support and in desperate need of a transplant. I hope and I pray that those in power can find some way to bridge their differences and work together in the interest of our hurting nation- the same hope and prayer that people everywhere have echoed for millennia. The Flower of Life (and the promise of my faith) is that this reconciliation has already happened, if only we can open ourselves to it.
As I cut out the headlines and arrange them on a 12 x 12 inch wood block, my blood pressure starts to rise and I am overwhelmed by a sense of fear and futility. Then I paint over them a thin layer of white acrylic paint, just enough to let the headlines fade into the background. I feel myself begin to relax. I take out the compass and draw the first flower of life and my own consciousness is transformed. Slowly I come to the acceptance that all that is happening is necessary to bring both me and my country to the next stage of what we are becoming. It’s my job to both speak my truth and release my insistence that it is the only one.
Did you know that every shape there is can be found within the Flower of Life? Meditating with it can bring profound peace, even in the midst of chaos like we have today in our political life. It helps me put it into some kind of perspective.
Is this what Americans experienced as the Teapot Dome scandal erupted around Warren G. Harding?
Is it what my sister-in-law felt like as she endured eight years of the Obama presidency?
Political shenanigans are nothing new, not to the world and not to our country. Somehow we still manage to get from one end of life to the other. The Flower of Life reminds me to take a deep breath and connect with something deeper.
Elmina de Beaupuys lived in the polarized world of the 13th century, a time when the medieval Church and the gnostic Cathars offered contrasting belief systems and vied for the minds and hearts of the people who lived in the Languedoc region of southern France. It was a time not so unlike ours today. No compromise seemed possible and Elmina’s heart craved the certainty preached by the traveling priest Dominic.
There are times when I know just how she feels, when I am almost rent in two by the arguments and vitriol of our times. I understand how any of us could be drawn to a savior who presents a black and white world and tells us exactly what path leads to our salvation, as an individual or a nation.
But I don’t believe choosing one side of a duality ever leads us to peace or to the fullness of God. In this country we are still fighting the Civil War and demonizing religious beliefs that contradict ours. In my own life, I’m still struggling against outdated theologies I could simply release. I’m not sure I know how to do it, but I’m clear that healing the schism is my life’s work
In just three weeks my novel Elmina’s Fire will be available from Amazon or for order at your local bookstore. I hope you will want to read it and will have compassion for a young woman trying to find her way in the most trying of times.
Almost all physical evidence of the medieval Cathars has been erased, systematically destroyed by the Roman Church. What remains are a carving here, a button or an old coin there to suggest that the Cathars knew full well the healing power of mandalas.
Arthur Guirdham was a British psychiatrist who treated several clients who believed themselves to be the reincarnated souls of Cathar perfects. In his book The Great Heresy, he wrote that “Seven centuries ago the Cathars used [completing mandalas] to give insight into the nature and potentialities of those wished to be Parfaits,” both to weed out those with healing potential and to discern there particular aptitudes.
In Elmina’s Fire, the Signora Bonata introduces Elmina and her sisters to the Flower of Life as part of their journey on the path to perfection”. This is how I imagine it taking place:
“Can you teach us to drawn a Flor de la Vida like the one carved on Magdalena’s loom?” asked Amelha.
“Of course I can. It’s very easy,” the signora replied. She picked up a piece of charcoal and tied a length of twine to it. She instructed Amelha, “Just put your finger on the twine and hold it fast. Now move the charcoal around it.”
Amelha drew a perfect circle on the table and my heart tightened in envy.
“Next place the end of your twine on any part of the circle. Hold it fast and then draw another circle.” Amelha did as she was told.
“Do you see where the circles intersect? Place the twine at one of those intersections ad draw another circle, and then another until you have made a flower,” continued Na Bonata.
“This is the seed in which all things find their being,” she said.
I wondered what she meant, but she went on. “God’s kingdom is like an everlasting circle. Right here in its center is the divine heart. Each circle is the love of God, sent out in all directions. Look at the petals formed when the circles meet. They make a rose of purest perfection, the rose each one of you can be.
“Now watch,” Bonata said. She took the charcoal from Amelha and added more circles to the the drawing.
As I looked down upon the Flor, I thought that I could feel its energy moving within me. “The roses could go on forever,” I commented.
“Indeed they do,” replied the signora. “They are your souls, all roses and all held within the fullness of God’s love. Do not forget this Flor. Thinking upon it can give you great healing in the most trying of times.”
There is a troubling problem, one that no one has been able to answer in a fully satisfying way. It’s connected to the First Cause, the question of How did something come out of nothing? How did the perfect Oneness hypothesized by most religions give rise to multiplicity, in all its complexity and chaos? The problem gets more personal when we confront it on a daily level. Why do things fall apart? Why is that that bad things happen to good people?
The medieval Cathars developed their own response to the vexing problem of evil. Unable to reconcile the idea of a benevolent God with disaster, disease and depravity, they posited a cosmic dualism much like the Manichaens and early gnostics. In my upcoming novel Elmina’s Fire, this is how the Cathar bishop Guilhabert describes it to Elmina:
“The world is overrun with evil,” Guilhabert told us. “Most men look no further that the selfish cravings of their own bodies, and there is no end to their cruelty. . . . Look at the violence that pervades the Languedoc, the horrid diseases that ravish our towns, and the wickedness of the Roman Church. A loving God would never have created a world so given to lust and devastation. Nor would He allow so much misery to still surround us.’”
“Guilhabert went on to explain that there must be two gods, a Good One and a Bad One. The Good One is the God of the New Testament, the God of Light and Love who shimmers as the backdrop underneath the world of matter. It is the Good God who
created our souls and to whom our souls will finally return. This God abides in heaven and sends the Holy Spirit to accompany and strengthen us, but He cannot enter into the morass.
“The other God is a Bad God, a kind of demiurge whom some people call Satan or the Devil. This God was the Jehovah of the Old Testament, the God who created our world as his own playground. He is a jealous God, one who requires unwavering loyalty and obedience to his laws. When his people disobey, Jehovah extracts cruel retribution.
“Our problem,” Guilhabert went on, “is that this Jehovah has entrapped our souls in a prison of flesh. He has created all manner of temptations. He’s made the warmth of spring, the petals of the rose, even the tender beauty of a maiden to keep us tethered to this world. It is the illusion of pleasure and beauty that keep us mired in his own sinful playground. When we look for the hand of God in the physical world, we fall prey to Satan’s clever scheme.”
The Cathars believed that there was a way out of the human predicament. God had sent Jesus Christ to show them the path back to spiritual perfection by fasting and cleansing the body of all sin, receiving the sacrament of the the Consolamentum, and becoming a perfect. The receipt of the Spirit prepared the perfecti to live free of carnal desire and to offer healing ministrations. And by liberating the spirit from the confines of flesh, it promised an end to the cycle of rebirth and a return to God.
This mandala shows a monument to the Cathars at Minerve depicting the descent of the Spirit superimposed against the flower of life.
We are all on the verge of something new, and the lengthening days remind us of the coming of spring despite the snow an ice. In the Mandala Great Round, that’s Stage 3, the build-up of energy that precedes any new endeavor. There’s a sense of antsy anticipation, of being propelled toward the unknown. We may want to rush into it. We may want to put on the brakes for a while. We may want to turn tail and run. But life generally doesn’t give us those options. And so we rest for a while in this place of expectancy.
In this mandala each knot in the string represents a moment in my life when I was on the verge of something new. It was fun to look back on those moments. I remember going to coffee with Peter after a meeting we’d both attended with no clue it would lead to a life together. I remember seeing an add in the Portland Herald for Bangor Theological Seminary and wishing I were the kind of person who could just leave teaching and go study theology. I remember hosting the Masicic family sponsored by my church; it led to sharing our home with more families and finally to starting Melita Welcome House. I remember stepping outside my office to find five cocker spaniel puppies playing in grass taller than they were; one was Abbie! The list keeps going. And those last two knots that approach the center? Those are for whatever is next.