Protect the Vulnerable – Empowerment

Posted by: Jon Hill

I began attending the Morristown Center for Spiritual Living (CSL) after relocating to New Jersey, from Houston, Texas in the fall of 2018. Prior to attending the Morristown CSL, I became a regular at a Christian Evangelical Church, near my home, and had attended other churches, both large and small, denominational and non-denominational alike. After being baptized and becoming a Christian as a teenager, I later spent 24 years in the Coast Guard. As such, I ended up visiting, worshiping and making friends at churches across the U.S. during my travels.

I’ve always very much enjoyed being fellowship with other believers, in the spirit of truth and love. No matter which church, or denomination, I’ve always been one to get the essence of the message imparted. Sometimes it took a little patience, on my part, but when love is conveyed authentically – it does so, unabashed. As a proverbial Master Samurai, words of wisdom slice through the chainmail guarding hardened hearts, with exact precision, and finality like a hot knife through butter. And despite emotional displays, only each recipient truly knows whether, or not, the blow was fatal. Some run and hide so as to to live to fight another day, while others stand still and surrender. As for me, and my walk with Christ, I’m guessing that my own day of spiritual reckoning may come by death from a thousand cuts. I became a born-again Christian as a teenager, initiated a bible study group at my High School and later taught Sunday school, yet many years afterwards I’d felt I still haven’t found what I was looking for. The Shepherd’s voice had become garbled and confused after seeing nearly a church on every corner flanked by fear and hatred down the same streets. The juxtaposition between the light within and dark without, is bewildering. The phenomena’s akin to that familiar saying, “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”. Likewise, the broad objective evidence of inequality, poverty, crime and plethora socio-economic (not to mention environmental) problems, could lead one to feel that what’s going on in Church – must, unfortunately, be staying in Church.

Terry Patton’s, A New Republic of the Heart, addresses the potential of bringing what happens inside houses of worship, to the streets, from the perspective of one who sees houses of worship as being within each of us, and not comprised of buildings made of wood, metal, or stone. The houses of spiritual worship are not exclusive franchises, no more than you, or I are. Albeit a heady read, with concepts such as Integral Theory, I found myself often needing to slow down to digest the author’s intent, so as to not be dismissive to an intriguing way out, and way forward, towards better than what currently exist in todays global milieu wrought of confusion and angst. Again, my day of spiritual reckoning may come by death from a thousand cuts, and A New Republic of the Heart did administer 349 (one for each paper-cutting page). Be forewarned, the book is not a casual reader, it’s a call for action. Nay, a call of duty.     

Which leads me to how I stumbled into the Morristown CSL. When I relocated to New Jersey, I took the opportunity to look for something different, and different is exactly what I pleasantly found. Now for one with 36 years’ experience as a Christian, it is admittedly difficult for me to describe what goes on inside the CSL. What I can explain is that its like going to an all-you-can-eat-spiritual buffet. Whereas, if one were to use food for an analogy, Churches could be likened to Steak houses, Bar-B-Que joints, Chinese and Seafood restaurants etc., In essence, you pretty much know who’ll be there and what your going to get when you step into the place (and about how much energy your going to need to expend to be welcomed back). What you will find at the CSL is others, like yourself, who came from out of Churches, Synagogues, Mosques, etc., looking for themselves, in a bona fide judgment free-zone where each of the Great Books are espoused upon (and then some) with the sole purpose of comporting unity of spirit without pretense. And for desert, you get served ample portions of guided meditation – which is pretty cool, and relaxing.

As far as how A New Republic of the Heart has evoked a calling for me personally to take specific actions to help improve the world around me, I’m not sure. There were many, many ideas presented, and the one common denominator was to: COMMUNICATE (the listen first, then speak kind of communication) with others of every socio-economic influence and culture. Secondly, Patten calls for one to transition from being merely a spiritual seeker into a spiritual practitioner, to wit:

“…. People often discover a full spiritual practice after years of seeking. Seekers are looking for something they do not have. On the surface they may feel and act hopeful, but underneath that is a sense of separation and incompleteness. They are seeking to be more whole, healthy, and integrated. They want to be wiser, happier, less stressed, less confused, less inadequate. The problem is that seeking actively prevents the happiness it imagines. The act of seeking itself presumes and underlying lack – or disconnection. There is an assumed separation from the source of life, which seekers imagine is “elsewhere”. When we act on our belief in that lack, we reinforce it. Paradoxically, in order for the objects of seeking to be found, seeking itself must come to an end. To truly become a practitioner requires a shift in the ground of one’s motivation – from sense of lack to a solid grounding in the underlying reality that makes seeking unnecessary. How does that source condition reveal itself? It might be experienced as a tacit trust in life itself, or in God, or in one’s own existence. It might be an intuition of miraculous grace that evokes a state of gratitude for life itself. It can be a very simple and modest “okayness” – a deep acceptance and trust of the way things are. Once we become grounded in that deeper reality, our motivation is shifted beyond seeking – and practice is no longer about “getting something” or “getting somewhere”. It is a matter of acting on the basis of that healthy wholeness or well-being or sacredness we recognize. The practitioner practices by reenacting that health and wholeness again and again. Not attempting to seek it, achieve it, or create it – but to remember it, to experience it, to participate in and enact it. The distinction between seeking and practice is profound and essential. And this distinction is more important now than ever. Because the kind of practice I am speaking of – the life of practice that knows and trusts the reality of wholeness, sacredness, or fundamental goodness – expresses and transmits sanity, even amidst insanity. That is what our revolutionary times require. The kind of “seeking” that many well-meaning people have considered to be spiritual practice will not suffice to bring us to the powerful new expressions of purpose, resilience, wisdom, courage, and self-transcending love were called to….”. (Pg. 142-143).

At present, I have little notion of what opportunities may present themselves in the future (e.g., where the spirit will lead me to travel to), but for now I’m okay with the CSL. Similarly, I’d no intention of joining the United States Coast Guard – never knew the organization existed, until only a few months before reporting for boot-camp at Cape May, New Jersey in 1990. However, after 24 years of combined Active and Reserve military service I retired from the Coast Guard Reserve in 2014.

My first duty assignment was located at USCG Search and Rescue (SAR) Station Castle Hill, Rhode Island was both challenging and rewarding. At Station Castle Hill, I (unofficially) distinguished myself as being the first Communications Watchstander to facilitate eight (8) Search and Rescue Missions – simultaneously.

Additionally, I to serving as a Duty Boat Engineer and a Military Law Enforcement Boarding Team Member and, as such, recall countless times my fellow crew members and I were summoned by the blaring warble of the station’s SAR alarm at O’dark-thirty, jolted from out of our bunks and sprinted (often half-dressed, with boots in hand) about a ¼ mile down to the boathouse.

The sense of urgency we felt as we desperately fumbled in the shadows to get the utility boat engines started, the mist soaked lines taken in, the navigation charts pulled out, and sprang away from the safety of the boat dock out into the unknown, wasn’t a matter of being patriotic.

Somebody was vulnerable, their lives were in danger and we were empowered, trained and designated to help. That is what invoked our collective, undivided attention and served to overcome the fears we felt about going out into the maelstrom which put other’s lives in jeopardy. We didn’t know, or care about their religious affiliations, the color of their skin, nor their ethnic, nor socio-economic makeup. And despite our cultural differences, personal biases, or prejudices harbored within each one of us, we absolutely never once prescreened a mission in some kind of juvenile attempt to rationalize whether, or not, somebody was worthy of our assistance. Regardless of race, creed, caste, or color, our duty was to be willing and capable to respond, regardless of who needed us, or when: “Semper Paratus” – Always Ready, this is the U.S. Coast Guard’s motto.

Perhaps becoming a spiritual practitioner (and subsequently communal members of the New Republic of the Heart) requires action more so than words and to be Semper Paratus, Always Ready to respond to the needs of others – to be responsible, and not comatose is what is required.

But, even so perhaps many, such as myself, might need to endure a kind of spiritual “boot-camp” first, to even be found worthy for the Call to Duty. And what would such a boot-camp it look like? Perhaps a Starfleet Academy of Jedi recruits will one day know. 😉

© Center for Spiritual Living Morristown