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Remembering the Sacred

credit: Laura Morariu

credit: Laura Morariu


Some years ago in Boulder, I saw Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee speak with Father Thomas Keating about interspirituality. At the time, I was so taken with Fr. Keating that Vaughan-Lee barely registered. But since then, he has become a strong voice for ecospirituality and I’ve come to admire him greatly.

I was deeply moved listening to this interview about Vaughan-Lee’s new book called Darkening of the Light: Witnessing the End of an Era. Though I haven’t read it yet, it’s clear that the book covers much of the same terrain as Joanna Macy’s work, emphasizing the need to bear witness to what we are doing to the world in order that we might take responsibility and ultimately transform our society.

This involves a willingness to endure tremendous grief and sorrow, without numbing out or distracting ourselves like addicts. For the same dark force that’s devouring nature is also what keeps us in our inane technotainment bubble, worshipping the trivial. The great spiritual practice of our day might be simply to not turn away. To bear witness. And to care.

The task of holding the world’s suffering in our awareness without moving immediately to fix anything is very challenging. But it might be the alchemy we need. Vaughan-Lee speaks of the importance of allowing ourselves to feel the situation fully as a necessary step in truly taking responsibility. When we rush to fix or problem-solve, there’s a way in which we are not letting ourselves fully have the brokenness. And without that, our responses are doomed to be shallow and ineffectual.

He says something else that I rarely hear from anyone else, and I think it’s vital: To the same degree that our rapacious culture of greed and disconnection is laying waste on the physical plane, it is doing the same to our inner worlds of soul and consciousness. It must be so, as there is no real separation between spirit and matter.

And so in the same way that our culture and social world is homogenized and diminished, our spirituality (what’s left of it) and understanding of the meaning of reality is also eroded. But as Vaughan-Lee says, most spiritual teachers and institutions are not even aware that this has happened. They are locked into the pattern of separation just like every other human domain. It’s taken for granted.

We are engaged in a great act of desecration. I think this is the spirit-matter split itself.

But if we can see it, perhaps there is hope that we can heal and transform it. But first we must see it, and allow ourselves to have the impact of it, and grieve it. Only then can we move into wholeness, sacredness, and inscendence.


  1. Hmmm. I’m going to think about this.

  2. Beautiful post. As you say, each moment is an experience, if we are fully immersed in it. It is neither ours to hold onto nor to push away or “fix” but to experience and meet the next moment. Thank you for such a lovely post.

    • Thanks Karen!
      I would just emphasize that the allowing and holding is in the context of responding to the plight of humanity and the earth. This is not to say that we don’t act to make things better, for we must. That is our sacred responsibility. Rather I am saying that we cannot respond appropriately without deep reflection and acceptance. Action will be more effective if it comes from the place of fully meeting the truth of the situation.

      • Absolutely, Ruth. If one is fully immersed in the moment–completely present–then one meets one’s responsibilities thoughtfully. Being present is responding with consideration and acceptance rather than merely reacting or fixing.

        • Yes. Beautifully stated.

  3. Loved the post Ruth. I’m a student of Cynthia Bourgeault, a compatriot of Fr Thomas Keating but have not heard of Vaughn-Lee. I totally resonate with what you’re talking about here and experience the spirit/matter split everywhere I look. My own garden is the place that keeps me grounded in the reality that immanence is as necessary as transcendence. Bearing witness to the suffering, not turning away, moving toward it actually is a powerful spiritual practise; sitting with our powerlessness as I have been having to do lately in the face of my own limitations and others crises has broken me open, stretched my heart and taught me humility. As I continue to keep connected to the feminine aspect of the divine, seeking communion with all that is, the dark as well as the light, the easy & comfortable as well as the pain and death I experience a radiance, a beauty which I think in all our hustle bustle gets overlooked. I love what you say about not being able to respond appropriately without deep reflection and acceptance. It seems like doing nothing to some but is so powerful and needs to be the strong base from which all action is taken. Thank you for sharing. As an aside I belong to the integral community and have heard the above concepts espoused by a number of Integral spiritual teachers, Fr Thomas being one; thought you may make some connections – it’s so important to have the encouragement of others with a highly developed spiritual perspective. I shall follow your posts and take nourishment from them. Many blessings.

    • Many thanks for the beautiful, resonant comment! I’ve heard of CB, but am not directly familiar with her work or writings. I do recommend you listen to the interview I linked to in my post if you have the time. LVL touches on some profound themes that are rarely spoken. I share a strong connection to gardening with you. Such a vital antidote to a culture that seems increasingly unreal. I admit I feel some envy when I look at the lush, green photos on your blog. I live in a place where water is scarce and precious. And I have lately been ruminating on the notion that you describe so well: the sacred feminine’s capacity to hold everything and its alchemical, transformative effect. Yes, to our mainstream culture it appears that nothing is happening. And yet this is where our deepest change originates.
      Thanks also for making the connection to Being based near Denver/Boulder, I’m familiar with these folks, as this is where Ken Wilber has lived for many years. One thing I do find is that the integral world seems hyper-cerebral, abstract, and masculine in an uber-Shiva way. Personally, I have some trouble connecting with this sort of energy. I find myself wanting something more warm and gooey. 🙂

  4. Beautiful essay followed by thoughtful comments and dialogue…Thank you. One aspect that continues to trouble me, though, is the association of dark with negative and light with positive. From an Ayurvedic terminology perspective, our society is obsessed with light in the form of fire and Pitta and even the bright frenetic energy of Rajas; we avoid the dark because of its association with harm, danger, shadow, instead of associating the dark with its healing, nurturing, rejuvenating qualities. The ancient patriarchal association of light with spirit, and dark with matter, contributes to this. Don’t get me wrong, I love LVL…have for years…but I would more love to see our terms shift away from “dark/negative and light/positive”…Sorry, this probably isn’t very clear, but I felt compelled to respond. Blessings!

    • Good point. And thanks for responding. My own tendency is to associate darkness (and the shadow) with fertility, potential, and the sacred feminine which is capable of holding everything. Perhaps he could have chosen a better metaphor for his title.

      • Thank you for posting this and thank you for this dialogue. I have read the book and deeply was moved by it. It is not an easy read as if forces one to feel and also reflect deeply. I never took the writings to associate the dark as negative and light with positive. Neither I understood that LVL is speaking here of the feminine darkness the sacred nourishing space of the feminine,the one that holds and nourishes in silence. Not at all.
        He explains the nature of the light and its relationship between the light present in nature and the the light in our souls and how what we are doing to the environment, our forgetfulness of the sacred nature of creation, our greed and harm that we are inflicting on the earth, our ignorance is the darkness that eats away the light and also effects our souls without us knowing it.He always speaks and writes about the feminine, and how it it is the feminine values are the one that are needed . So there must be a misunderstanding of what kind of darkness he is speaking about in this book.

        • Thank you so much for taking the time to comment and for adding the perspective of someone who has read LVL’s book.

          But rather than quibble over light/dark metaphors I would invite us to reflect on and share about the themes LVL is surfacing, which are so important.

          I agree that there’s a strong imbalance in our society between the masculine and feminine and that we are badly in need of recovering and reclaiming the sacred feminine. (And the sacred masculine for that matter, for the hyper-masculine energy that runs everything these days is surely a distortion, viz., patriarchy.)

          I was very moved listening to the interview, hearing the feeling in LVL’s voice as he spoke of the tremendous pain and loss involved as we diminish our consciousness, our spiritual faculties. No one write/talks about this, and I am very grateful that LVL is doing so.

  5. Enlightening essay. It is fascinating to see the emerging pattern commonly affecting our physical and inner worlds. This is more than a correlation. It is evidence of how matter and spirit are anything but separate. The multidimensional crisis we have in this world is I believe rooted in this separation of matter and spirit which first occurred when we left our tribal existence. I am currently researching the field of deep ecology to learn more about it. The study calls for more than a rational traditional scientific study but a holistic approach where the rational approach is complemented with the intuitive practice (inner human nature) as well as the experience of the natural world (outer nature). I would love to have some specific conversation with someone with like you this subject. I have found very few people with the awareness you seem to have. It would be a privilege. If you decide to do, my contact info is on the profile section of my blog. Thanks for your time and devotion. I look forward to hearing from you.

    • Yes, Ruben, I agree that the rational mind quickly hits its limit when working on these themes. It is a domain best explored through experiential ways of knowing and intuition. Thank you very much for taking the time to comment, and for your generous words. I would be happy to continue the conversation with you… 🙂

  6. I then eagerly look forward to you resuming this fascinating conversation.

  7. Ruth, I am the one who left the comment above. I guess I was not logged in so I showed as anonymous.

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