By Susan Beal
I have had a meditation and spiritual practice for almost 40 years. Mostly it’s been a private thing, central to my sense of self and informing my activities in the outer world, but never overt. In many ways, my experiences of the “inner” and “outer” worlds had felt like very different, if not opposing forces in my life. Two summers ago, I was ordained as Lorian Priest. I saw ordination as a way to reconcile these worlds.
I also have a Master’s degree in Conflict Resolution. Although I have not been in formal practice as a mediator in some time, I still see myself as a mediator in the larger sense of seeing things from multiple perspectives and bridging differences when I can. It wasn’t until after my ordination that I realized that what drew me to ordination was the same thing that drew me into conflict resolution: a desire to be of service in the world, a longing for peace and wholeness, and the need for practical skills to that end. It was also the call to maintain a higher perspective and identify a compass point to guide and inspire me as I moved through my life.
Long before I thought to be a mediator or a priest, I was an artist. I come from a long line of artists and always thought that was the path I would follow. I went to art school to become a professional artist. When my life path took a detour, I didn’t see the common thread linking art, mediation, and, later, ordination. I just thought I was moving between different, unrelated stages of my life. But now, looking back, I see that what connects them is my fascination with what I have come to think of as the Inbetween—the place between places, a zone of high potential, of unformed possibilities, of What Could Be, but isn’t yet.
It’s the mix of excitement and anxiety I feel facing a sheet of good drawing paper, a freshly gessoed canvas, a wedge of soft clay. It’s discovering the small bud of cooperation that can blossom and grow between parents warring over custody or coworkers snarled in office politics. It’s where the friction between the material and subtle worlds can be shaped into useful warmth and illumination. It’s the call to action of the neglected garden, the cluttered house, the dispirited friend. It’s facing the question: Can I help in some way to make something new, meaningful or beautiful out of this? Will it work out? Will it fail? Am I up for this?
For me, Incarnational Spirituality is a guide through this luminous, promising, confusing, powerful Inbetween, where outcomes are uncertain and hope is tangible. To navigate through it one needs a guiding star, which I.S. provides.
I studied General Systems Theory in college as part of learning about the relationship between conflict and cooperation. One of the most useful things I learned from it, something that helped me immensely as a mediator, was that conflict and cooperation are partners in the movement towards wholeness. It describes the transitional zone between chaos and order as a place of great power and sensitivity, where the least influence can have enormous impact and result in a domino effect for good or ill. The influence that helps a system in flux settle into a new pattern is known as a “strange attractor” or seed crystal. A seed crystal is an anchor, precipitating change in a system wavering between outcomes. The quality of that little crystal can determine the quality of the outcome.
Being a priest, a mediator, or an artist is akin to being a strange attractor, someone who strives to draw out new meaning, order, and beauty that before was only latent. Incarnational Spirituality provided a kind of strange attractor for me, a number of guiding principles and concepts that have oriented me when I come face to face with doubts about the hows, whys and whats of my life and the world.
Most spiritual paths tell us our true power comes from spiritual sources. Most scientific perspectives insist that reality is physically based and consciousness results from that. We’re left with a gap between spirit and matter, an either/or choice that generates endless conflict. And yet physics demonstrates that all useable power is generated from opposite energies coming together. Differentials in temperature, pressure, direction and flow is what powers thunderstorms, engines, generators, turbines and heat pumps.
So I’m particularly inspired by the concept in Incarnational Spirituality of generative capacity, the power and potential that result from the act of incarnation itself, the coming together of the fiery, cosmic, unbounded nature of spirit and the dense, flesh-and-bones, finite nature of a physical body. We are beneficiaries as well as custodians of the creative light that comes from reconciling seeming opposites. Using that power wisely and well to benefit Earth and all who call her home is what I believe we are here to do. It is the essence of Incarnational Spirituality as I understand it, and it has become a guiding star for me.
The way I see it, we are all mediators, healers and artists by design. We not only have the capacity, but also the responsibility, to be seed crystals and strange attractors for greater love and wholeness on Earth. Understanding and manifesting that potential is, for me, what Incarnational Spirituality is all about.