Sunday, 30 September 2012

Not A Sermon Today

Hello Everything. Thank you. Help us to do thy will. Amen.


Readers, it is not without my usual effort that I have failed you today. Finally I have decided to keep working on the current sermon for another week. Hence there is nothing substantial today.

Thank you to those who do come to have a look. For anyone finding this for the first time, the best single sermon to give you an idea of what sort of House is being built here is probably The Baby in the Bathwater of Religion. The more I go on the more anxious I am that new readers do get themselves a bit familiar with previous material, and it is becoming clear that I need to write new introductory material to link from the top of the page. I do all this in my very stretched spare time, so I thank you for your patience.

Here's another stunning song from Leonard Cohen's last album.

Every, bless my readers with plenty of inspiring and interesting food for thought this week. I did intend to attempt to add to it, but have failed and for this I apologise. Help us all to grapple with you and your Logos with humility and integrity, in order to build our wisdom and understanding for your own great work, whatever that may be. So be it.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Sunday Sermon: Blasphemy and Idolatry

Hello Everything. Thank you for our lives; our moment of subjective consciousness before we reenter the wholeness from which we came. Dance with us this week, Every. Help us, as our hearts beat and our bodies metabolise, to do thy will. Amen.

Last week I made a theological challenge to Islam by proposing that their prophet is not the 'final' prophet or the final revelation for all humanity. As I hope I made clear, my challenge is not just to Islam. It is a challenge for all monotheisms to go back to their roots, shrug off their idolatry and come together once again under one, transcendent, unnameable God, just like they did at their origins. I'm not saying I'm Moses but I am, in a way, trying to be Moses.
Thus saith the Lord thy God, you are an idolatrous generation. You carve me into your books and worship your names, traditions and stories as if they were as transcendent as Me. Did I not say to each of you through My prophets to forego all idolatry, refrain from naming Me and hence to come together as My people? When did I finish my revelation to you? When did I say it was finished?
Thus saith Everything, when you engrave My nature into stone you curse and insult Me. When you engrave My nature into stone you ensure warfare and strife amongst yourselves. When you engrave My nature into stone you cease to seek Me. Those who engrave My name into stone do so to glorify themselves over others and to maintain power by control of truth, a power which belongs to Me alone.
Thus saith nature Itself, I AM the Lord the God of all people and all the Earth. When you curse one another you curse yourself and Me too. When you go to war you go to war against yourself and against Me. When you proclaim that you know Me and another does not know Me you mock yourselves and defile My name. I AM Everything, one, alone and eternal. No one knows Me, but there is no other thing to know. But every single one of you are equally my children. My people are many tribes united into one people, the people of the Earth, my blue jewel.
Thus saith the totality of all being, Repent from idolatry and its strife oh Human, and you may live forever. Repent not from idolatry and strife oh Human, and ye shall surely die altogether.
(Prophesy, in the way I have just written it is, like prayer, a literary form, ok? Just to be clear there's nothing spooky being claimed here.)

There are some problems in our world, including some really big, important and apparently intractable problems, that are theological problems. This isn't exactly self-evident, and many would disagree, but if the proposition is correct then the assumption that theology is irrelevant is impeding the resolution of these problems.

Once again I am reflecting on the ongoing discussion and debate about... well, I want to say it's about 'blasphemy laws' but many people want it to be about almost anything else. Of course I mean the anti-Muslim film made recently and its angry aftermath. According to the protestors, as contrary to the psycho-analyses of the same by various commentators, it is about blasphemy laws. If I was a protestor I would want to be at least taken at face value.

There are many issues here, and I don't want to stifle any important discussions about politics, the interventions and imperialism of the West into the Muslim sphere, the resentment of the West in much of the Arab world, everyday racism/tribalism, or anything else. It seems to me these things are being robustly discussed. I do find it disconcerting however how many commentators manage to ignore the existence of blasphemy laws, and a strong religious sentiment about the importance of blasphemy in the Islamic world. The thing is, the idea of 'blasphemy', unlike other forms of extremism, is not a minority position in Islam. It is a mainstream ideology that infects politics all over the world, and a nasty one.

The charge of blasphemy is by no means restricted to Islam, or even to religion. Remnants of blasphemy laws exist throughout the Western World though mostly they have in practice if not in legislation been defeated by forces of liberalism and the value of freedom of speech. The last time blasphemy was in an Australian court was 1919. On the other hand, Christianity still often utilises the charge of blasphemy (essentially a manipulation by fear) and Islamists today rely on a fair degree of solidarity from Christian leaders on the issue of blasphemy itself (quite aside from responses to it).

The charge of 'insulting the leader' or the party-line for that matter, is par for the course in any totalitarian regime, and in liberal societies the capacity to criticise and even mock the leader and the system is a defining feature of a freer society. Once again I wonder how different religion and political ideology are in terms of their impact, nature and social manifestations. Social scientists and historians of religion have a lot of notes to swap, in my view.

But what is very clear, and reflected in the response from many Islamic communities to occasions when non-Muslims in the West insult the prophet or Islam, is that mainstream Islam, throughout the World, believes that blasphemy is a meaningful category, and indeed a crime of some sort.

Blasphemy carries the death penalty in Pakistan and Iran and in various jurisdictions throughout the Islamic world carries punishments from fines and stripping of rights through to whipping, disfiguring and imprisonment. If you don't believe me, here are the Wikipedia articles, Islam and Blasphemy and Blasphemy Law. When a 13 year old girl can be sentenced to death for being accused of burning a Koran, as almost occurred recently in Pakistan, we have a human rights issue which should concern us as much as genital mutilation or the oppression of women in general. In practice these laws are barely used for reasons of piety but rather for petty religious tyrants to harm their opponents.

There is an ongoing campaign for the United Nations to expressly support international laws against blasphemy. In case you thought this was a minority position among Muslims, it is worth noting that the entire Arab and Muslim block is behind this initiative. It is difficult to conceive that this could be so without very broad political support.

Theologically, blasphemy law can be challenged in three complementary ways. Firstly it is contrary to the peace and compassion which is the objective of Islam as well as every major religion. Secondly, it is not a doctrine from the Koran or the Hadith but has arisen in many inconsistent and contradictory ways in (Sharia) law throughout the Islamic world, so it does not have the same authority as the doctrines at the heart of Islam (again, this applies to blasphemy in Christianity as well, and most ideology). Thirdly the category of blasphemy is, by inference, idolatrous (ie contrary to the fundamental opposition to idolatry of Islam). It's this third point I am about to explain a bit, but the first two, which I am hoping do not require as much explanation (see The Charter for Compassion for the basis of the first point and the Wikipedia articles linked above support the second), should be kept alongside.

In a way idolatry is the irrational act of giving a thing far more importance than it deserves. The ancients went to enormous lengths to paint it as 'evil', 'sin' and worthy of great judgement. Today we can see that it is merely wrong, an epistemological mistake that will inevitable lead to greater mistakes, and we may see in the ancients' almost pathological emphasis merely that - great emphasis; a loud statement of recognition of how important the prohibition is. Today we can all understand why idolatry is wrong, and don't require a supernatural channel to the information.

Dear readers, each of us is in the Plato's cave of our minds. Here it is again, the underlying problematic which we all share and yet struggle to share: Each one of us is a finite self which is obliged to be a part of an apparently infinite reality, a reality in which we are obliged to share but for which each one of us only has available information from our own finite self. In trying to figure out the impossibility of this situation, religion arrises, and it is a matter of everyday social existence and survival. The project here is to make it a reasonable one, and idolatry, along with the charge of blasphemy against insulting our idols, is unreasonable. The fascinating thing to me is how the ancients got this so right.

If it is possible to blaspheme a thing then it is an idol. If we are avoiding idolatry, there is no such thing as blasphemy. The corollary of the principle is that having legislation against criticism of an authority, idea or thing is making an idol of that authority, idea or thing.

We should note that in the process of protesting blasphemy in the current example, as a concomitant of idolising Mohammed, Muslims are also giving a bad film a lot of power, indirectly making it an idol in turn. The screaming fact in this instance that the film is a fourth rate production lacking in either production values or credibility and that deserves no attention at all reinforces the absurdity and wrongness of the attitude of offence at 'blasphemy' in the first place. We might, in other words, know the rightness of a doctrine by its fruits, and in this case the fruits of the doctrine of blasphemy are transparently, and rather embarrassingly, preposterous.

The practice of watching for and avoiding every form of idolatry is, of course, also the practice of attuning to a spiritual focus on Everything, the only 'idol' which we - every one of us - implicitly, undeniably share. In a way, when we feel someone is being blasphemous, we are being shown our idols.

This sermon is about blasphemy laws, but I suggested in opening that perhaps many of today's problems may be theological in nature. The two most compelling and intractable fault lines in human harmony today are in the Levant (Israel/Palestine) and the subcontinent (India/Pakistan). Both of these conflicts, for anyone who takes the time to attempt to look closely and gain some understanding, are an absolute brain-fuck (excuse me but no situation more deserves an expletive), especially if you are looking toward political solutions, as we must. It is my strong conviction that these problems will only be solved when they are approached as the theological problems that they are, with theological creativity. But we'll get back to that, I'm sure.

Religion can change. It changes according to different rules and time-frames than scientific theory, but it can and does change. It must. And it knows it.
Everything, thank you for this opportunity to speak openly. Especially as I enter the territory of criticism, Every, mark my heart and my motives and help them be as pure as they can be. Bless my readers on their own respective paths and help them differentiate in my words that which steps toward your truth from that which digresses from your truth. I love you Everything. So be it.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Sunday Sermon: Mohammed is not the Last Prophet

Hello Everything. Thank you for all of your world, your people and your revelation. Bless our paths that they may together lead to peace and a place of understanding. Forgive us our imperfections and ignorances as we forgive the imperfections and ignorances of others. Thy will be done. Amen.


The Bahá'í faith is a relative newcomer to the monotheist club. It was started in 1866 in Iran by one Bahá'u'lláh who claimed to be a messiah type figure prophesied by a dominant Shi'a version of Islam. He is the Bahá'í prophet, to them a later prophet than Mohammed, the latest in a line that included Moses and Jesus as well. He is also an incarnation of Elijah and John the Baptist. All of this is archaic and idolatrous enough, in my view, but no more than the other monotheisms, and I don't know how seriously practitioners take the mythology.

And on the face of it (and I wouldn't know otherwise) the religion is universalist, compassionate and progressive. Women are recognised as men's equals, universal education is emphasised, all religions are respected as different paths, and indeed millions of paths to God are respected. God is transcendent above all and all are equally God's people. My kind of theology in many ways.

But within a generation the religion was being brutally persecuted and has been periodically ever since. Today it is outlawed in Egypt, variously persecuted in several other Arab countries and severely repressed in its homeland Iran.

I can't say the following better than Wikipedia: "Bahá'ís as well as the United Nations, Amnesty International, the European Union, the United States and peer-reviewed academic literature have stated that the members of the Bahá'í community in Iran have been subjected to unwarranted arrests, false imprisonment, beatings, torture, unjustified executions, confiscation and destruction of property owned by individuals and the Bahá'í community, denial of employment, denial of government benefits, denial of civil rights and liberties, and denial of access to higher education."

There appears to be a critical and popular consensus that the origins of this persecution are theological - the proposition that Mohammed is not the last prophet, but merely one of God's 'manifestations'. It's not to do with politics, oil, western imperialism or Zionism. It's religious persecution for religious reasons - blasphemy of the prophet.

The Ayatollah would have it that the persecution is for political reasons - because the Bahá'ís are tied up with Jews and/or imperialists - but not only is this not accepted by the Bahá'í or commentators, it can not be historically true as the sentiment they draw upon goes back to before Zionism and before the end of the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East. The persecution arrises from the Mullahs and the language of 'heresy' and 'apostasy' is used.

Quite aside from anything else happening in the world, the plight of the Bahá'í should concern anyone concerned with compassion, freedom of speech and belief or just common decency. I haven't heard many Christians, Muslims or anyone else defending them but then again I haven't heard me defending them before either, so it appears to be a general challenge to us. These people - good people apparently - need friends.

But what has provoked this morning's sermon is the disturbing and violent events of this week in Libya and elsewhere in response to a third-rate film blaspheming their prophet. All of the above was to make the point - the critical point, the missing of which is disastrous - that the Islamic based anger against blaspheming Islam is not merely political, inspired by anger at the West or the violent legacy in places like Libya and Afghanistan, important though these factors may be to carefully note. The theology that Mohammed can not be insulted and that doing so is a profound theological crime precedes all of these things. This is first and foremost theological anger and must be named such. (Read theology as ideology if you wish.)

I am suggesting, humbly, that if we want the reasons for the protests and violence, we should not look to our media but to the placards and statements of the protestors themselves. They say it's about blasphemy: "Behead those who insult the prophet" was prominent in the Sydney protests in Australia. "We must defend the honour of our prophet, we must act now," was the mass Twitter/text that mobilised the Sydney protest. There is a tradition of this which precedes modern problems and may outlast modern problems. Theology really is the most likely explanation.

Sometimes I think the West thinks, "It's all about me."

Last week I spoke of the test of compassion and I want to see if we can at least understand a number of points of view here, even if we think they are finally wrong. But if we are going to speak of compassion at this time, Decency 101 demands that our compassion is first for the victims of violence and their families and friends. These people are utterly innocent. Regardless of the source of the anger, these people were not even the right targets. They were knowingly arbitrary and symbolic which makes the anger even more ridiculous and tragic. The makers of the blaspheming movie are unhurt.

Now, about the movie itself, I don't have much of a response as such. In this I am being consistent to criteria I consciously attempt to apply when it comes to determining things which are worth criticising. Apparently (I've read enough and don't intend to watch it) the poverty of the movie speaks for itself and it makes no coherent argument which requires the flattery of a response. It's garbage, in other words. Without the religious controversy it would be doomed to immediate and pronounced oblivion. "Condemning" it seems indulgent, frankly.

To make my theological point I would far prefer that the day's example was not so puerile. I would far prefer to be defending Salmon Rushdie's Satanic Verses but that highly principled conflict seems long past now. We are left with a foolish pastor burning the Koran or a film-sized effort to troll rather than a considered and educated literary critique of the impact of religion on history. So much of the commentariat abandoned Rushdie at that time and when one of his colleagues was murdered there was not much upset. I'm not sure if the media are afraid or genuinely so relativistic in their morality, or a bit of both. Never mind.

The makers of the film may be extremely foolish. They may be ignorant. They may be twisted by their own religious idolatry and hatred, but it's not difficult to comprehend the sorts of things that may have sparked their anger. Empathy goes all ways or not at all, and even though we may think such insult is childish and wrong, not everyone is as blessed with education, nobody chooses their upbringing, there is daily material to reinforce any suspicion of the other which is Islam, and surely we are big enough to understand from where such antipathy toward Islam might arise. If we should understand the political anger of many in the Arab world - and we most certainly should attempt to - surely we can comprehend the anger of these deluded Christians too. They honestly think their society is under attack, with reason.

The predictable response of Islamic extremists only adds to the impression and the foolish, hateful cycle continues. A straight libertarian response right now might be to insult the prophet as loudly and often as possible, and to encourage all to embark on such a non-violent campaign for freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is, after all, far more important than the name of Mohammed, and many blame the lack of it in the Islamic world on the religion itself. There is a more constructive response however, in my view.

Islam is also one of the World's great religions and it is fair to say, as many rightly do, that most Muslims are very peaceful people who, whilst perhaps upset by people ignorantly insulting their prophet, are appalled at the violence that ensues from portions of Islam. As I write there are various Muslim leaders lining up to condemn the violence. At its heart Islam is a beautiful, peaceful religion because at its heart is not idolatry but a single transcendent God of all peoples. In that Islam is no exception to the major world religions.

If you're unfamiliar with this far more flattering view of Islam, here is an article that is getting around with the express intent of showing us the peaceful, merciful side of Islam and also for arguing that violence against insults to the prophet are counterproductive (tactically true, if the objective is to promote 'the religion of peace'). The account of Mohammed and his motives is clearly biased, but that is speaking as a historian, and in terms of religious belief and practice the living meaning of the story is more important than its historicity. It is a beautiful, edifying view of the meaning of Islam and I recommend the article for this reason. Most Muslims see things in this way, just as most Christians would prefer to emphasise the love of Christ rather than judgement and guilt. Most Muslims, just like most Christians, abhor violence.

The article successfully places some of the criticisms of Mohammed and early Islam into historical context, and draws the reader to the bottom line of the prophet's message which was mercy, forgiveness and tolerance. The last paragraph begins with the refreshing conclusion that, "The world is a better place because Prophet Muhammad survived against his opponents and won. And even as the Prophet showed grace and clemency to his enemies, so must his heirs do so today." But the very next line reveals a theological assumption which taints the entire article: "With the grace of God, Islam is an unstoppable force that will keep growing. That triumph is assured by history, demographics and its inherent attractiveness as a way of life for humanity."

Aside from all politics the theological point must be made that this certainty that one's way is the only way, and that history will give it final victory, whether from a Christian or a Muslim, is arrogant, idolatrous and implicitly means indefinite conflict and war. The ineffable, transcendent one God is not Arabic (or any other ethnicity), does not just have just one book, one prophet and one cultural tradition. The idea that Mohammed is the last prophet insults Allah, the majority of Allah's people, and every conception of the one God.

I am not inclined, as I fear many will be, to insult the prophet to challenge the point. Insulting the dead is poor form at the best of times I think and especially one so revered by so many. But I am inclined to promote the following theological corrective: Mohammed is not the last prophet. It's hardly insulting. It makes him human.

And a stand does have to be taken: a theological stand, against an archaic, idolatrous idea, no less than an ethical stand has to be made against genital mutilation or the legal subordination of women. Like the parallel challenge to Christianity that their prophet is not God, it does not challenge the heart of the religion at all. For the heart of both, however poorly represented by history, is compassion and truth, under the one God of all peoples.

And we would not be being merely reactive or self-centric. We would also be helping the Bahá'ís in their plight, and any number of others. We are working for the big plot here, one world and one heart.
Every, I admit that I get disheartened when I see your great pathways clash with one another. Help us all from idolatry Everything. Lead us together to a future of peace and wholeness. Bless my readers that they are able to discern wisdom from dross in my words, and in any words that they encounter. So be it.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Sunday Sermon: The Charter for Compassion

Hello Everything. Thank you for yet another day of wakefulness and wonder. Thank you for your world, your people and the ways we find before us. Help us find those ways which further your great purpose. Amen.


In a way I'd just like to hand today's sermon over to Karen Armstrong. Actually I do. Here is her TED talk, Let's Revive the Golden Rule. It's about ten minutes long. My sermon is basically a House Of Everything annotation of this talk, along with the text of the Charter of which it speaks. I'll be brief - watch the video!

I spoke of the 'Golden Rule' briefly in Soteriology; The Gospel of Everything. As I indicated there, although it is the very heart of Christianity, it happens to be the very heart of every major world religion. And this is where The House of Every finds solidarity with all world religion, for it is the heart of the House of Every as well. I hope I don't ever neglect it at the expense of the more critical and innovative (ie identifying) aspects of this religion, as the Golden Rule is more central and more important than anything I will ever have to say. All religion should mobilise around this principle, in my (very strongly held) view.

There are many ways to express the principle and Armstrong more-or-less uses the word 'compassion' to mean what I have often meant by 'empathy' (I note they are both rooted in the word pathos). I admit I still love the King James version, "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you," (Matthew 7:12) for its positive thrust ('do the good thing' rather than 'don't do the bad thing') and its literary elegance. The Parliament of the World's Religions also proclaims the principle in its positive form: "We must treat others as we wish others to treat us." The House of Every will sign that; no worries.

The Charter for Compassion is an expanded and very well considered version of the Golden Rule. Before I go further, here is the text:
The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.
It is also necessary in both public and private life to refrain consistently and empathically from inflicting pain. To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism, or self-interest, to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others—even our enemies—is a denial of our common humanity. We acknowledge that we have failed to live compassionately and that some have even increased the sum of human misery in the name of religion.
We therefore call upon all men and women ~ to restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion ~ to return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate ~ to ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures ~ to encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity ~ to cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings—even those regarded as enemies.
We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensable to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.
Karen Armstrong did not write this Charter alone but she did initiate the process which brought it about, and she did so from (in my view to date) a very sound, informed, modern theological position. One thing I love about it is that it was done via the secular and academic TED foundation, and then engaged a very broad and global religious alliance, just as if there was no contradiction in doing so, which there's not. The 'Council of Conscience' who reviewed hundreds of thousands of submissions and comments, are responsible for the final draft. It includes some extraordinary people.

I don't want to say much more as I want the document to speak for itself. But I shall draw attention to one thing which for me distinguishes this document from many 'calls to compassion'. It is a critical document. That is, the call is not for us to ignore obnoxious beliefs for the sake of 'harmony', but to test all of our ideology according to the test of compassion, and to be critical of spiteful, demeaning or chauvinistic forms of engagement wherever we observe it. Compassion is a criteria for good theology. In Armstrong's own words, "Any ideology that preaches hatred, suspicion or exclusion is failing the test of our time."

It is my deepest prayer that the House of Every, wherever it may go, passes this test.

Theological questions are begged of course. If a religion is resulting in judgement and violence, we may have evidence thereby that there is a theological problem but, apart from the absence of compassion, where did it go wrong? This is the material of other sermons past and future.

Although The House is at this stage merely an idea rather than an actual religion, The House of Every endorses the Charter for Compassion 100% and has a view to not merely promote it but to discover means to enact it. I have personally added my name to it and encourage others to do so, to promote it and to encourage the leaders of their institutions to do so as well. This is not fluffy stuff. This is high stakes material with compelling universal importance.

I have no doubt I'll talk more about Karen Armstrong in the future. I think I should read a few of her books first, and I intend to. But already I find myself looking up to her as an elder of Everything, a teacher I can learn enormously from and be challenged by for a long time. Apart from her religious knowledge, her various accolades, publications and achievements, which are formidable enough, she asks the big questions, without illusions. I dearly hope she doesn't mind me naming her an honourary teacher of Every.

Here's another song from the 'Playing for Change' people. I just love them. Enjoy.
Everything, thank you for the gift of compassion, your natural antidote to the poorer side of our nature. Help us in our capacity to 'dethrone our egos', and to place ourselves in the shoes of another before we act toward them, in every sphere of life. Bless my readers. May any wisdom in my words be nourishing to them and may any folly in my words be properly dismissed. So be it.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Sunday Sermon: Prayer 2

Good morning Everything! Source of all things, harbinger of all things, fate of all things, totality of all things, thank you for every heartbeat. Help us to do thy will. Amen.


It is my habit to open and close each sermon with a prayer. They are somewhat formulaic prayers and generally are quite detached from the rest of the sermon. I have preached about prayer before in Prayer and Your Own Personal Anthropomorph, but, especially as the former is  the single most popular sermon to date (at 119 views, if you're interested), it seems a reasonable thing to explain myself, and this practice, a little further. I'm sure it won't be the last time I discuss it.

Prayer is a practice that is simple, undemanding and effective in cultivating focus, direction and will in our lives. It is not magic. It's not telepathically communicating with a disembodied sentience. It is a practice which uses the everyday power of words, formulated as conversation between oneself and one's reality, as a means to 'tune', 'program' or just focus the mind on the job at hand - life ongoing. I find it very helpful and I propose that it may be helpful to people of any ideology, theoretically (it may not be to their taste) even an atheistic one.

Prayer in my understanding is not something that was invented but is, in its essence, an evolved function of mind, or at least the seat of the object of prayer is an evolved function of mind. In practice, throughout history and throughout a given biography, it manifests itself in very diverse ways. The term I have candidly used for the cerebral equipment of prayer is the 'IF (imaginary friend) function'. Although a somewhat playful term, the imaginary friends common among children are examples of the function in practice, in this view.

A more traditional terminology which might be helpful to grasp what the act of prayer is, is microcosm and macrocosm.

The idea of and relationship between mikrokosmos and makrokosmos goes back in the West to the Neoplatonists but also has a strong parallel in Taoism. The Greek means, essentially, 'small world' and 'large world', and the idea has been used variously as an epitomic description of any smaller system which reflects in its nature and workings a larger system of which the smaller system is a part. These days we will most likely encounter the schema in sociology.

In religion and mysticism the microcosm/macrocosm formula is taken to its logical, almost mathematical conclusion as Self/God or Self/All, self (or 'source') being, in mysticism, equivalent in some way to the whole. In neoplatonism the person is sort of a summary of kosmos, which is a compelling meditation at least, but I don't want to get trippy here. The insight is simply that a conscious self is obliged to have, with the cerebral equipment available, a relationship with reality, a reality which is infinitely bigger than us but whose entire accessible existence is inside our own heads. It is good if the relationship is harmonious and positive. It is an essential social fact that the manner of engaging reality is shared with others (starting with language).

'Focus on Everything' is a kind of oxymoron of course, and only made more difficult as we have no firm idea of Everything's shape, colour or structure. I'm not saying it is difficult to conceive of as such - the idea is accessible to anyone - but unlike any form of idol it is a slippery concept to hold in mind. Also unlike any form of idol it is a perfect focus, transcendent in a kind of hyper-reality. Everything is complete and, although prayer to any idol may be helpful in the sorts of ways I'm speaking of, the spiritual theory here is that we are completed by engagement with the most complete, uncarved object possible, and that the most effective practice of prayer is to Everything.

Another way to put it is that an object of prayer is to hone our intuition, and praying to anything less that Everything is risking leaving something important out of our intuitive aperture. The nature of intuition is that it makes use of information that we don't necessarily have conscious access to, and hence we don't know where that information has come from, or what it will be needful to notice. We can help the quality of intuition by practice but we can't pre-empt it.

The other major advantage of Everything as our object, our ghost in the IF as it were, is that It is the god we all share no matter what and, in the face of Everything, we are all about as equal as it is as statistically possible to be. Everything awaits humanity, albeit as a mere potentiality, as the ultimate object of universal solidarity. That in itself might be a good reason to turn our attention away from idols and superstition: nature is, implicitly, the universal object of comprehension.

My own practice of prayer changes and develops from month to month and it really has only about six or seven years of erratic development. But I am letting my imagination as to what is possible with prayer get ahead of my practice in a way, and at the same time I am certain that every individual's effective practice of prayer is going to be unique. Broadly I recommend be casual, comfortable and completely honest (obviously; dishonestly would be a bit pointless). But for the sake of example and possible inspiration, allow me to parse the following prayer, the formula of which will be familiar to regular readers of my sermon as it is generally the basis of the opening prayer. I do also use it as a sort of simple mantra.

Hello Everything.
Help me to do thy will.

The, "Hello" - the acknowledgement of Everything - is, especially with practice, a type of reset button for the mind. Possibly its effectiveness is explained as simply as Everything mentally, however momentarily, obliterating the relevance of every other feature of reality. Ideally it is a rapid path to stillness, or at least a good, quick approximation of mental stillness with which to continue in prayer.

Especially at first I think, when you are first asking your mind to even conceptualise the single whole which is Everything as its object, some annotations and even repetitions might be helpful. Let the words do the work: Universe, Nature, Reality, Ineffable Infinite, Totality of All Things, All, Macrocosm of Macrocosms, The Highest, Largest, Most Complex Entity, the Greatest Conceivable Conception, 'God' if you like. I use the term Everything or Every for short, but if I find myself failing to concentrate - failing to actually address Everything as the object in my conversation - I still fall back on using various words until I think I'm actually addressing The Lot.

It's an ongoing practice, almost a game I play with my mind. Maybe it's just me but, a) it's kind of hard to address Everything and, b) it's immensely satisfying, and strangely compelling, when I find that I am doing so.

On the other hand 'Hello', or some acknowledgement, may also be seen as a mere punctuation with which to call one's mind to the mode of prayer, just as 'Amen' might be seen as a signing off from the mode of prayer. I am attempting to give my suggestions some substance, but they remain suggestions, is what I am trying to say.

I remain mostly at a loss to explain the purpose in prayer of gratitude, but for me it came second to saying, "Hello," and I have found it essential to my practice. "Thank you." Alone in my view, thanks is prayer enough, and implicitly feeds us perspective, humility and grace. But this is also where you can start taking notes about things you value, if you want. Thank you for our loved ones, our environment, our jobs, our freedoms, but mostly, for my money, for our lives, health (if we have it) and consciousness. I also often thank Every for Logos.

Another way to 'take notes' in prayer is to entreat Everything to bless. People - 'family', 'friends' or names, peace in the Middle East, whatever is important to you. Just to reiterate, yes, the idea that Everything might 'bless' something is a metaphor, an expression in words of hope that things will go well. The objective is to tune ones mind, at strategic times like before we go to bed or before we embark on an endeavour, to the things which are important to us, hopefully at the expense of things we simply shouldn't be being distracted by.

"Help me to do thy will." Ouch. I know. "The will of God"? What in hell do I mean by that!? Before I attempt to answer I should stress that no prayer is going to 'work' if you're not comfortable with what it is meaning to you. The meaning - the stuff in your head that the words prick - is the thing, not the words. Nevertheless, I shall explain what I mean by "The Will of Everything," and why I find the prayer, as well as the related prayer, "Thy will be done," helpful.

Firstly it recognises the immovability of fate. If the Earth does get hit by a comet, so be it - the universe has bigger plans than just us. But although the direction of the universe must remain unknown to me, I do suspect it has one. I have some suspicions, based on my experience in the place, that the universe does show some direction. I have some pretty firm suspicions about what it might be too but, whatever it is, I want to participate in furthering that direction rather than working against it.

As I write these paragraphs about "the will of Every" I am noting that the idea requires a full treatment, but in brief here are the suspicions I have about the will (a metaphor for the natural, dialectical direction) of Every. I am guiltily thankful that my main source for dialectical naturalism is deceased, as Murray Bookchin, a socialist revolutionary and an atheist, would be horrified at my use of it.

The universe appears to want to become more complex and to become alive. Beyond that we only have our local version of Darwinian evolution to refer to, but I suspect there is such a process in other parts of the universe and it is my bias that it is these living planets that are the jewels of creation - rare, precarious and mind-bogglingly complex and beautiful. And yes, Earth is the only one we can be sure of so far. Even in the full context of Everything, the Earth is a precious place.

But it doesn't stop at life and ecological development. That would be sublime and precious enough. There appears to be a direction in evolution, driven by biological imperatives (evolution), toward not merely greater complexity and diversity, but toward greater sentience, self-consciousness and wilfulness. Humans are often heard to put themselves down, but in this view humans are, in the context of Everything and what it's apparently trying to do, the single most important species we know about. You may call this 'anthropocentric', but if self-consciousness is the direction of the universe, the natural direction, then my anthropocentrism has an objective base. The loss of the human species in this view would not be trivial but would put our planet's evolution back hundreds of millions of years. Mind you, the principle I'm getting at makes all species extremely important, especially as we recognise the insights of ecology.

What we're observing goes beyond the biological evolution of consciousness as well. Apparently humans along with many creatures have become conscious only in complex colonies and these, in humanity's case, have over time slowly become one large community with an extraordinary communication system. All of this is, I suspect, the natural direction of the universe.

But if that is so it might follow that it is the long term metaphoric 'will' of Everything for us to be at peace and to solve our problems. History is certainly not over and in terms of the world's future political organisation I can barely speculate. But a dialectical view of history and a scientific understanding of human society - both ongoing projects of human logos - can certainly give us clues. Such research and meditation can also show us which pathways will lead us to hell. It certainly appears, for example, that not only is renewable energy the way for the world to go for its energy needs, but that the technology is coming just in the nick of time. The only real assumption I think I'm making is that Everything does have a way for us. It's our duty at this point to find it.

And if, as I suspect is an objective potentiality, the world does become a single interconnected conscious system, sustainable and at peace, then, I suspect by inference to reality so far that the task for that universal mind will only then become clearer. At this time I have no idea what it might be except to speculate something profound like, "For Every to know Itself", but I pray that the will of Every be done, and that the project, whatever it actually is, not be interrupted either by cosmic accident or by our own intransigent stupidity.

Once again the words of the prayer don't matter as much as the actual meanings you are exercising by use of the words. For me, "Thy will be done" simply expresses that although I cannot entirely know what is for the best, I wish to have my shoulder behind it and, if my conscious mind fails, I hope my intuitions and spontaneous actions may, overall in the dance of life, lead to the good. Take it or leave it, but that's what it means to me.

'Amen' is, of course, traditional. It means, "so be it." I just like it.

In a sense practice has nothing to do with religion or the House of Every. That is, spiritual practices can be and are practiced by millions of people without the need for a religious identity, institution or place of gathering and worship. Good ideas might come from anywhere, and if it happens that someone picks up the practice of prayer from this sermon, they don't need the House of Every to develop the practice.

But praying - expressing to Everything gratitude, hopes and fears in words - may be a social activity as well and, although here I only have my Christian experience to draw from, it is my conviction that this could be a powerful, unifying, focussing collective practice. Time may tell.

According to Augustine, a song is worth two prayers. If there was ever a songwriter who produced prayers, it is Leonard:
Everything, thank you for all things. Bless the paths of my readers that, regardless of the things that they read here or elsewhere, they are able to find the best pathways. Help them to be what you constituted them to be, whatever that is, and help them to thereby do thy will. Amen.