Jul 302013

I’ve been involved in many conversations that touched on whether or not Christianity stands, or should stand, in opposition to other belief systems.  This is a topic I feel moved to write and speak about from time to time, as in a previous blog post, “The Challenge of Scriptural Hatred and Violence.”

In this post, I’d like to share a *poem on this theme that I wrote many years ago.  At the time, I was particularly fascinated with the Knights Templar and how they might have been related to some of the esoteric movements in the Christian world. I had been meditating on this matter in various ways when it came to me to simply imagine myself as a Templar knight in the Crusades. In a flash, I received all the imagery and insight of this poem.

The Sword and Trowel

Due to an oath of service
It has come that I must stand
Within this foreign country
On this strange enchanted land,
To raise the ancient Temple
So long lost beneath the sand
Of time and Man’s corruption,
And thus must I have at hand
Both sword and mason’s trowel,
So to serve the Lord’s command.

Princes, kings and potentates
Sent us all across the shore
To cut down the infidels
In a bloody holy war.
They promised righteous glory,
Even life forevermore,
And so we’ve battled inward
Boldly taking on the chore,
Serving up our enemy
To the mercy of our Lord.

But in a lonely vigil
On a cold and eerie night,
Blew a moaning mournful wind
That filled my heart with fright.
I, glimpsing an invader,
Thrust my sword with all my might
Into an airy phantom,
My own shadow by moonlight,
And thus my eyes were opened
And my soul was given sight.

Within that silent moment
I was graced with Light shot through,
And for what seemed an hour,
Yet within a breath or two,
I was freed from all my sin
And stood with the Christ anew
As he vanquished my true foe,
Not pagan, Muslim or Jew,
But the hubris, hate and greed
Sitting on my heart’s back pew.

And now I know my duties
Are most truly to protect
The Cross from all dishonor
And the Temple to erect.
Not with metal sword or tool,
But by love must I perfect
The site of Christ’s next coming
Where His Light shall intersect
The heart of a true brother
Though he’s of another sect.

So I take the sword and trowel
As the tools that I must test,
Not upon a foreign land
But within this human breast,
To conquer evil forces
And intolerance arrest,
Building a fraternity
That will serve the noble quest
To spread illumination
And True Glory manifest.

So, what might we take from this imagery? At one level, it suggests some knights of the Crusades might have been inspired to return to Europe and form secret societies of a more tolerant and universal faith. At another level, I take it as a reflection on how the collective consciousness of Christianity was troubled by its own behavior in the Crusades, and how that disillusionment helped pave the way for broad cultural developments like the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. Finally, I suspect most of us can relate to the shock and horror of awakening to our own hostility, arrogance, and intolerance, as well as the remorse and resolve to change. Let us be accepting and forgiving of ourselves in that resolve, understanding that “To conquer evil forces / And intolerance arrest,” means to overwhelm them with love.


* This poem was previously posted on my poetry blog, The Incomplete Works…

  17 Responses to “The Sword and Trowel”

  1. What an amazing poem! It’s so rich in meaning and yet so eloquently worded, your style reminds me of Kahlil Gibran. I’m literally speechless, it’s going to take some time to reflect on it before I can fully share my thoughts.

    • Thanks, David. I’m glad you find it moving, and I look forward to more of your thoughts when you’re ready to share them.

      As for the style, this was an unusual poem for me. I usually write free verse, but sometimes something just flows out of nowhere with a tighter meter and rhyme like this one.


  2. I think the old saying is: “I don’t know anything about art; I just know what I like”. The same is true of poetry for me, Chuck. I know what I like and I liked your poem a lot. It has literary (poetic) character! And, as long as I’m here, I’ll contribute my $.02.

    On the question of whether or not Christianity stands in opposition to other religions – of course it does, as other religions stand in opposition to one another. I suppose this can also be said for all of the various sub-groups within religions, and even individuals within these sub-groups! Should it stand in opposition to other religions? I don’t think there is any choice.

    It’s pretty clear to me that religion in general is a cultural phenomenon, and Christianity is definitely a religion, found mainly in European cultures and their derivatives. It used to have wonderful survival value for people long ago, but in the post-modern age, not so much maybe. More and more young people are finding their spirituality outside of mainstream religion. Since it is basically cultural, it is subject to generational cultural changes. These changes look like relativism to religious people, but I think it has more to do with social adaptation, another survival mechanism.

    Those religions that cannot adapt to societal demands will eventually die. I think this can be seen now with the ongoing debates between fundamentalist Christianity and science, as well as homosexuality and gay marriage versus the “family values” groups. Those Churches that cannot or will not adjust to shifting cultural beliefs will just not grow or flourish. I could go on and on, like Catholicism and the role of women in the Church. Anyone can increase the list.

    There should be a way to maintain one’s moral and spiritual integrity, without feeling drawn to defend every miscellaneous doctrinal point within Christianity. Most Christians can’t even tell you what orthodox doctrine is, or where it originated! They defend something they are unable to intelligently articulate.

    For most people, religion exists as an element of their ego. Personally, I don’t think that’s religion at all. John Shelby Spong once wrote that Christianity will die of boredom long before it dies of controversy. I think he was quite right. I think controversy is what keeps all religion alive. For my part, I have grown tired of religious controversy. I have become willing to allow others to worship within whatever religious tradition they choose, and I can wish them well – a burden removed!


    • Thanks a lot, Steve. 🙂 Yep, if opposition includes something as innocent as contrast, a difference that poses a real challenge, then opposition is only natural between religions, and even within them. If, however, we think opposition must mean intolerance and striving to assert supremacy, then that is something we can choose to release, and just love, as you have done.


    • The error into which many of our contemporaries fall is thinking that the failure of the church or of “Christianity” somehow equates to the failure of the cause of Christ itself. So, let Christianity fail – my Christ is alive.

      Does Christian faith oppose other belief systems? At times it certainly is required to do so (keeping in mind that atheistic, soul destroying systems are systems of belief no less than Christianity).

      Then there is the fact that not every religion is exactly conducive to one’s well being. Do I oppose any such belief systems? Most definitely!

  3. Hi Chuck, I’ve read your poem several times and it really does say it all. It made me think of Ephesians 6:12 “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” The true fight against darkness is with our own shadow, as you said, that part of our selves, ego,.. whetever you want to call it, that blocks the light of God which is pure uncoditional love, and casts its dark shadow of fear and selfishness into our soul.

    I also agree with you, Steve, that the fundamentalist, authoritarian church will eventually pass away, it is destined to fail as it does not represent the true unconditional love of Christ. However, as Jesus said, “my kingdom is not of this world”, John 18:36. The true “Kingdom of Christ” is actually being built within the hearts of all those who join with the Son of God in expressing the Father’s unconditional and selfless love, and of that kindgom, there will be no end.

    “Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look upon the earth beneath: for the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment, and they that dwell therein shall die in like manner: but my salvation shall be for ever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished”. Isaiah 51:6

    • Thanks, David. You’ve made some very interesting comments here!

      You wrote:

      The true fight against darkness is with our own shadow, as you said, that part of our selves, ego,.. whetever you want to call it, that blocks the light of God which is pure uncoditional love, and casts its dark shadow of fear and selfishness into our soul.

      The interesting thing about this metaphor is that it suggests there is at least one potential usefulness of the shadow. Think of sundial, or using a stick stuck in the ground to cast a shadow and so discern the four quarters of the compass. The shadow reveals the direction of the light’s source and its (actually our) relative movement! 🙂


  4. Hi Chuck,

    I’m playing catch up. I realize the intent of the post and the positioning of mysticism with regard to the content; however, my comments are more on your poem, simply because I like it and I enjoy complimenting others with positive feedback on poetry.

    Your poem seems to me to be a ballad and I can hear the flutes and minstrels playing as it’s sung. Very well done : ) Beautiful imagery. I felt the thundering of horse hooves with the movement from line to line and the majestic quality of the goal that was set through the historic remembrances.

    The challenge, the reflection, the awakening, the recognition of true love overcoming self and being a truer goal to reach into the hearts of others – – superb.

    The inclination of purpose changing from rational religious direction to spiritual realization and clear intent – very striking!

    I see the counterpoint of off rhyme/on rhyme and hear its strengthening combined. One line no rhyme, next line rhyme and it all threads together very well in telling the tale.

    My favorite lines:

    “I, glimpsing an invader,
    Thrust my sword with all my might
    Into an airy phantom,
    My own shadow by moonlight,”

    Most dramatic!

    As you well know, metaphors and poetic images speak loudly and often more clearly to me than other forms of writing. Thank you for including such a strong poem here, it has lifted me from the gloom I’ve been in for the past eight weeks.


    • Hi Fred,

      I’m glad you found the poem both entertaining and helpful. 🙂 I’m sorry that your struggles have dragged on, and glad to see you posting again.

      Blessings to you, brother.


  5. what a gorgeous rich tapestry of a poem!
    Thank you Chuck. Re. shadows, once I
    heard these words within me:

    Your righteousness is precious food to me,
    sustains me in the midst of barren lands.
    I dive deep into the shadow of your righteousness,
    and make my small way through the blazing land.

    I wrote it while in the throes of a long, long depression,
    from which He lifted me so high and pure and bright,
    much more purely and powerfully than the medicines
    I had tried. But nothing was wasted of that long darkness.
    Praise God for his SHADOW, for the shadow of his wings….
    Our shadows deep as they go, are mere birth pangs…


  6. Thank you Chuck. There is something about
    the imagery that is so evocative for me among
    Christian mystics from time immemorial.
    A certain poetry and scope that feels completely
    missing in the {albeit} clear writings of the best
    non-dual teachers. I love that most mystics
    are, by association with the Beloved,
    lovers and poets, singers of the Real,
    and among them from ages back
    by the greatest grace, I’ve made my family.


  7. p.s. perhaps this response should be in the
    Christian mystic poetry thread, but there seems
    to be a crossover in all of it 🙂 I see I’ve gotten a bit
    off topic…. Re. taking a stand in the faith, these
    days when the energy happening through me is
    not degraded but finds itself moving forward
    more seamlessly in grace, I feel like He is
    awakening others to his presence without me
    knowing a thing about it. The philosophy board
    I write on knows I come from a Christian contemplative
    background; still, I have felt precious little opening there
    for hearing anything re. Christ, or re. what nonduality
    looks like from a Christian contemplative viewpoint.
    I therefore rarely use Christian vocabulary, though I’ve
    certainly hid nothing about it, and in general, find an
    uneasiness in the Nondual community re. even Christian mystic
    insight. I feel the H.S. has kept me there for his own purposes, in spite
    of my feeling of not *fitting in* . This goes with the territory. I know
    for certain, without even mentioning God or Christ, love has made
    himself (herself) known in those foreign cyber lands!

    • Dear Lauren,

      Sorry to be so long in responding to this. I sympathize with being in situations in which your viewpoint isn’t fully welcome, and thus isn’t fully heard and appreciated. This happens to folks in all sort of settings on all kinds of issues. Most of humans tend to box people up with labels and thus almost immediately rule on what their “agenda” is no matter what they say. For example, “You’re a Christian, so whatever you say about non-duality must really not be about non-duality but about a god that looks like an old white man with a flowing white beard sitting on a cloud and acts like bipolar megalomaniac.” LOL

      There are a host of other issues like this – attitudes about theology, sex, politics, non-Christians, gay people, etc – where the label “Christian” carries enormous baggage. Those of us who don’t meet the typical expectations that others attach to “Christian,” are often faced with a choice of whether or not we will suffer their prejudice in order to be an example of another kind of Christian. I actually have felt a growing sense of responsibility to do that very thing, which is a large part of why I am involved in this community. 🙂

      You have put your finger on what I think is key in these situations, which is love. My goodness, what if every Christian put acting with love above all tradition and doctrine, and above all church authority? 🙂 Keep letting that light shine, sister!


  8. On first reading I was so interested in the poetry that I failed to recognise it was your own work and not something you had managed to locate from the Knights Templar.

    The imagery, emotions and insights are try breathtaking – so much so that I can recall them easily and reflect on them when necessary.

    I love your writings, Chuck, and find them both resonant and revealing. I marvel at your academic accuracy and vocabulary plus they way everything is documented, but this poem is something quite, quite different. It strikes the heart and not the mind. Absolutely wonderful!

    Sorry about this late response but I have been hard at work and holidaying. What a wonderful gift to discover on my return. So much more I could write but my timetable is filled.

    Thank you for all your efforts and your sharing,
    Much love to you dear Brother.

  9. Thank you Chuck. For years now I’ve found myself
    in the presence and in relationship with philosopher types,
    (many cynics) non-dualists, scientifically minded folks,
    intellectuals, everything but believing Christians, much
    less, mystics or contemplative Christians.

    it dawned on me years ago, after too long feeling
    lonely and sorry for myself, that deep inside I was
    the mission field, and that my congregation had no walls.

    so bringing Christ to the far reaches of the earth
    was learning to accept myself completely in love,
    every dark nook and cranny, and how inspiring
    to begin seeing that *I* included all of existence!

    that love was the core my being, and all being.

    plain and simple.

    I seemed destined to live outside buildings and organizations.
    Talking one on one with people was enough.

    Thank you for encouraging the light.


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