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  • Restorative Readings: The Old Testament, Ethics, and Human Dignity
    Restorative Readings: The Old Testament, Ethics, and Human Dignity
    Pickwick Publications

    Foreword by Walter Brueggemann, my chapter is entitled 'In conversation: The Old Testament, Ethics and Human Dignity'. A superb resource edited by Julie Claassens and Bruce Birch

  • What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society from Southern African Methodists.
    What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society from Southern African Methodists.
    by Dion A Forster, Wessel Bentley
  • Methodism in Southern Africa: A celebration of Wesleyan Mission
    Methodism in Southern Africa: A celebration of Wesleyan Mission
    by Dion A Forster, Wessel Bentley
  • Christ at the centre - Discovering the Cosmic Christ in the spirituality of Bede Griffiths
    Christ at the centre - Discovering the Cosmic Christ in the spirituality of Bede Griffiths
    by Dion A Forster
  • An uncommon spiritual path - the quest to find Jesus beyond conventional Christianity
    An uncommon spiritual path - the quest to find Jesus beyond conventional Christianity
    by Dion A Forster
Transform your work life: Turn your ordinary day into an extraordinary calling. by Dion Forster and Graham Power.
Download a few chapters of the book here.
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Entries in spirituality (48)

Monday
Jul092012

Love to pray

This is an inspiring quote on prayer:

Love to pray. Feel often during the day the need for prayer, and take trouble to pray. Prayer enlarges the heart until it is capable of containing God's gift of himself. Ask and seek, and your heart will grow big enough to receive him and keep him as your own.

- Mother Teresa from A gift for God

Friday
Jul062012

God does something with me

I'm certain that it is a combination of factors, missing my family, the opportunity to be silent and reflect on the flight, and the anticipation of the week of wonderful meetings, speaking and teaching engagements and the opportunities for the Gospel of Christ to take shape... In fact there are probably a whole lot more factors such a memories, aspirations, sights, sounds and many things I am not aware of!

Here's the point... God does something within me on these trips. I grow closer to Him. I begin to slow down and experience His heart for this beautiful world, for all it's people, for the animals and plants, the landscapes. God helps me to feel love, compassion, joy and sadness.

In my doctoral research I came to discover that identity is formed through a complex set of interactions that take place within the individual and the community. It is a bit like the triune God - the identity of the individual persons comes to the fore in their relationships with others.

As you empty yourself (what is known in traditional theology as 'kenosis') you grow to become who God desires you to be, a bearer of the loving, serving, courageous image of Jesus Christ (this concept is known in Eastern and Patristics theology as 'Theosis' - growing in the likeness and mind of Christ). Paul writes about kenosis and Theosis in Phil 2.2-6, culminating around verse 11 if I am not mistaken.

So, as I sit alone in Singapore airport, enjoying a cup of coffee, God is doing something within me. I pray that it is good, that I may be less like me and more like Christ.

Look at the beautiful orchids in this picture. A real highlight each time I fly via Singapore. Indeed, the earth is the Lord's and everything in it (Psalm 24)!

Please pray with me!

Friday
Apr272012

When God speaks what do you do?

This week I have been at a very significant conference of influential global business leaders. It was a wonderfully inspiring time to listen to now many of these persons prevailed against significant odds to achieve what it they believed they had heard God calling them to do. Some took risks to start new enterprises and ventures, some gave up power, prestige and wealth to take up a life of service, others took a stand against an issue of corruption or abuse.

There was a fairly common narrative - God has a will for the world. God graciously invites us into His wonderful will and work in the world. However, it takes faith, courage, and obedience (and perseverance!) to faithfully achieve what God wants to do.

I am is servant - that is my calling. I am called to serve God. In doing so I have discovered that it most often means that I am called to serve God's people. This is blessed and rewarding work.

During this week I heard God speaking to me. It was very clear! Some may ask how I know that God was speaking to me - all I can say is that God spoke, I perceived it clearly and convincingly. I can only assume that this is similar to how someone like Wilberforce was encountered by God in order to give his life to fighting slavery. It takes courage to go against reason and seek to be obedient - I am trying to do that in my life.

So, I shall be spending time praying, thinking, reading, listening, engaging in community, watching the world, reading the scriptures and figuring out what it means to be obedient to God's gracious call to enter into God's loving, gracious, and just will for me and world.

I'd love to hear from you whether you have ever heard God speaking to you? If so, what did you do in response to that encounter?

Thursday
Nov032011

Created in Joy! Created for Joy!

I am an avid reader.  I tend to devour everything that peaks my interest - just at the moment I am reading Walter Isaacson's biography on Steve Jobs.  It has been of the most engaging, and saddening, books I have read in a long time.

Steve Jobs seems to have been a person who had a few very 'rough edges'.  Whilst I can certainly see elements of enlightenment in his character and desire, there are some very aspects of his person (most frequently expressed in his fears and his behaviour) that show that in spite of enlightenment he was a rather tormented and unhappy person.

I suppose that in some senses success comes at a cost - in this case the cost is real closeness to other people.  While there is little doubt that many people admired (and still admire) Steve Jobs for his vision and drive, there is also little doubt that there are many who have been left in the wake of an unrelenting and even destructive personality.

In contrast to what I am reading in the Isaacson biography I came across this beautiful quote from Frederick Buechner, the American born writer and theologian:

God created us in joy and created us for joy, and in the long run not all the darkness there is in the world and in ourselves can separate us finally from that joy, because whatever else it means to say that God created us in his image, I think it means that even when we cannot believe in him, even when we feel most spiritually bankrupt and deserted by him, his mark is deep within us. We have God’s joy in our blood. Frederick Buechner.

Indeed, I can see aspects of 'driveness' in my own life.  Those who know me will testify to the fact that I am quite a driven person.  Once I have a particular goal in mind, or an aspiration toward which I am striving, it tends to occupy my mind and direct both my actions and my thoughts.  

For example, I had been working on my doctoral research for about two and a half years when one day a catastrophe occurred - in an attempt to keep up to date copies of my working file (the actual text of my dissertation) I accidentally copied an old version of my work over the latest versions.  Of the 4 completed chapters (out of 6) in my doctoral thesis I lost 3. Basically all I had left was my research proposal, which would later become the first chapter of my thesis.

As you can imagine I was devistated! After much anger, dissapointment, disbelief and more anger, I made a choice:  I said to myself that I would give this project one last effort.  I decided to wake up each morning and work from 4am to 6.30am every day of the week (7 days) until I could not do it anymore.  

I kept to that discipline and ended up completing my dissertation in just over a year.  I was consumed by the desire to complete it. 

However, I have been working very hard in recent years to be transformed from being driven to being called.  It is a subtle, but significant distinction.  Driven people do things for themselves.  Called persons respond to an invitation from another.  I am attempting to live far more as a person of calling, on who is dedicating his life to a vocation rather than a career.

This reminds me a great deal of this quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer (whose biography 'Bonhoeffer, Pastor Martyr, Prophet, Spy', I read last month):

Vocation is responsibility and responsibility is a total response of the whole man to the whole of reality. Dietrich Bonhoeffer

As I have taken this delicate and often painful journey of living in spite of my weaknesses and brokenness I have discovered a great deal of blessing and joy. I am beginning to become much more accepting of the truth that I was created in joy, and created by God for joy!

Thursday
Sep292011

When God feels far away... A helpful insight.

In a couple of sessions with clients recently I have heard the concern that they feel far from God. It can be difficult when one is in that space.  Of course the ego is a part of that problem - we want 'control' over our spiritual experiences.  Another problem is hedonism - we want to 'enjoy' everything we experience.  Struggle can be a very helpful spiritual condition.  It is uncomfortable, yet helpful.

I found this quote from firstbreath90 very insightful to understand this spiritual phenomenon:

When God feels absent or non-existent, he does not come to the rescue like a helicopter parent. He leaves you in that pitch-black spiritual cave until every last bit of ego-driven “control” of your spiritual life is exposed for the sham that it is. He allows the “god” of our own imaginations to fade away so that he can begin the deeper process of forming us into spiritual begins who are content to trust rather than control.

Paradoxically, when God seems non-existent, it is then that he may actually be most at work. A Christian theology that learns to accept the dark night will be able to give thanks to God in any and all circumstances.

So, yeah, there is quite a bit in Ecclesiastes that intersects with the Gospel. Knowing Jesus doesn’t keep us from these experiences of alienation from God. They may actually bring us closer toward these experiences. That is all part of the Christian package—suffering conforms us to Christ’s image.

- Peter Enns, in an interview for his upcoming commentary on the book of Ecclesiastes.

How do you deal with 'feeling far from God'? Have you got any advice or insights to share? Please leave a comment below.

 

Thursday
Sep082011

I need your help to design a Masters course in Spirituality

Ekklesia web logo.jpg

We are planning to launch a new Master of Theology course in Spirituality and Spiritual formation at Ekklesia in the Faculty of Theology at the University of Stellenbosch

I would love to make this an 'open source' project! Our aim is to serve the Church and society. Ekklesia has a particular focus on shaping Churches, their clergy and members, for effective mission and transformation in the world.

As a result we would like our program to cover both spirituality and mission in what it presents for the participants. The Master of Theology program consists of 6 modules. 3 of the modules are shared with the Master of Theology in Congregational Leadership course. These 3 modules are: Congregations, a Theological module (this year we focussed on the Trinity and 'Missio Dei', and a module that introduces Christian Spirituality.

How can you help?

  • Please suggest themes or topics that you think we should cover in the three remaining modules.

  • Please suggest any books, authors, or scholars that we should consider including (with a brief one line motivation)

  • If you're interested in being updated on how this course develops, or if you may be interested in applying to do the Master of Theology in Spirituality and Spiritual direction at Stellenbosch University, then please leave your details.

    Please feel free to leave your feedback, comments and ideas in the comments section below (see the link below this post), or send me an email via the contact section of my website.

    Thank you!

  • Wednesday
    Jul062011

    Be a servant, and be free.

    In recent months I have become quite fond of tumblr - of course it is the people that one follows that make tumblr so worthwhile. One of the people whose posts most resonate with my own theology and spirituality is invisibleforeigner. I find such depth, encouragement and challenges in the posts from this person.

    Today invisibleforeigner posted the following deeply challenging quote:

    Be both a servant, and free: a servant in that you are subject to God, but free in that you are not enslaved to anything – either to empty praise or to any of the passions. Release your soul from the bonds of sin; abide in liberty, for Christ has liberated you; acquire the freedom of the New World during this temporal life of yours. Do not be enslaved to love of money or to the praise resulting from pleasing people.

    Do not lay down a law for yourself, otherwise you may become enslaved to these laws of yours. Be a free person, one who is in a position to do what he likes. Do not become like those who have their own law, and are unable to turn aside from it, either out of fear in their own minds, or because of the wish to please others; in this way they have enslaved themselves to the coercion of their law, with their necks yoked to their own law, seeing that they have decreed for themselves their own special law – just when Christ had released them from the yoke of the Law!

    Do not make hard and fast decisions over anything in the future, for you are a created being and your will is subject to changes. Decide in whatever matters you have to reach a decision, but without fixing in your mind that you will not be moved to other things. For it is not by small changes in what you eat that your faithfulness is altered: your service to the Lord of all is performed in the mind, in your inner person; that is where the ministry to Christ takes place.

    — St. John the Solitary, Letter to Hesychias

    This is a very challenging way to live - to live as a servant and to live as a free person. Our world encourages us to live as free Lords, Lords of our own destiny and making, not as free servants.

    Over the last four years I have struggled to choose the path of service - perhaps it is because I am so addicted to being a 'Lord'. I qualified early in a unique and interesting discipline. I was afforded great opportunity and favor within the Church. This was not good for me. My ego sought the recognition and affirmation that others gave. I soon realised that I was becoming less and less Christ-like as I lived the life of a Lord, instead of the life of service, living like Jesus. So, I took up a post that called for service. I decided to give my energy, training and ability to serve the ideas of others. I dedicated myself to helping other people to become the best that they could be. It has often been a challenging journey.

    My wife and I were wise enough to make some small commitments that have helped us. We have turned away opportunities for greater earning capacity - simply stated we did not want to be owned by money. We want to be free to respond to God's call to ministry, wherever and whenever it may come.

    It is not always easy. But, we are striving to be free servants - choosing to serve. Sometimes we get it right. Often we don't.

    Friday
    Jun032011

    We are fragmented, yet we hunger for wholeness...

    This quote resonates very strongly:

    We doubt the possibility of being at home in the world, yet we desire that home above all else. We are certain only of ourselves - if in a somewhat precarious way - and we work toward the certainty of something larger. We are fragmentary, even masters of fragmentation, and we hunger for wholeness.

    Jedediah Purdy, For Common Things (25) via invisibleforeigner
    Sunday
    May222011

    Is faith incompatible with science (and vice versa)?

    After speaking at a secular conference recently I was asked a very thoughtful question (via email) by one of the persons in attendance.

    In short, the question asked whether with my background in science (neuroscience in particular) I did not find a conflict with my faith as a Christian.

    This is a common question.  It is a good question!

    I'd love your input and response!

    Here is my answer:

    It is great to hear from you!  Thanks for taking the time to drop me a line.  The question that you pose below is one that I have heard many times before.

    My area of specialization is neuroscience (rather than neurology). Of course the disciplines are linked, but my specialization is much less diagnostic in nature (it deals with understanding rather than pathology).  

    I have had a longstanding interested in science, with a particular interest in physics, having done work in that area in my first degree and work in quantum theory (specifically quantum mechanics and quantum physics) in my master's degree.

    The basic supposition of many people who ask this question is that there is a dualism (an ontological separation) between science and spirituality. This is a false supposition.  Please see the link below for my reasoning on this.

    Even some of the most ardent atheistic scientists don't hold this view (for example of you read Richard Dawkins' 'God delusion') you'll see that he proposes a method of viewing the world from a scientific point of view - this form of spirituality is  known as scientism.  Basically any way of understanding the world in its entirety is a form of faith (in its most basic form).  For some people their meaning and greater value is found in service, some find it  in politics, some find it in spending, sport, sex and others in formal (and non-formal) forms of religious belief.

    Sadly, many scientists do pseudotheology and many theologians do pseudoscience.  However, those who do solid epistemological study in both science and belief soon come to realize that there is not a great divide between science and faith.  In fact the opposite is true.

    What we soon come to realize is that science depends as much on faith as faith depends on science!  Think about this for a moment.  The central 'proof' that something is scientifically true is based on a process of experimental repeatability.  The scientist has a 'hunch' or 'belief' that something is true and sets about to test that hypothesis.  This is an act of faith.  When the experiment is largely repeatable with the same results it is believed to be true... However, how many times have we discovered that what we believed to be entirely true was only partially true when we discovered another level of complexity in material reality?  However, faith in our results allows us to build bridges and fly in airplanes!  Science relies on a 'kind of faith' - we learn things, we believe they're true, we structure our lives accordingly. However, as times passes we learn new things that contradict old things we believed to be completely true. In the process we discover that not all science is 'absolutely true' - all faith is fluid in some senses.

    Faith (in the traditional religious sense), on the other hand, relies a great deal on science!  I was asked to review a wonderful book entitled 'The fall of man and the foundation of science' (Oxford University Press, 2010, Peter Harrison).  It is an exceptional explanation of the relationship between contemporary science and religious belief, and religious belief and scientific methodology. See the book here: <http://www.amazon.com/Fall-Man-Foundations-Science/dp/0521875595>  It is not an easy read!  My review will be published in Studia Historiae Historiae in the next edition.  I'll gladly send you a copy of you're interested.

    Whereas science is epistemic, religion tends towards phenomenology (i.e., the interpretation of what we hold to be true).  If a person comes to hold something to be true they will test their belief (consciously or unconsciously).  When they find evidence to support their belief they integrate it into their framework of dealing with joy and tragedy, bliss and suffering in their daily lives.  It is this process that helps us to deal with disappointment, discouragement, fear, opportunity, hope and a myriad of daily realities.  As I point out above some people frame the way in which they deal with these existential realities through relying on science, others (like Christopher Hitchens - a fellow anti-theist with Richard Dawkins) rely on secular humanism, others on religion, others on economics...

    Can I suggest that you take a look at one of my posts on belief and the neurobiology of the human brain here:  <http://www.dionforster.com/blog/2010/8/3/the-presence-of-god-and-functioning-of-the-human-brain.html>

    My friend Gregory Benvenuti (an atheist from Australia) made some super remarks in the comments.  Please also see my reply to him.

    Please feel free to come back to me with your input, thoughts etc. Would you mind if I published my response to your basic question on my blog (no names mentioned of course)?

    Grace and peace,

    Dion

    Wednesday
    May042011

    Associating with God

    A great deal of my life and ministry is 'glamorous' by anyone's standards! I get to fly around the world and speak about topics that I've written about in books. I am constantly humbled and amazed that people would listen. Most often at the seminars, conferences, and gatherings I speak at I encounter women and men who have a far greater understanding of the subjects I speak on. Sometimes they are better practitioners of my topic, at other times they have deeper insights, frequently they are more articulate.

     

    KL skyline.jpgBut, by the grace of God I have the opportunity to do what I do - and so I don't stand back. I wake early, I go to bed late. I work hard to be creative and passionate about transforming the world to conform to the values of God's gracious Kingdom. I believe that it is a good thing to spend my life in order to try and facilitate transformation in the people I encounter and the systems within which we live. God cares about people - very much so! And so I care about people. God also cares about the systems that help us and the systems that hinder our living. God cares about politics and freedom. God cares about health care. God cares about education, reproductive rights, racial, gender and ethic issues... God cares about animals and plants. God cares about the world - very much so! And, so do I.

     

    I want to encourage you, if you have not already done so, to associate far more closely with God. It takes humility to be in God's presence, because there no-one is love any more or less than anyone else. We are all loved completely. It takes courage to associate with God. Since in God's presence we see ourselves for who we truly are. There are no titles, positions, lists of publications, 'speakers introductions' or bank balances in God's presence. There is just God, God's love and God's people.

     

    This picture of the KL skyline taken from my Hotel room informed my prayers this morning. In these apartments and houses are women and men that God loves. There are families, there are joys, struggles, hopes and aspirations. Some are free to find true life, others are bound by circumstances that stop them from truly living. But, what is common to each of us is God's loving and transforming grace!

     

    This quote via @Invisibleforeigner touched me deeply as I was praying and reading the scriptures this morning.

    Since Moses was alone, by having been stripped as it were of the people’s fear, he boldly approached the very darkness itself and entered the invisible things where he was no longer seen by those watching. After he entered the inner sanctuary of the divine mystical doctrine, there, while not being seen, he was in company with the Invisible. He teaches, I think, by the things he did that the one who is going to associate intimately with God must go beyond all that is visible and—lifting up his own mind, as to a mountaintop, to the invisible and incomprehensible—believe that the divine is there where the understanding does not reach.

    — St. Gregory of Nyssa, The Life of Moses

     

    Today I shall be flying from Kuala Lumpur to Penang to participate in a conference. Please pray for me, and for my colleague Steve Johnstone. Please pray for the people we shall be with. Pray that we may encounter each other in God's grace and that God may be glorified in our speech, thought, actions and togetherness. Pray that we may have the courage to be true to God and to ourselves, and that by the grace of Christ we may have the courage to act with integrity to participate in God's mission of renewing and transforming this little peace of God's good earth.

    Thursday
    Feb032011

    Dailyness - learning to live without need for constant excitement

    My 4 year old son is a source of immeasurable blessing and joy!

    This morning I had to be at work just before 6am so I didn't get to see him. So, just before Megie took him to school I phoned him - the first thing he said when he got on the line was 'daddy, when you get home tonight I want to ride my bicycle'!

    Liam loves riding his bike with me! In part I think it is the excitement of gaining a new skill (he has only just learnt how to ride his bike), and in part it is the joy of the two of us spending time together.

    However, I remember when my daughter was that way - she too loved to ride her bike! We spent countless hours riding up and down the street. Now that she is 11 years old riding her bike up and down the road with her dad is not quite as exciting as it once was! She prefers to leave that activity to her brother.

    Life can be like that! The things that excite us today tend to loose their 'shine' with time. We become accustomed to them, we master them, they loose their initial challenge and attraction, and eventually they become part of our routine; they become mundane.

    Every aspect of life is prone to this propensity towards becoming mundane or familiar.

    From a neuroscientific point of view I know that in part this has to do with the body's attempt to become (and remain) as efficient as possible. It takes energy to generate excitement, to learn new things, and to be stimulated. The brain literally requires more energy to fire the synaptic junctions and activate the dopamine system that makes one interested in something (or someone), thus making you alert to the many new aspects and possibilities of such an encounter.

    Relationships move form passionate lust to stable love. Shiny cars soon pale in comparison to newer, faster, models.... The list of 'exciting to ordinary' examples could go on and on!

    In spiritual circles we call this tendency 'dailyness'.

    A healthy spirituality is one that moves from the immaturity of seeking pleasure through excitement and exotic experiences, to one that allows you to enjoy and be blessed by everyday life.

    Such a spirituality celebrates 'dailyness', it seeks out and finds the blessing and joy of the 'ordinary' aspects of one's life by training the senses to be alert to them; encouraging the mind to see simple things in the light of wonder, grace, and gratitude.

    Hedonism is the enemy of a 'spirituality of dailyness'. It constantly seeks pleasure and gratification. In the West we have become obsessed with the pursuit of comfort and pleasure. So much so that many of our laws and economic systems are based on an ethical / moral philosophy called 'altruistic hedonism'. What that means is that we want to seek the maximum pleasure for the most number people. The point is that we have become a pleasure directed society.

    When you first consider this you may ask 'So, what is wrong with wanting to make as many people as possible happy all the time?' Well, one obvious problem is that it is not sustainable! If we cannot learn to appreciate what we do have we will constantly seek more, and better, things. This consumerist attitude is behind many economic forces in western society. We will never be satisfied because 'happiness' will always be over the next hill or around the next corner. There will always be a desire for a bigger budget, a larger house, a faster car...

    In the end we chase after those things that cannot bring fulfillment, and in the process we destroy others and the environment. In the process more and more of the earth's resources are consumed for unnecessary pleasures. Why should you have a car that can go at 200km/h when one that can do 100km/h is all that is required? I think you get the idea?!

    So, for the last few days I have been consciously attempting to focus on 'blessed dailyness'. I am deliberately trying to find joy in, and celebrate, what I already have. I am making it a discipline to give thanks for what I have and to fight the urge to want what others have.

    It has been a remarkable experience. I am realizing anew just how fortunate and blessed I am!

    Have you every applied a similar discipline, or spirituality, to 'blessed dailyness' in your life? Have you got any experiences you would be willing to share? I'd love to hear from you! God bless, Just Dion (living each day to become more truly 'Dion the just')

    Thursday
    Jan132011

    Prayer, social action and change.

    Some years ago I wrote an article entitled 'Prayer, compassion and social change: Towards an understanding of prayer and spiritual activity as a praxis transformative of the individual and society'.

    It's a mouthful, I know, but then what would the academy be if it is was not at least a little verbose!  ha ha!  The point of the article was to show how prayer and spiritual discipline are critical elements for individual and social transformation.

    The following little quote reminded me that article:

    Prayer is not an old woman's idle amusement. Properly understood and applied, it is the most potent instrument of action.  

    - Mohandas Gandhi

    Here's the abstract for the article:

    This paper will argue that prayer and spiritual activity are not only effective means for transformation, but that they form a sound basis for all forms of personal and social transformation.

    In order to develop this argument it is essential to start with a brief explanation of an emerging paradigm of reality.  In brief, this paradigm bridges the gap that has been created between creation and redemption.  The new paradigm no longer separates God’s ongoing work of creation from God’s activity of redemption.  Understanding this notion forms an essential basis for investigating how and why prayer, compassion and contemplative activity are effective in bringing about transformation, in both the individual and in society.

    This paper will show, that prayer or contemplative activity is an extremely important starting point for embarking on any form of transformation or social change.  It will show that prayer puts one in touch with the source and goal of true transformation.  Along with this, it will be argued that true transformation takes place physically and spiritually (since the two can not be separated).  In the past great emphasis has been placed on mere physical action to bring about social change.  This paper attempts to show that true transformation or social change requires some measure of spiritual activity and awareness in order to bring about meaningful and holistic changes to individuals and societies.

    It is in this sense that prayer and spiritual activity act as transformative praxis of self and society.

    It was quite an interesting article since I attempted to bring together elements of traditional spirituality (with a focus upon the discipline of prayer and Christian meditation) and tie it in with elements of quantum theory, consciousness studies, some sociology and integrative theory.

    I'd love to hear your thoughts (if you do read it!)  I have long since progressed to more subtle and intricate understandings of Wilber's thoughts on holarchy (of course Wilber has published a great deal in the past few years on this subject).

    You can download the paper here.