Belief & Faith in the 1st and 21st Century

Gothic-Chalice-and-PatenThe following two addresses were presented in the Community Christian Church, Springfield, Missouri on Sunday, Aug. 9th, 2015. The first is the Offertory Address and the second is the Communion Address.

Belief & Faith in the 1st and 21st Century

My mother has been visiting this week…

So I ask the indulgence of adopting a somewhat affective approach, and recycling parts of a blog I wrote, which is in turn based upon a number of the late Marcus Borg’s observations concerning Belief and Faith [1].

Earlier this week my father, when asked to describe his understanding of Taoism replied:

“We all know right from wrong. Following the Tao is doing it.”

Belief

I “believe” our common understanding of Belief and Faith are thin, spindly-legged things. This leads to misunderstanding our sacred scriptures, and more importantly, to being misguided, and misbehaving.

Merriam-Webster online offers:

Belief [2]
: a feeling that something is good, right, or valuable
: a feeling of trust in the worth or ability of someone

Note that this understanding of Belief is rooted in FEELING. And I do have the impression that a big reason many people bother to go to church at all, is so they feel better about themselves. In and of itself, this is not a bad thing.

But if it becomes the primary reason, it does become a bad thing. It becomes…

self-absorbed;
self-serving.

Whereas everyone who attends this little church, for any length of time, comes to know, an important function of church, is to be…

other-absorbed;
other-serving.

These are among the central teachings of Jesus.

Faith

Almost amusingly, Merriam-Webster defines Faith as… [3]

a strong belief or trust in someone or something;
[such as the] belief in the existence of God

So in the religious context, Belief carries the connotation of affirming as true, that which one would otherwise not hold to be true.

And apparently, Faith, is really affirming as true, that which one would otherwise not hold to be true.

The Virgin Birth, is a prime example.
This is of course, based upon a mis-translation of Isaiah 7:14 [4].
As bishop Spong recently reminded us, that mis-reading has been known since at least 150 c.e.

    If nothing else, we Christians are a stubborn lot!

But far more importantly, by being mislead toward a false belief in Virgin Birth (as only one example among many) ―in expending all that energy, to belief a falsehood, as if it were factual― we become completely blind to the larger Mystery which we are supposed to be seeking!

And it happens again, and again, and again:

We simply no longer live in a three-tiered cosmos.

We live in a universe some 13.8 billion years old, more vast than we can really grasp.

So too “God.”

Effective and Affective Faith

So, is there a more useful understanding of Faith?  [5]

Faith as faith-full-ness ― is fidelity.

Borg asks that we consider the example of fidelity in marriage.
This means being faithful to the relationship with one’s spouse.

Please note: This is not being faithful to a set of logical statements concerning one’s spouse.

In the same way, fidelity to God is not about believing dogma, church traditions, or even scripture.

Fidelity to God is being faithful to one’s relationship with God.

Intentionally, mindfully enriching our sense of relationship:
with that Transcendent More,
which Christians choose to identify as God, or Father.

One aspect of this, is deliberately, consciously,
choosing to live in the presence of the divine,
throughout our daily life, as best we are able.

How do I do this?

I start by being aware of each moment as it passes.
I open ourselves to the possibility of feeling a Presence at any time.
I look for opportunities to relate to others directly, with compassion.
I help others when we may:

We shoe them.
We feed them.
We help shelter them.

Why? Because “God” is not up in heaven somewhere, and “God” is not “out there” somewhere.

Quite the opposite:

It is we, who are “in God”
We are immersed in the Sacred More all the time, as is a fish in water.
Sometimes we are aware of this.
Other times we forget.

Faith as trust.

Fundamental, foundational trust in one’s relationship with God.

This is not trust in statements, affirmations, or assertions about God. The root lies not in logical constructs, but in experiential relationship.

Thus, we may see the heart of faith,
as rooted in a personal experience of the divine.

    Sidebar:   Sensing our personal experience of the divine is one way I define Mysticism.

Faith as trust, is related to Fidelity,

because Fidelity is expressed through
our concern for others,
our relationship to others.

Specifically, we are to mindfully move through our daily life,
mindful of the possibility of encountering the divine,
in all those we meet.

It is like the old joke:

Everywhere you go, there you are.

Our daily life is the only place we “meet God” ― because this is where we are!

THEREFORE,

…if you Believe
shoe-ing others,
feeding others,
sheltering others,

…is a foundational part of taking on the teaching of Jesus,

…I would as that you present as an Offering to Serving Others,
…what money you may,
…knowing you are helping to support this little church…

…knowing you too are helping to…

…put shoes on bare feet,
…putting food in an empty stomach,

…putting a roof over someone’s head.

Communion Address

First of all, I wish to let everyone know this is an Open Communion.
Everyone is invited to take Communion with us.

Our Communion is a symbolic breaking of bread, of sharing our table with those who have little or nothing to eat. It is a symbol of this communities, continuing commitment to feed the hungry of Springfield.

This clearly embraces the heart of Jesus’ teaching.
This is one of the things that attracted me to this church.
It is one of the things that still attracts me to this church.

For me, taking Communion also affirms …

I believe there is a Mysterious More which permeates the cosmos.

I choose to identify as a Christian, because I find Jesus is the “decisive disclosure of the More,” [6].

The More in which, “we live and move and have our being” [Acts 17:28].

Thus, as a Christian, I seek some degree of theosis [7] with the Christ.

…to Put on the Mind of Christ.

…to have the breath of the Christ living in me ― and through me, into the world.

This is the function of Communion for me…

…to better enable me to adopt this orientation toward life.

…to help me keep my heart and mind disposed toward embracing a Loving Spirit.

…I benefit by this reminder, and this re-committment.

May the Christ…

…be in my ++ thoughts,

…that through my thoughts     ― the Mind of Christ may quicken within me.

…be on my ++ lips,

…that through my lips     ― His spiritual powers may be made manifest.

…be in my ++ heart…

…that through my heart     ― the Love of God may shine forth.

In this light, I’ll ask you to consider Marcus Borg’s translation of John 3:16. To better understand the word Belief, Borg asks us to simply translate it as Be-loved.

For God so Loved the world,
that God gave,
the only Be-loved, Son of God
that whosoever,
Be-loves him,
shall not perish
but experience the life,
of the age to come,
in the here and now.

[John 3:16 translation by Marcus Borg][8]

May the Lord Bless you, and Keep you.
Erik+

Footnotes:

[1] Marcus J. Borg, “Speaking Christian: Why Christian Words Have Lost Their Meaning and Power ― And How They Can Be Restored” (New York: HarperCollins, 2011) 116.

[2] Merriam-Webster Online does better with their “Full Definition of BELIEF”:
1:  a state or habit of mind in which trust or
confidence is placed in some person or thing;
2:  something believed; especially :  a tenet or body
of tenets held by a group;
3:  conviction of the truth of some statement or the
reality of some being or phenomenon especially when
based on examination of evidence.

[3] Again, Merriam-Webster Online does better with their “Full Definition of FAITH”:
1.a :  allegiance to duty or a person :  loyalty
1.b (1) :  fidelity to one’s promises
1.b (2) :  sincerity of intentions
2.a (1) :  belief and trust in and loyalty to God
2.a (2) :  belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion
2.b (1) :  firm belief in something for which there is no proof
2.b (2) :  complete trust
3    :  something that is believed especially with strong conviction;
:  especially :  a system of religious beliefs <the Protestant faith>

[4] Isaiah 7:14 is typically taken out of context when quoted by Christians in the defense of Jesus’ virgin birth; few who read it are aware the Hebrew word used is ***Almah, which carries a range of meanings: girl; maid; maiden; young woman, and virgin. ***Almah is indeed translated as virgin in the Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Bible (from which the author of Matthew drew their reference). However, this is obviously a mistaken interpretation when read in context; read Isaiah 7:10-17 for yourself: “Isaiah Gives Ahaz the Sign of Immanuel”… 10 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, 11 Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. 12 But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test. 13 Then Isaiah said: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman [Greek, the virgin] is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel [God is with us]. 15 He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16 For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted. 17 The Lord will bring on you and on your people and on your ancestral house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah—the king of Assyria.” (NRSV) Basically, this passage is a prophecy that the current siege shall be lifted after the young woman gives birth, and that king Ahaz will not be defeated by these two kings, as he fears. It has nothing to do with Jesus’ virgin birth (although in the ancient literature of many cultures, accounts of virgin births are mythic/legendary elements often employed to raise the status of those to whom they are directed: Krishna (India); Horus (Egypt); Lao-Tsze (China); even Plato (Athens); as well as, Dionysus, Buddha, Zoroaster, and of course Jesus). This is not to imply that virgin births are not important, but they are not to be understood literally either.

[5] Marcus J. Borg, “What is Faith?” (Memphis, TN: Lenten Homily, 2001) http://www.explorefaith.org/LentenHomily03.16.01.html

[6] Borg, “What is Faith?”

[7] “Theosis literally means to become gods by Grace. The Biblical words that are synonymous and descriptive of Theosis are: adoption, redemption, inheritance, glorification, holiness and perfection. Theosis is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit, whereby through Grace one becomes a participant in the Kingdom of God. Theosis is an act of the uncreated and infinite love of God. It begins here in time and space, but it is not static or complete, and is an open-ended progression uninterrupted through all eternity.” Archimandrite George, Abbot of the Holy Monastery of St. Gregorios, Mount Athos “Theosis: The True Purpose of Human Life” (Mount Athos, Greece: 2006) page 86.

[8] Borg, “What is Faith?”

Resources:

Books:

Borg, Marcus J.:

“The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith”

“Speaking Christian: Why Christian Words Have Lost Their Meaning and Power ― And How They Can Be Restored”

Ehrman, Bart D.: “Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew”

James, William : “Varieties of Religious Experience, a Study in Human Nature”

Online:

Borg, Marcus J.: Lenten Homily, “What is Faith?” (Memphis, TN: 2001) http://www.explorefaith.org/LentenHomily03.16.01.html

Archimandrite George, Abbot of the Holy Monastery of St. Gregorios, Mount Athos “Theosis: The True Purpose of Human Life” (Mount Athos, Greece: 2006) http://orthodoxinfo.com/general/theosis.aspx (http://orthodoxinfo.com/general/theosis-english.pdf)

Is the Holy Ghost the Second Coming?

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Dove of the Holy Spirit, ca. 1660. Stained glass. Throne of St Peter, St Peters Basilica Vatican.Wikicommons

Holy Spirit as a Dove (detail) Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Dove of the Holy Spirit, ca. 1660. Stained glass. Throne of St Peter, St Peters Basilica Vatican (Wikicommons)

While discussing bishop John Shelby Spong’s book, “The Fourth Gospel:  Tales of a Jewish Mystic” (which I enthusiastically recommend reading) the question arose as to whether we might understand the Holy Ghost as the Second Coming?  I think the answer depends upon how one understands the terms, and the ideas toward which the terms point.

Chapter 19 of Spong’s “The Fourth Gospel” relates the allegories of the “vine” to an understanding of God as an in-dwelling Spirit;  this is specifically in opposition to thinking of God as external to us.  Spong is speaking of the in-dwelling Spirit of God as comprising part of who we are as self-conscious human beings.

  • It is not that God is absent in animals, and even rocks.
  • But we do differ from rocks and even birds and cats and dogs, in that we have a very strong sense of self-awareness and self-consciousness.  This is why we struggle against the idea of death.  Dogs and cats and cattle may struggle against death itself, but they do not sit around worrying about the eventually.  We do;  because we are self-consciousness.  We know that we exist, and we know that we will cease to exist.  The effort to transcend this eventuality is the reason many of us search for God.

Pantheism

Pantheism basically means “God Everywhere.”  God is understood as being everywhere in the cosmos: in every rock, every tree, every stream, every bird, every dog and cat, and in every person. This is one of the ways animalism and many aboriginal religions are interpreted by persons living in the West, although typically with the arrogant caveat such a “primitive” notion must be mistaken.

Small Pantheism

The “small” way of viewing pantheism is as lots of little spirits dwelling within everything: wood sprites, water spirits, etc.  Every culture of which I am aware, from the dawn of history, developed such a view.  Greco-Roman paganism was similarly structured, ranging from the “Big Gods” on Mount Olympia to city gods, to family gods, to gods of brooks, streams, woods, etc.  There were gods everywhere, and they were vested in every part of leading one’s life.

Most forms of Christianity, I suggest, see this as a form of multiple (“false”) gods.  But there is an important point to add here, which I find adds perspective.  Christians tend to be concerned about their afterlife:  Heaven or Hell, as the saying goes.  Pagans were not especially interested in this.  Most of them assumed death brought our annihilation.  What did matter for them was this life and getting enough to eat, having enough water to drink and raise crops, remaining healthy, and related basic needs of our survival.

Also, death was ever-present in a way I feel we fail to appreciate.  Where we get an abscessed tooth, and go to the dentist, they usually died!  The world was very different 2,000-years ago, and this is a significant point we tend to forget or fully appreciate;  many of us (most?) certainly fail to feel that kind of reality in our own day-to-day lives.  So I suspect we tend to ridicule “pagans” and those who hold aboriginal beliefs largely out of our own ignorance.

Big Pantheism

The “big” way of viewing pantheism, starts by asking a very different question:

  • Where is God not found in nature?

This requires some thought regarding the nature of God.  Is God only a personality?  Or is God the vital force of life itself?  Does God have a face and lungs, or is God the very essence of life?  Stated poetically, we ask if God is the Breath of Life?  Stated more abstractly, the 20th century theologian Paul Tillich suggested that we consider God as our Ground of Being.

If God is the essence of Life, then we have to find some way of imagining God within everything:  rocks, dust, bugs, deer, sharks, cattle, dogs, cats, and ourselves.  I would suggest this way of seeing God is very close to the truth;  and would result, if taken seriously, in better treatment of all the creatures and resources of this world; as well as one another.

An alternate view, is seeing God as a Big Person Above the Sky.  Useful in terms of language and metaphor, to be sure.  But if we take this too literally, how does this significantly differ from Zeus-Jupiter?

Panentheism (note the –en-)

The late Prof. Ron Miller of blessed memory, suggested it is instructive to think of God as panentheistic.  Pan*EN*theism (adding the “en” between pan- and -theism) argues God is everywhere, both within the cosmos, and outside the cosmos.  The key point of this idea is that God is not limited to the confines of this universe (cosmos).

Of course, we cannot really wrap our minds around what this means.  Our language cannot adequately describe what this implies.  We are creatures of time and of space.  And our language reflects, and is limited by, our nature as beings of time-space.  How does one envision a Being which is not constrained by the very limits of the universe itself?  This is a really, really BIG God!

I believe this way of thinking about God has to be tied to Paul Tillich’s “Ground of Being” idea.  For me, this represents God as the very vitality of life itself.  As advanced as our medical science is today, we do not understand the *essence which creates life.  We, for example, know that brain trauma may become debilitating, but we also know the brain sometimes compensates by building new neural pathways.

And doctors have not found our spirit, or even our consciousness, inside the brain.  Some disagree, and equate behavior changes as the result of brain trauma as proof of our seat of consciousness residing within the brain.  I disagree.  I think this only demonstrates that the “radio” has been damaged, and no longer receives the “radio waves” properly.

In this analogy the brain is the radio, and the radio waves represent our spirit, our consciousness.  And I submit that our consciousness, or spirit, is our seat of being.  But from what does our spirit, or being, emanate?  Tillich suggests this flows from the Ground of Being:  God.

  • In this way of seeing God, God is the fabric, the very essence, of the universe;  God is what holds the subatomic particles together;  God is space-time, onto/into which everything else resides. God is all that, as well as that which is beyond the knowable universe.

If one believes this is likely to be true, then “God” is best understood as panentheistic.  And even though we cannot completely wrap our heads around this, we can sense this is a very, very BIG idea of what must comprise the very nature of the “Beingness” (ontology) of God.

Now, as Christians, we have to figure out what to do with Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

  • In the early days of the Jewish-Christian “Jesus Movement” there was only One God.
  • Not three Gods.
  • And not God-three-is-one, as the doctrine of the Trinity came to propose in the 4th century.

Some early Christians believed Jesus was entirely human and unable to be God.  Others thought Jesus was God and unable to really be human (he just appeared so).  Others thought Jesus was a divine being of the highest order (above angels for example) but a creature created by the Uncreated God (this view presupposes there are only two categories of existence:  the Uncreated;  and that which is created:  “creatures”).

All of these ideas were early Christian teachings.  And they all had sacred books, thus proving their point!

  • Why books are so important to the Christian traditions is an interesting question.  In part, it is because Christianity evolved from Judaism, and the earliest Christians needed to be thought of as already “ancient” and therefore just another way of understanding the very ancient Jewish religion.  In part, it is because completely unlike pagan religions, Christianity is very concerned with what a person believes; pagans, in contrast did not care what a person believed, only in what actions they took – namely, offering the proper sacrifices and prayers to the gods, so as to sustain our life in the here and now.

All of these ways of “properly” understanding what it meant to be a Christian were being debated in the first 300 years after the execution of Jesus.  In the orthodox Christian tradition, these matters came to be codified in the Council of Nicene, convened in 325 ce.  It is from this council that we inherit the Nicene Creed.  While this council did not settle the debates entirely, they did resolve the larger issues, and framed the limits of theological debate to the present day.

But they lived in a three-tiered universe:  Heaven Above;  Earth; and Land of the Dead Below.  We no longer live in that three-tiered universe/cosmos. Therefore, we have to re-think their basic arguments and assumptions, if we wish to carefully think through questions such as the nature of the Second Coming and the Holy Spirit.  And we really have to re-think these kinds of questions if we are going to try to understand the Gospel of John on its own (mystical!) merits.

I find I agree with bishop Spong’s proposition:  the Gospel of John was written by Jewish-Christian mystics.  These authors were not speaking of God as residing Above the Heavens.  They were speaking of an In-Dwelling God, an understanding of God as dwelling within each of us.  This is a very different understanding of God, even today, nearly 2,000-years later!

And to be fair, this is a mystical way of thinking about the Divine, which makes it slippery to grasp.  It is difficult, not easy, to understand.  Anyone can understand a God Above the Heavens who gets angry and destroys cities and people, or rewards individuals or nations for “obeying” whatever it is one presupposes “God wants from us.”

  • The details of “what God wants from us” change, from one tradition to the next -even within Christianity, let alone across religions- but the core idea that God wants something from us, which we supply by modifying our behavior. But this is not a mystical understanding of God. A mystical understanding of God experiences God as in-dwelling! (In-dwelling in all persons; thus, one adopts Unity Consciousness.)

But what if “God” is within each of us and “wants” us to live in such a manner as to expand life for ourselves and everyone around us?  What if God is the very expansion of the universe and the force of life that constantly seeks expression?  What if this self-expression of the essence of God is vitally present in self-conscious beings, such as human beings?

  • God is present in everything, but we are aware of this in-dwelling Presence!

This is a very different understanding of “God” and for many it doesn’t seem easy to grasp.

What about the Trinity?

I am not a strong trinitarian.  In the many hundreds of years since formulating the conceptualization of God as the Trinity of Father-Son-Spirit, no one has nailed this down!  The best theologians of the last 1,700-years or so have always said the heart of this is a “mystery.”  In other words, no one understands it!

We can formulate it pretty clearly.  But this is not at all the same thing as understanding it!  Professor Phillip Cary offers the following technical formation:

1. The Father is God.
2. The Son is God.
3. The Holy Spirit is God.
4. The Father is not the Son.
5. The Son is not the Holy Spirit.
6. The Holy Spirit is not the Father.
7. There is only one God.

We can see how strange this is if we say much the same thing from the classical Greco-Roman perspective:

1. Zeus is God.
2. Apollo is God.
3. Poseidon is God.
4. Zeus is not Apollo.
5. Apollo is not Poseidon.
6. Poseidon is not Zeus.
7. There are three Gods.

Here we have the same formulation, one from a Christian perspective, and one from the Greco-Roman perspective.  They are identical in the logic of the first six steps.  However, the final conclusions are in direct opposition to one another!  This illustrates why Christianity was so perplexing to pagans 2,000-years ago.  And it demonstrates “why the doctrine of the Trinity is so difficult, interesting and strange” (Cary: “The Logic of Trinitarian Doctrine”).

Some have said, when speaking of the Trinity, we forget how to count:  God is above/before numbers.  Others say that God is three Persons (I prefer to say, Personae) but with a single Will.  But no matter how we try to explain the idea of the Trinity, it seems strange and remains beyond our grasp.  And so it has for some 1,700-years, for even the best and brightest theologians over the centuries.  So if this does not really make perfect sense to you, you are in good company!

  • If, and when, one finds speaking of God-as-Trinity useful, I say go for it!  Where it is not useful, I suggest, speaking in different terms.

Active Agent of God

When I speak of the Holy Spirit (or Holy Ghost, which is the transliteration we get from German scholarship on the Holy Spirit/Geist) I mean the active Spirit of the Divine, of which we are aware, and with which we seek to interact.  Our Christian history has offered this idea to us as the Holy Spirit, so I frequently use the same name-title.

  • “Holy Spirit” and “Holy Ghost” are two different names for the same thing:  Holy Spirit is translated from the Latin, Spiritus Sanctus;  from German as, heiligen Geist;  both of which are translated from the original Greek, άγιο πνεύμα, which is roughly “agio pneuma“.

From this perspective the “Holy Spirit” is what I sometimes call the “Active Agent” of God in the world.  I think of this as the aspect of the Divine with which we have interaction.  If one is able to go along with this interpretation, then I think we are getting close to being able to see the Holy Spirit as the Second Coming.  But we still have some more ideas to explore.

Transformational Christianity

I view both the Holy Spirit and the Second Coming as related to Transformational Christianity.  By this I mean the emphasis to first transform ourselves, and through and as a result of our personal changes -a transformation in our thinking, speech, and behaviour- to transform the community in which we live.  I believe this is how we observe the Holy Spirit as being active in our lives, and in our community.

  • As we think, speak, and act better toward one another, I propose calling this change in our personal formulation, the Holy Spirit as active in our lives. Some have also called this Putting on the Mind of Christ.

In this view, we understand the primary function of the Holy Spirit as that which transforms these elements (thinking, speech, and behaviour) in us, and through us, into our wider community.  Thus, the Holy Spirit is that aspect of the Divine which initiates significant changes in our lives;  It is the aspect of the Trinity with which we interact in this physical world.

But what of Jesus?  What about the Christ?

This is a closely related, but somewhat different question.  Here we must address the question of Christology, which is the effort to understand and make sense of the role of Jesus and the Christ, both in the early Jewish-Christian church, and in our own day and age.  This is a very deep subject, asking the very nature of Jesus the Christ!  Entire books have been written on this topic, and there is yet more to say.  This is obviously not a question which may be adequately addressed in one essay.

Christ is the Greek word for messiah, which in Hebrew is mashiach.  It means “anointed” or “the one anointed” and was a ritual anointing which identified the king of Israel as chosen of God, or as the son of God.  When the Babylonians wiped out the line of David, this began to symbolize something more than the kingship;  the idea of the messiah began to be associated with ideas of freedom and liberation from foreign powers.  God’s messiah would come in glory and overthrow the foreign rulers, and put the son of King David back on the throne.

In the Jewish understanding, the messiah was never thought to be a person executed by the state!  This is perhaps the single largest barrier to Jews coming to understand Jesus as the messiah.  He simply could not be, because far from overthrowing the Romans, he was crushed by them!  (Gentiles did not hold this presupposition, so it was easier for a gentile to see Jesus as the messiah, than for a Jew to come to the same understanding.)

  • In the synoptic gospels ―Mark, Matthew, and Luke― we find Jesus hesitant to speak of himself as the messiah.  I think this is because Jesus did not embrace the popular understanding of what this meant to his fellow Jews:  one coming in power to overthrown the Romans.  This concern is not shared in the Gospel of John, however.  But we also cannot read the Gospel of John as remotely literal.  To do so, is to miss the point entirely!

What I think I may say about Jesus and the Christ, in just a few words, is that the way in which Jesus is interpreted in the Gospel of John, expressed as a work of Jewish-Christian mysticism, is that Jesus is the embodiment of the Life of God flowing into the world.  Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life, does not mean we “believe Jesus is God.”  And it is certainly not saying that Jesus has to be killed to save us!

Instead, we are asked to believe that Jesus lived his life in such a way as to promote the in-flowing of the Divine Spirit of God in him, and through him, into the world.  But more than this ―and more importantly I believe― is the proposition that you and I may do the same thing!  (“Even greater things shall you do,” Jesus is made to say in the Gospel of John.)

This is the core meaning of Jesus as understood in the Gospel of John.  Jesus lived a life which brought the vitality of God’s Spirit into this world, and we may do the same thing.  God is not “out there” somewhere, but rather God is “in here” ― dwelling within us.

  • The way to get more God into the world, is to allow more God to flow within us, and through us, into the world:  exactly as it did in, and through, Jesus.

And that ―I believe― is what the mystical Gospel of John is trying to relate to us as the Second Coming.

So, may we think of the Holy Spirit as the Second Coming?

Yes, I think we may.  In the same way, the Kingdom (or Realm) of God is always at hand.  But we are required to participate in bringing it into existence.

God is not going to just drop the Kingdom of Heaven upon us, crushing the wicked and rewarding the good.  That was the thought behind apocalypticism, which was very popular in the time of Jesus (both roughly 100-years before and after his execution).  This was the idea that God would come in glory, displace the evil (Romans) and install the City of God in his Heavenly Realm on Earth.  And all would be ruled in peace for 1,000 years.

But that did not happen.  2,000-years have passed, and despite that some argue “soon” means aeons may pass, that is clearly not what the people of Jesus’ time meant.  They meant really soon, as in their own lifetimes soon.  If we choose to read “soon” to mean thousands and thousands of years later, we are not reading the books as they were written to be understood in their own day and age.

And the writers of the mystical Gospel of John were aware of this!  Nearly 70-years had already passed, and a lot of people had given up on the apocalyptic understanding of “soon.”  So they searched for a new interpretation, one they viewed as replacing what they now understood to have been a mistaken interpretation.

And this leads to the mystical understanding of Jesus’ life and the way God seemed to be expressed in the life of Jesus.  This is why we get the “I am” saying, which very clearly means Jesus is God the Father.  But so too, as Jesus is in God, we are in Jesus, and Jesus is in us.  We all are able to embody God the Father!  This is the very radical change that John is bringing to our understanding, not only of Jesus, but of God the Father;  meaning the Uncreated, which brought all that is, into being;  that same vital essence is available to us, and may flow within us, and through us, and through us into the world!

John is a wonderful gospel! Wonder-filled Good News!  From within the Christian New Testament, it offers the most transformative way of understanding Jesus and God.

  • Yes, we may think of the Holy Spirit as the in-dwelling transformative Breath of Life, which brings about the Second Coming, and creates the Realm of Heaven on earth.  But our participation in this transformative experience is required!

May the Lord bless and keep you!
Erik+

References:

“The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic” (HarperCollins Publishers, 2013) John Shelby Spong.

Logic of Trinitarian Doctrine  http://www.scribd.com/doc/2385278/The-Logic-of-Trinitarian-Doctrine-by-Phillip-Cary

Salesian Method of Meditation

Francis de Sales (1567―1622)

Francis de Sales (1567―1622)

Salesian Method of Meditation

Prayer vs. Meditation vs. Contemplation

Prayer, meditation, and contemplation may be defined many ways. In part the definition chosen depends upon who is rendering it, and to what end. For the purposes of this essay, below I offer a working definition of these terms, allowing us to open a discussion concerning Salesian meditation.

There are many kinds of prayer, including: liturgic prayers one chants or says in unison with others during a period of worship; ritual or formal public prayers recited before a meal or meeting or event; sets of formal prayers one may chant or read privately or in a small group; and prayers one might say privately.

One of the shared characteristics of each of the above forms of prayer is they are linguistic in nature: these prayers are composed of words stated or read, aloud or silently. They may be composed contemporaneously (off-the-cuff; unplanned) or formally. They may be private or they may serve a ritual or liturgical function. But they are all linguistic constructs: words.

Sidebar: Words are symbolic constructs, serving as pointers to that which they describe: they are not the object being described. As obvious as this sounds, we frequently forget this in our daily dealings with one another through language. There is always some distance between our interior, subjective world and everything/everyone else. That which connects our interior world to the perceived exterior world is rendered to us both neuro-linguistically and psychologically; and I would argue energetically and spiritually as well. One reason persons may engage in prayer, meditation, and contemplation is to short-circuit this interior/exterior mode of perception, in an attempt to enter direct interior perception ―apperception [1], is more accurate― of the sacred More.

Prayer may be directed outward (a shared public event) or be directed inward (a private event). Meditation on the other hand is an inward directed event.

As an exception to this one might cite guided meditation, in which one person leads others through a meditation. But even in such cases the goal is frequently to train the individuals comprising the group how to conduct their own private meditations at a later date, or to facilitate a meditative technique from which they might continue to benefit in private. Thus, one may argue this is a primarily a means of teaching meditation, not meditation itself.

Furthermore, prayer and meditation are similar to one another in that they each behold an object of attention: that upon which one is focusing. In prayer this is typically a linguistic event. Meditation too may be a linguistic event (repeatedly chanting a verse or mantra), but it may also be a visual (watching a flame, staring into a mandala, or imagining a symbol, such as the Sacred Heart) or sensory event (awareness of one’s breath), or an emotional event (feeling peacefulness or love), or any other event one may imagine.

When meditating, we are focusing our attention upon something, be that a word, a phrase, an image, a scene, another sensory-based experience, or an emotion. The intent is to focus our attention on this object, at the exclusion of all other objects of sensory or cognitive input competing for our attention. This is a kataphatic process ―a state of fullness― an imaginal process in which we are actively engaging and populating our attention.

Contemplation on the other hand is an apophatic state in which we seek emptiness, or the cessation of cognition and awareness. Achieving emptiness is challenging, to say the least. There always seems to be some aspect of the mind which must chatter! Buddhist mediators I’ve read often refer to this as the monkey mind.

Mystics and other contemplatives indicate there is little an individual may do to intentionally bring about an apophatic ―empty― state upon command. Their best counsel is to prepare oneself for the occasion of achieving emptiness, usually through periods of prayer and/or meditation, which are frequently seen as precursors, or means of training, for encountering a contemplative event.

In describing contemplation, I use words such as “event” and “occasion” deliberately. My intention is to suggest the cultivation of a contemplative state yields a rare fruit, short in duration. Often the very onset of the event may itself be sufficient to bring about its conclusion. Such has been my own experience at any rate, and it is one frequently attested to in writings of mystics. One author said he looks for these brief moments of emptiness in the gaps between his train of thoughts; in those brief silences between the near-constant chattering of the monkey mind.

With the foregoing in mind, we will recognize that the Salesian method of meditation is part prayer and part meditation. It will also be self-evident that Salesian meditation is a kataphatic process, deliberately engaging the imagination.

Salesian Method of Meditation

First I am going to offer an outline of the Salesian method of meditation. Then I will explore certain elements of this method, with the hope of highlighting some of what I see at play in this meditative method.

Francis de Sales (1567―1622) was a Roman Catholic bishop and spiritual director who “was not overly concerned for the etiquette of piety, but in offering a way for souls to find union with God” [2] and is best known for his book, Introduction to the Devout Life which was “written for laity and teaches a simple form of meditation known as the Salesian method [which] is sometimes taught in the Episcopal Church as the way to meditate.” [3]

When broken down into five (5) steps, the Salesian method of meditation may be summarized as follows:

  1. Preparation
    • Place yourself in the presence of God.
    • Pray for assistance.
    • Compose the place (i.e. imagine a scene from the life of Jesus).
  2. Considerations: identify those images in the scene that affect you.
  3. Affections and Resolutions: convert feelings into understanding and then resolutions (acts of the will).
  4. Conclusion
    • Thanksgiving.
    • Oblation or offering of the results of the meditation.
    • Petition to fulfill in your life this day its insights.
    • The Spiritual Nosegay: that which we carry through the day from the meditation.
  5. The “spiritual nosegay,” which is a distinctive mark of Salesian meditation, is a clue to Francis de Sales’ spirituality. A nosegay is a little bunch of sweet-smelling flowers that ladies and gentlemen of the period carried with them when they went outdoors, so they could travel without being overcome by the stench of the open sewers that commonly ran along the streets of European cities. [4]

I invite you to spend a few minutes walking through each of these five steps ― imagine how you might engage this process. How do you enter the state? To what end? What might be among the (beneficial) outcomes? What might this meditative process look like? Feel like? How might we more fully engage our senses? (And ought we?) Do you imagine any benefits may derive from such a practice?

Transformative Flow of the Salesian Meditation

Before going into greater detail, I wish to direct your attention to the broad outline of the transformative flow taking place within the Salesian meditation:

  1. Preparation: Visual Imagery (Anchor/Trigger)
  2. Considerations: Emotional Upwelling (Response from our Unconscious)
  3. Affections and Resolutions: Rational-Thinking (Formulating a Plan of Action/Exertion of Will)
  4. Affections and Resolutions: Action-Behavioral Modification (Adoption of New Behavior/Overlaying Old Behavior)

A similar pattern is repeated, in condensed form, throughout the Conclusion:

  1. Thanksgiving: Emotional Upwelling
  2. Oblation: Emotional Upwelling
  3. Petition: Rational-Thinking
  4. Petition: Action-Behavioral Modification
  5. Spiritual Nosegay: Emotional Nosegay & Behavioral Modification

Thus, we are engaging a specific physical and mental state through imaginal entry into a visual scene (other modalities could be used, but most of us are highly visual, so it is a very good general approach to ushering us into the desired, impressionable state).

One inside this imaginal scene, we seek an emotional response, upwelling from our unconscious. Once we have had this experience, we seek to engage our analytical process to ascertain a moral lesson which may be derived from the emotionally charged scene. While in this emotionally charged state, we imagine applying the moral lesson in our own lives. We commit to doing so, setting our will upon doing so.

We then carry a “spiritual nosegay” with us throughout our day, in an attempt to maintain this disposition; a reminder and aromatic trigger (metaphorically speaking) of our desired behavior change.

Entering the Salesian Meditation

Preparation

Preparation begins by adopting a mental attitude or state which will be conducive to our entering into a meditative state. I specifically read this in the first two steps, of (1) placing ourselves in the presence of God; and (2) praying for assistance.

  • Place yourself in the presence of God.

I read this as occupying a physical space in which I have made it my habit to meditate. This may be a dedicated space, indoors or outdoors, although if outdoors the variation in weather and season must be taken into consideration when preparing the site.

I would also associate the specific anchoring of triggers [5] with my physical space which signal that I am about to intentionally enter a sacred space. Such items traditionally include icons, the lighting of candles, and the burning of incense. Gentle music, chimes, or sounds of nature may also be signaling triggers.

Some may find it helpful to ask the Holy Spirit to direct the prayer (Romans 8:26 NRSV “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes [for us] with sighs too deep for words.”)

  • Pray for assistance.

Praying is the trigger that signals I am now operating within the sacred space. One of my first intentional acts is to cross myself (touching one’s fingers to the forehead, drawing a downward stroke to one’s solar plexus, and then from shoulder to shoulder, touching the heart at each passing).

As one may imagine, there are a host of possible triggers when praying: physical position, posture, attitude, adoption of specific verbal cadence (chanting, singing), and the specific texts employed, just to name a few. The more frequently one uses these specific anchors/triggers in one’s prayerful meditation, the more strongly they will become linked to the resulting physical, mental, and emotional state [6], thus proving increasingly effective over time.

  • Compose the place (i.e. imagine a scene from the life of Jesus).

Now that one has adopted the state one wishes to enter, one composes the object of one’s meditation. The example given is to imagine a scene from the life of Jesus; but any biblical scene may be employed, as may any church tradition which one finds suitably moving (perhaps an event from the life of a saint, for example).

Considerations

  • Identify those images in the scene that affect you.

We now enter into the scene we have created. The point is to live this as vividly as we may, to make the experience of the imagination as real as possible by smelling, hearing, touching, seeing, and tasting it. But do not overlook additional senses such as equilibrioception (sense of balance), proprioception (the perception of one’s body in space or the body’s position), or thermoception (sense of heat).

Having entered into the scene, we monitor our response to the scene in which we are immersed. We are seeking that which provokes in us a strong emotional reaction. These strong emotions, and that which induces them, we will carry into the next step.

Affections and Resolutions

  • Convert feelings into (1) understanding, and then into (2) resolutions (acts of the will).

(1) Understanding

I read the identification of the strong feeling, as a signal that something in my unconscious is responding to that element of the scene. And because it is my belief that the unconscious is one of the best avenues for the sacred More (Divine; God; Immanent aspect of the Transcendent) to flow into my awareness and experience, I am especially interested in accessing these unconscious objects as directly as I may.

Thus, as the emotion is triggered from within me, I note that with which I associate the emotion, or that which triggered the rising of the emotion. Once I have that scene, event, symbol, or whatever it may be, before my mind’s eye, I evaluate it: what is it? what is it trying to tell me, or show me?

Where this may begin as an unknown, as I inspect it (imagining my senses all reaching out to it, grasping it, listening to it, smelling it, tasting it, watching for any changes) I am awaiting some depth of understanding or apprehension to come to mind. At some point my interaction with this imaginal object (be that “object” of the imagination a person, symbol, experience, etc), it will give rise to some form of understanding or apprehension.

(2) Resolutions (acts of the will)

Once I have come to an understanding/apprehension prompted by the meditative scene, I am to make a resolution. The point of this meditation is to identify an act that I may carry out in my normal waking life. Many scenes from the life of Jesus may call me to show greater compassion to others, for example, or to take real steps to correct an injustice taking place in my community (be that in the church or city council).

Other scenes may call me to begin an internal transformation of character (to be more forgiving, less quick to anger, more generous, etc). Transformation of both self and community are part and parcel of the authentic Christian spiritual experience. Both are important, and one supports the other.

Conclusion

Our meditation concludes by offering thanks, both generally to the Transcendent More (God) and specifically for the fruit of the meditation, and by asking for the wherewithal to carry out our resolution.

  • Thanksgiving

This is the general offering of thanksgiving to the Transcendent More (God), in whatever way we apprehend that More. Praise and blessing are preferred responses to the sacred More; holding affection and joy in your heart for creation and creatures.

Psychologically, this is akin to positive reinforcement. We wish to exit our meditation with a positive and uplifting feeling. The meditation should become a form of nourishment for us. Adopting a state of positive appreciation affects us in this manner.

  • Oblation or offering of the results of the meditation.

This too is a form of thanksgiving. We thank the sacred More that has visited us with the gift of insight for the fruit of this meditation. We are blessed by the fruit of our meditation, and we offer as blessing those fruits we have been granted.

Psychologically, this establishes within us an environment of bounty and thankfulness. We are cultivating within ourselves this creative state of plenty, a cosmos built of and upon loving-kindness.

  • Petition to fulfill in your life this day its insights.

In our final petition to the sacred Transcendent More (God), we ask for the grace to stand by our resolution. We are fully invested and affirming that we will take positive steps to bring about our resolution (we are active), but we are also asking for the generous, compassionate support of the creative loving-kindness upon which/within which we are all swimming.

Spiritual Nosegay

  • The Spiritual Nosegay: that which we carry through the day from the meditation.

As a “little bunch of sweet-smelling flowers” or a perfumed handkerchief carried with us, provides around us a pleasing aroma wherever we travel, so too the fruits of our meditation ought to provide us with a sweet-smelling disposition toward the world and all persons  (this includes ourselves).

This may play a role in the process of theosis [7] ― we seek to carry with us throughout our day, a sweet-smelling spiritual nosegay, to refresh us, to inspire us, to help us dwell in our experience of our mediation all day. Where the mind dwells the body will follow. If we wish to transform into more compassionate, loving persons, therein our thoughts must reside.

Sidebar: While Roger Ray only briefly mentions Salesian meditation, for those interested in reading a simple, down to earth introduction to the basic stages of spirituality, from a Christian perspective, I recommend Ray’s short book, “Christian Wisdom for Today: Three Classic Stages of Spirituality” (St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 1999).

May God be gracious to us, and bless us, and make his face to shine upon us.
― Ps. 67:1

Erik+

Footnotes:

[1] APPERCEPTION:

  • Merriam-Webster On-line:
    1. : introspective self-consciousness
    2. : mental perception; especially : the process of understanding something perceived in terms of previous experience
  • Wikipedia On-line: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apperception
    • Apperception (from the Latin ad-, “to, toward” and percipere, “to perceive, gain, secure, learn, or feel”) is any of several aspects of perception and consciousness in such fields as psychology, philosophy and epistemology.

[2] Holmes III, Urban T.: “A History of Christian Spirituality: An Analytical Introduction” (Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing, 2002) page 105.

[3] Holmes, pg. 106.

[4] Holmes, pg. 106.

[5] anchoring of triggers, Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP): “The process of associating an internal response with some external trigger (similar to classical conditioning) so that the response may be quickly, and sometimes covertly, reaccessed” (http://purenlp.com/textonly/glossry2.htm#anchor). We all have developed a multitude of triggers, some we intentionally establish, but most are unconsciously established. One of the practical benefits of utilizing NLP is to reprogram unconscious behavior, so we behave as we consciously choose, not as we unconsciously react. To persons interested in learning more about NLP, I commend “Frogs into Princes” by Bandler and Grinder (see below).

[6] state, Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP): “The total ongoing mental and physical conditions from which a person is acting” (http://purenlp.com/textonly/glossry2.htm#State).

[7] Theosis, “(‘deification,’ ‘divinization’) is the process of a worshiper becoming free of hamartía (‘missing the mark’), being united with God…” (Orthodoxwiki, on-line: http://orthodoxwiki.org/Theosis). I see this as the intentional process of trying to live our lives as if we were channels for the Christ to flow through us, into the world. I suspect this is a goal few will achieve; yet we are the better for striving for it. This is one of the most important reasons I take part in the sacrament of the Eucharist (Holy Communion).

On-line Resources:

Francis de Sales:

“Meditation and Contemplation – What is the Difference?” (Carmelite Sisters, on-line) http://www.carmelitesistersocd.com/2013/meditation-contemplation/

“Christian Meditation” (Wikipedia, on-line) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_meditation

“Christian Contemplation” (Wikipedia, on-line) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_contemplation

“The Cloud of Unknowing” (written by an anonymous author of the 14th century; widely available from many publishers; Christian Classics Ethereal Library: on-line, text or PDF) http://www.ccel.org/ccel/anonymous2/cloud.html.

“Linguistics” (Wikipedia, on-line) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linguistics

“Neurolinguistics” (Wikipedia, on-line) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neurolinguistics

“Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP)”

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Mysticism (on-line) http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/mysticism/

Theosis (Orthodoxwiki, on-line) http://orthodoxwiki.org/Theosis

Books:

“Christian Wisdom for Today: Three Classic Stages of Spirituality” (St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 1999) Roger L. Ray.

“The Cloud of Unknowing” (written by an anonymous author of the 14th century; widely available from many publishers).

“Frogs into Princes: Neuro Linguistic Programming” (Real People Press, 1979) by Richard Bandler and John Grinder.

“A History of Christian Spirituality: An Analytical Introduction” (Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing, 2002) Urban T. Holmes, III.

Belief & Faith

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit

When speaking of belief and faith, I find our common understanding of these words has become impoverished, lacking vitality as compared to their older meanings found in the Christian New Testament. The words belief and faith carry an importance we ought to appreciate as Christians, if we are to come to a deeper understanding of our own sacred texts, so that we may taste the richness of scriptural language.

What do you imagine most people now mean when they speak of belief? Of faith?

In the vernacular of contemporary American English, belief and faith are closely related. Their primary difference is one of color, taste, or degree. In my experience belief holds wider use in secular (nonreligious) language and faith is more common to religious language. Also, so far as I am concerned, faith runs deeper than belief.

In its secular use, belief may identify a difference in degree of certainty: to say I believe the capital of Alaska is Juneau, means I am not 100% certain that is factual; if I tell someone I believe them, I am assuring them I assume they are telling me the truth (as they perceive it, of course). As Marcus Borg observes, “…knowing and believing are different. Believing is what you turn to when knowledge runs out.” [1]

In the religious context, belief carries a different connotation: affirming as true, that which one would otherwise not hold to be true, e.g. virgin birth (based upon a mistranslation and misreading of Isaiah 7:14 [2]), or that the earth was literally created in six days.

The assertion of a literal six-day creation also demonstrates a logical fallacy, in that one must willfully ignore that within the cosmogany [3] of Genesis itself, the sun and moon were created on the fourth day [4], and our measure of a day is dependent upon the earth’s rotation relative to the sun; thus, even within it’s own logical construct, Genesis cannot be understood literally. As with all mythology, it’s meaning runs far deeper than assertions concerning empirically demonstrable facts. Failing to appreciate the vitality of mythology is another impoverishment many (most?) in the modern age suffer.

Saying, “I believe you” does not carry the same conviction as saying, “I have faith in you.” Belief is directed toward an estimate of accuracy in data ―the known vs. the unknown― whereas faith is an estimation of a person’s intrinsic character or qualities.

Faith may also be understood as choosing to believe something as being true, which cannot be demonstrated to be true; or even choosing to believe a thing as being true, despite empirical evidence it is not true. One may choose to believe life has meaning beyond the physical; one may choose to believe there is a God; one may choose to believe Jesus was the son of God; one may choose to believe one is saved or redeemed. But none of these assertions may be empirically proved or disproved. This is why believing them requires a demonstration of faith.

Significant error creeps into our thinking when one confuses empirically demonstrable facts with claims of truth and perceptions of what one deems to be true. Simply put, facts and truth are not always the same things; many truths are imbued with an ineffable quality, or display a quality richer than that which may be measured.

For those interested in the topic of the meaning of Christian words, and how they have changed over the centuries, I commend to you Marcus Borg’s book “Speaking Christian.” I find Borg to be both an intelligent and caring person, able to convey refined details of theology from a scholars perspective, without losing touch with the heart of Christianity, which is love.

What the Christian New Testament attempts to convey when using faith

Faith, carries several simultaneous connotations: assensus, fidelitas, fiducia (Latin Vulgate translation of the New Testament). [5]

Assensus, we may translate as assent; however, until we appreciate the depth of meaning in the remaining terms, we miss the mark if assuming this simply means to believe things that a rational person cannot. But let us first visit fidelitas and fiducia, then return to assensus.

Fidelitas, means faith as faithfulness; fidelity. To help us better understand this kind of faith, Borg uses the example of fidelity in marriage, as one being faithful to the relationship with one’s spouse; not faithful to a set of logical statements concerning one’s spouse.

In the same way, fidelity to God is not about believing dogma or church traditions or even scripture; fidelity to God is being faithful to one’s relationship with God; intentionally and mindfully enriching our sense of relationship with that transcendent More, which Christians identify as God or Father.

One aspect of this, is deliberately, consciously living in the presence of the divine throughout our daily life, as best we are able. How do we do this? We start by being aware of each moment as it passes. We open ourselves to the possibility of feeling a Presence at any time. We look for opportunities to relate to others directly, with compassion, and to help them when we are able.

Why? Because “God” is not up in heaven somewhere, and “God” is not “out there” somewhere. Quite the opposite: it is we who are “in God” because we are immersed in the sacred More all the time, as is a fish in water. Sometimes we are aware of this; other times we forget or become distracted.

Fiducia, is faith as trust. Radical –as in fundamental, foundational– trust in one’s relationship with God; this is not trust in statements, or affirmations, or assertions about God. The root lies not in logical constructs, but in experiential relationship. Thus, the heart of faith as fiducia, is rooted in personal experience of the divine.

Sensing our personal experience of the divine, by the way, is one way to define mysticism. Fiducia is related to fidelitas (fidelity), because fidelity is expressed through our concern for others, daily moving through our life mindful of the possibility of encountering the divine, and specifically of encountering the divine in those we meet. Thus, faith as fidelity is rooted in experiencing life, as is fiducia, faith as trust in relationship.

And let us remember, our daily life is where we must “meet God” because that is where we find ourselves. It is like the old joke, everywhere you go, there you are. But so too, “God” the transcendent and immanent More in which we swim, and have our very be-ing-ness, is there with us.

Returning to assensus –“faith as believing something is true” [6]– I agree with Borg, that first and foremost, we are (as William James defined the Sacred) affirming there is a mysterious More which permeates the cosmos. And for me as a Christian, Jesus is the “decisive disclosure of the More,” [7] that in which “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Thus, as Christians we seek theosis [8] of the Christ living in, and through, us.

What the Christian New Testament attempts to convey when using belief

Belief, one may best read as beloved [9]. As used in the New Testament, the heart of its meaning is love; not assertion, nor affirmation, and certainly not as acknowledging empirically derived facts. Once one shifts one’s understanding of the word belief, to beloved, many passages in the New Testament take on a new life and vitality.

This brings to mind what for me is the most central aspect of the teaching of Jesus ― the Greatest Commandment:

Matthew 22:36-40 New International Version (NIV)

36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ [Deut. 6:5] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ [Lev. 19:18] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Speaking practically, what might one do to help encourage some experience of the divine, of “God” in one’s life?

Mindful, intentional, loving, engagement is the path many mystics cite when asked how one might draw oneself nearer an experience of the divine in one’s life. There are a number of ways one might begin one’s journey along this path. Among them are regularly praying and/or meditating, studying and/or contemplating scripture, and participating in the Eucharist.

Why pray? Why study scripture? Why attend Mass?

Each of these embeds one in the Mind of Christ, to some degree; to what depth changes with each person. Some respond more to prayer, some by immersing themselves in scripture, and others by partaking of Holy Communion. But in each case, the objective is to find a means of immersing oneself in maturing spiritual thought and maturing spiritual emotion.

I would make the point that both thought and emotion play important roles in acquiring the skill leading to one’s spiritual maturity. Each provides a measure of balance to the other. Without emotion one may become dry, empty husks merely spouting facts and figures which have been memorized. Where is the Spirit in this? Without thought, one is lost, awash in emotional turmoil, seething and reacting, but without guidance, lacking long-term goals and unable to direct one’s spiritual development. Where is the Spirit in this?

One prays, studies scripture, and partakes of Holy Communion because the more one does so, the more one embeds oneself in the process of forming in oneself the Mind of Christ. As one dwells more frequently in this mode of thought and experience, one more frequently views one’s view daily interactions and internal dialogue through this spiritual lens. One becomes more mindful of one’s presence, that of others, and ultimately of the More, to which we all aspire.

All of these are means of transforming oneself into the type of person one wishes to become. As one increasingly finds one dwells in this state of mind, one increasingly has an effect upon others. Thus transformation of self, overflows into transformation of community, which over time creates a feedback, in which one is more spiritually nourished by one’s community; and as one better nourishes other members of one’s community, the cycle of spiritual generation continues. Where the Heart and Mind leads, the body will follow.

John 3:16, For God so loved the world…

With all the above in mind, I wish to offer two translations of John 3:16 for your consideration. The first is the King Jame’s Version, and the second a translation done by Marcus Borg. I invite you to compare these versions of John 3:16 and ask yourself which version better promotes the mature psychological and spiritual thinking of Unity Consciousness; that of putting on the Mind of Christ.

For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son
that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish
but have everlasting life.
[John 3:16 KJV]

For God so loved the world that God gave the only beloved Son of God
that whosoever beloves him shall not perish
but experience the life of the age to come in the here and now.
[John 3:16 translation by Marcus Borg][10]

As you come to the end of this essay, I encourage you to read Marcus Borg’s short sermon, “What is Faith?” upon which this essay is based. I find his thoughts on this topic insightful, and I believe you will as well:

Marcus Borg’s Lenten Homily http://www.explorefaith.org/LentenHomily03.16.01.html

May the Lord bless and keep you,
Erik+

Footnotes:

[1] Marcus J. Borg, “Speaking Christian: Why Christian Words Have Lost Their Meaning and Power ― And How They Can Be Restored” (New York: HarperCollins, 2011) 116.

[2] Isaiah 7:14 is typically taken out of context when quoted by Christians in the defense of Jesus’ virgin birth; few who read it are aware the Hebrew word used is Almah, which carries a range of meanings: girl; maid; maiden; young woman, and virgin. Almah is indeed translated as virgin in the Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Bible (from which the author of Matthew drew their reference). However, this is obviously a mistaken interpretation when read in context; read Isaiah 7:10-17 for yourself: “Isaiah Gives Ahaz the Sign of Immanuel”… 10 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, 11 Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. 12 But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test. 13 Then Isaiah said: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman [Greek, the virgin] is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel [God is with us]. 15 He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16 For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted. 17 The Lord will bring on you and on your people and on your ancestral house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah—the king of Assyria.” (NRSV) Basically, this passage is a prophecy that the current siege shall be lifted after the young woman gives birth, and that king Ahaz will not be defeated by these two kings, as he fears. It has nothing to do with Jesus’ virgin birth (although in the ancient literature of many cultures, accounts of virgin births are mythic/legendary elements often employed to raise the status of those to whom they are directed: Krishna (India); Horus (Egypt); Lao-Tsze (China); even Plato (Athens); as well as, Dionysus, Buddha, Zoroaster, and of course Jesus). This is not to imply that virgin births are not important, but they are not to be understood literally either.

[3]Cosmogany: a theory or story of the origin and development of the universe, the solar system, or the earth-moon system (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/Cosmogony).

[4] Genesis 1:14-19. The fourth day.

[5] Marcus J. Borg, “What is Faith?” (Memphis, TN: Lenten Homily, 2001) http://www.explorefaith.org/LentenHomily03.16.01.html

[6] Borg, “What is Faith?”

[7] Borg, “What is Faith?”

[8] “Theosis literally means to become gods by Grace. The Biblical words that are synonymous and descriptive of Theosis are: adoption, redemption, inheritance, glorification, holiness and perfection. Theosis is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit, whereby through Grace one becomes a participant in the Kingdom of God. Theosis is an act of the uncreated and infinite love of God. It begins here in time and space, but it is not static or complete, and is an open-ended progression uninterrupted through all eternity.” Archimandrite George, Abbot of the Holy Monastery of St. Gregorios, Mount Athos “Theosis: The True Purpose of Human Life” (Mount Athos, Greece: 2006) page 86.

[9] Borg, “What is Faith?”

[10] Borg, “What is Faith?”

Resources:

Books:

Borg, Marcus J.:

“The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith”

“Speaking Christian: Why Christian Words Have Lost Their Meaning and Power ― And How They Can Be Restored”

Ehrman, Bart D.: “Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew”

James, William : “Varieties of Religious Experience, a Study in Human Nature”

Online:

Borg, Marcus J.: Lenten Homily, “What is Faith?” (Memphis, TN: 2001) http://www.explorefaith.org/LentenHomily03.16.01.html

Archimandrite George, Abbot of the Holy Monastery of St. Gregorios, Mount Athos “Theosis: The True Purpose of Human Life” (Mount Athos, Greece: 2006) http://orthodoxinfo.com/general/theosis.aspx (http://orthodoxinfo.com/general/theosis-english.pdf)

Putting on the Mind of Christ ― Levels of Human Consciousness (Introduction)

St. John's Ashfield, StainedGlass of Jesus as the Good Shepherd (cropped to portrait)

St. John’s Ashfield, StainedGlass of Jesus as the Good Shepherd (cropped to portrait)

Putting on the Mind of Christ ― Levels of Human Consciousness (Introduction)

Putting on the mind of Christ is an analogy Paul uses to encourage us to create in ourselves the same manner of looking at the world, and of relating to our fellow humankind, as did Jesus.

The change which Paul is encouraging us to embrace runs extremely deep, he in fact, wishes for us to assume the very mind of the Christ; which in our modern language, we may read as learning to evolve our own psychological and spiritual growth to the same degree as did Jesus.

Let the same mind be in you that you have in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 2:5 (NRSV)

We have the mind of Christ.
1 Corinthians 2:16 (NRSV)

But is this feasible? The author of John thought so:

John 17:21-ff  (NRSV)

Jesus Prays for His Disciples

“As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be one in us…. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one….

“Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

[Note: In John, when we read “glory” we ought to envision an image of divine Presence; this Light shines through us, to others; by example, by our way of living, by our treatment of others; it is a metaphor for a hierophany (a revelation of the sacred) which calls us to develop the highest level of psychological and spiritual wholeness and health. In the passage above, Jesus extends the metaphor to say that God the Father, Jesus, and the divine Love of God the Father lives in each of us; and importantly, all are One (Unity Consciousness). EW]

Developing a Background for the Exploration of Spiritual Maturation

In his book “Putting on the Mind of Christ” Jim Marion uses the work of persons such as James Fowler (“Stages of Faith”) and Ken Wilber (“Integral Spirituality”) as jumping off points to explore his own spiritual journey and maturation. Marion’s exploration of human consciousness ―beginning with his own― is seen as a process of spiritual evolution, in which we all play our own role; we may each do so either mindfully aware, or blind and deaf to that which Jesus seeks to enlighten us.

I find this process suggests a fascinating way of discovering, and better understanding, our own spirituality, and its development as a natural process. Equally fascinating to me is viewing our individual ―and communal― spiritual development as a means of understanding the role of Spirit as an evolutionary force that is woven into the very fabric of the cosmos (a tenet of Process Theology, which in itself is a means of better understanding what Paul Tillich tries to convey in his discussions of God as the Ground of Being). While this sounds outlandish, there are quantum physicists who suggest this may a reasonable hypothesis, including David Bohm (1917-1972).

  • Sidebar: Bohm’s intriguing contributions include: quantum theory, neuropsychology, philosophy of mind, implicate and explicate order, the holonomic model of the brain; his books include: “Quantum Theory,” “Thought as a System,” “The Undivided Universe,” “Wholeness and the Implicate Order”.

But first, we must understand there are various levels ―or stages― of human consciousness. As we will see, some of these stages all healthy adults process through as a result of their natural psychological development; but not everyone is equipped to attain the later stages of human consciousness; certainly not without consistent, mindful effort.

Second, we must view the evolution of the human species from the perspective of the predominate level of human consciousness presenting at different stages of human culture. This is a means of characterizing the average level of consciousness development in human cultures through history; the predominate consciousness during the Stone Age is not the same as during the Middle Ages, which is not the same as in the developed world of the 21st century of the Common Era.

This is to say that once we come to understand the development of consciousness in individuals, we are then able to see that human culture is itself a reflection of the level of consciousness held by the majority of persons at that time (or of those persons holding power). This also offers a means of understanding the literary arch of biblical scripture. However, this is not a topic widely discussed, so it is a perspective of which a great many persons remain unaware (if this sounds interesting, you may wish to watch the sermon given by bishop Spong, listed in the references below).

As one might expect, this is a very complex topic which I cannot hope to fully develop in one essay (dozens if not hundreds of books have been written exploring these matters). I will however, examine these topics in a series of essays.

For further study I would direct those interested in this subject to the references I have listed at the conclusion of this essay. The primary topics include process theology and the various levels of consciousness of the human personality. I will begin my discussion with a brief introduction to the later, largely adopting the framework of Marion’s work (who in turn, adopts the framework of those authors he most respects).

Similarities Observed in Maturing Levels of Consciousness

As we begin to learn about the various levels of consciousness, it may initially seem confusing. For this reason I thought I’d begin by briefly introducing similarities shared by all of the levels of human consciousness, specifically from the point of view of the process of consciousness maturation. In his book “Putting on the Mind of Christ” Jim Marion identifies four traits shared by those maturing in consciousness, regardless of their predominate level of consciousness (“Putting on the Mind of Christ” pg. 34):

 

  • All growth in consciousness is a process of inner realization.
  • All inner realizations are the result of personal experience “meditated upon” in some fashion.
  • All growth in consciousness is a lessening of self-centeredness, a “death” to the old self-centered way of looking at the world and a simultaneous “rebirth” into a less self-centered way of seeing things.
  • As a person’s consciousness goes up the spiritual ladder from level to level, the person’s consciousness becomes less and less attached to (i.e., stuck in or define by) physical matter.

 

When we consider human societies as a whole, we note another common thread shared by them all: the predominate level of consciousness present in a society impacts and limits the thoughts, goals, and behaviors of members of that society. Thus, human societies reflect the average level of consciousness of the society; or at least of those who dominate and rule the society (a behavior which by definition, is a trait only displayed by lower consciousness societies). Thus we may observe, the vast majority of human societies have been inhabiting the lower levels of human consciousness development throughout recorded history.

Persons of significantly lower or higher levels of consciousness (as compared to the average level of consciousness found within that society) tend to be marginalized. Furthermore, it is always easier for a society to backslide to a lower level of consciousness, and much more difficult to evolve into a higher level of consciousness. So while we do see growth over time, it is slow and halting, and more easily stymied than stimulated toward progress.

Levels of Consciousness of the Human Personality

Viewed broadly, certain levels of human consciousness are typical of youth, and others are typical of adults who have begun the process of spiritual maturation. All developmental levels are vital to us as individuals. It is important we recognize these developmental phases are necessary and desirable stages of psychic development in each of us.

Indeed, we do not skip levels of consciousness, but rather grow and mature from one level toward another, and later to another. As we move from one level of consciousness to the next, there are varying degrees of overlap between them during our transition. Our understanding and perception of the world typically changes slowly, by degree. We see this both in the individual, and in human cultural evolution over thousands of years.

Thus, when we are dealing with a person who inhabits an earlier level of consciousness than our own, we must remind ourselves we too matured through that level, and that we benefited from our experiences within that level of consciousness; just as is the person with whom we are dealing. We may now observe certain limitations in that earlier level of consciousness, but the other person may not yet be able to do so. This is simply because our capacity for perception is radically different from one level of consciousness to another; certain insights are occluded to those of younger development.

The following are the identified levels of consciousness of the human personality which I will discuss in future essays:

  • Youth Stages:
    • Archaic Consciousness of the Infant
    • Magical Consciousness of Children
    • Mythic Consciousness of the Pre-adolescent (1st Mental Level)
  • Adult Stages:
    • Rational Consciousness (2nd Mental Level)
    • Vision-Logic Consciousness (3rd Mental Level)
    • Psychic Consciousness
    • The Dark Night of the Senses
    • Subtle Consciousness.

May you be blessed with an increasing experience of connection with the Holy Spirit within,

Erik+

Resources:

My Other Essays:

Stages of Faith – Introduction (March 2013)
Stages of Faith – Intro to James W. Fowler (May 2013)
Stages of Faith – Intro to M. Scott Peck (May 2013)
Stages of Faith – James W.Fowler: Approximate Ages During Stages (June 2013)
Stages of Faith – Miller’s Four Floors of Consciousness (June 2013)

Videos:

Miller, Ron: Nine Talks from the Theosophical Society
http://www.ronmillersworld.org/updates/eight-talks-from-the-theosophical-society/

Spong, John Shelby: “Bishop John Shelby Spong ‘From a Tribal God to a Universal Presence: The Story Of The Bible'”

Books:

Bohm, David:

“Thought as a System”
“Quantum Theory”
“The Undivided Universe: An Ontological Interpretation of Quantum Theory”
“Wholeness and the Implicate Order”

Artson, Bradley Shavit: “God of Becoming and Relationship: The Dynamic Nature of Process Theology”

Fowler, James: “Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning”

Marion, Jim: “Putting on the Mind of Christ: The Inner Work of Christian Spirituality”

Smith, Paul: “Integral Christianity: The Spirit’s Call to Evolve”

Talbot, Michael: “The Holographic Universe”

Whitehead, Alfred North: “Process and Reality” (Gifford Lectures Delivered in the University of Edinburgh, 1927-28)

Wilber, Ken: “Integral Spirituality: A Startling New Role for Religion in the Modern and Postmodern World”

Scriptural References:

Romans 12:2 (NRSV)

Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

1 Corinthians 2:6-16 (NRSV)

The True Wisdom of God

Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish. But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written,

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived,
what God has prepared for those who love him”―

these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.

[or: …interpreting spiritual things in spiritual language].
[or: …comparing spiritual things with spiritual].

Those who are unspiritual [natural] do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. Those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else’s scrutiny.

“For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?”

But we have the mind of Christ.

Philippians 2:1-11 (NRSV)

Imitating Christ’s Humility

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that you have [or: was] in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

[Note: Here Paul is quoting an early Christian hymn or poem. Paul’s inclusion of this type of material offers us a glimpse of Christian thought from the 20 year gap between Jesus’ crucifixion and Paul’s writing (which is the earliest surviving Christian writing). EW]

Palm Sunday & Non-violent Resistance

Entry of Christ into Jerusalem (1320) by Pietro Lorenzetti

Entry of Christ into Jerusalem (1320) by Pietro Lorenzetti

Perhaps the most frequent gospel reading for Palm Sunday is Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem (Mark 11:1-10).

This is the scene in which Jesus is riding into the city of Jerusalem upon the colt of a donkey, amid the excited shouting of a crowd,

     Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
     Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
     Hosanna in the highest heaven!
     (Mark 11:9-10)

What is going on here? What are we to read into this scene?

Jerusalem was located in Judea, which during the first century was occupied and ruled by Rome. This was a contentious rule, literally maintained through the strength of the sword. The ancient historian Josephus informs us of several major uprisings and a number of smaller revolts against Roman rule. Some of these were violent uprisings and others were peaceful forms of resistance.

An especially turbulent and potentially violent period reoccurred annually during the celebration of the Jewish festival Freedom and Redemption (Pesachof in Hebrew; Passover in English). This festival celebrates the Jewish exodus from Egypt. It requires only a small leap of imagination to see the parallels between liberation from slavery in Egypt and how suffering under the rule of Rome might renew a call for freedom.

Clearly, Roman rulers would take extraordinary precautions during the week of Passover, and any disturbances were crushed ruthlessly. This is why prior to the festival of Passover, Pontius Pilate, Prefect of Judea, marched from Caesarea Maritima into Jerusalem. This would have been an impressive display of imperial power, with Pontius Pilate mounted upon a war horse.

Jesus riding a colt into Jerusalem is the antithesis of Roman rule and domination by force. Jesus was signaling an alternative vision of rule, which those who were familiar with his teaching would have known to be the kingdom of the Holy Blessing One (God) on earth.

But Jesus was also signaling his was a peaceful, nonviolent form of resistance. Pilate rides a war horse. Jesus rides a colt. But make no mistake, it was a demonstration of resistance against Roman authority and power (which is why Jesus was executed by Rome).

“What we call Palm Sunday featured a choice of two kingdoms, two visions of life on earth” (Borg, “Jesus” pg. 232).

To Which Kingdom Do You Pledge Allegiance?

The subtext would have been obvious to those gathering in Jerusalem. The choice is between the kingdom of Mammon (wealth, riches, Caesar) and the kingdom of the Holy Blessing One (God).

Both refer to an earthly kingdom, which is a point often lost. Jesus was a strong proponent of reforming this world, by transforming our own consciousness, and by transforming the community in which we live. And we transform our community by transforming the lives of persons living in our community.

It all begins with a choice. Do we pledge allegiance to the kingdom of Mammon, or to the kingdom of God? Do we choose to live in Darkness, or to live in Light? This is the choice Jesus acted out as he rode into Jerusalem on the colt of a donkey.

May the Lord bless you and keep you,
Erik+

Resources:

Borg, Marcus “Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary” (pgs. 229-232).

Ehrman, Bart “The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings” (3rd Ed., Ch. 15, pgs. 231-249).

Josephus (Titus Flavius Josephus (37 – c. 100), born Joseph ben Matityahu)
Antiquities 14.2.1. 21-28; Ant. 17.9.3 213; Ant. 18.2.2 29; Wars of the Jews 2.1.3 10;
http://www.josephus.org/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josephus
http://www.josephus.org/Passover.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palm_Sunday

Image: Entry of Christ into Jerusalem (1320) by Pietro Lorenzetti (Wikicommons).

Mammon: a Chaldee or Syriac word meaning “wealth” or “riches” (Luke 16:9-11); also, by personification, the god of riches (Matthew 6:24; Luke 16:9-11). Online reference: http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/mammon/

Mark 11:1-10 (NRSV)

Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem

1 When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2 and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3 If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” 4 They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5 some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6 They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7 Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9 Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! 10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

Radical Theology ― Is There More?

William Blake, sconfitta, 1795

William Blake, sconfitta, 1795

The question, “Is there More?” is deceptively simple.  Yet to my mind this may very well be the single most radical ―in the sense of most fundamental, most primary― interrogation one might make of their personal theology.  From this headwater, a vast ocean of religious and spiritual reflection flows.

We are of course, asking ourselves if there is something more to existence than the physical universe/cosmos.  Is there an aspect of reality that is spiritual in nature, rather than physical?  Another way of phrasing this question is to ask, do all dimensions of reality comprise only that which we may experience (or may observe/measure with scientific instruments)?

“Is there More?” may be answered in one of three ways:

 
1) Yes, there are aspects or dimensions of reality that are *not* limited by our physical universe/cosmos.

2) No, the physical universe/cosmos fully encompasses all that exists.

3) Unknowable;  we cannot answer this question.

 
1) Yes, there are aspects or dimensions of reality that are *not* limited by our physical universe/cosmos.

Do note that this is not the same thing as saying one understands all there is to be known about that which comprises More.  In fact, one need not know anything about It at all.  One is simply affirming there is “More.”

Some people hold this belief simply as a proposition, while others have had experiences which compel them to posit there is more to reality than is revealed by scientific, empirical method.  This response proposes there is a dimension of reality from which we are occluded, and which to some degree remains a mystery to us.

This position neither assumes or denies deism or theism;  nor does it assume or deny alternative propositions such as a more abstract “transcendental signifier” such as the “Ground of Being” in the language of Paul Tillich, or the Tao as expressed in Taoism.

2) No, the physical universe/cosmos fully encompasses all that which exists.   

This is a “hard” negation of the proposition of “More” which declares there is nothing more to life than we may observe.  One does remain open to what may be discovered through the application of the scientific method, but nothing more.

We are meat, consciousness is merely an electrochemical accident occurring in the physical brain, and upon death there is only annihilation.  Physics, once fully understood, will explain everything which may be known about the universe.

3) Unknowable;  we cannot answer this question.  

This position we might think of as a form of agnosticism.  The root meaning of gnostic is knowledge, and the root meaning of agnostic ―prefixing gnostic with an a― means ignorance, or lack of knowledge.

In other words, “I don’t know.”  In many ways this strikes me as a very honest, and even healthy position.  Ideally, one knows one is ignorant of a great many things, yet remains open to new information and new experiences.

How do we benefit by orientating ourselves to these three positions?

Religious apologetics is replete with debate between these propositions, as well as the subtle differences of their subcategories (pandeism, panendeism; Confucianism, Zen Buddhism; atheism, pantheism, panentheism, polytheism, agnosticism; etc).  But the point I wish to make is much more basic, and I believe radical (fundamental).

If we identify with the Unknowable view, we give ourselves permission to remain open to many wisdom traditions.  And all enduring religions have wisdom they have imparted for many generations, in many cases over thousands of years.  If one has the opportunity, it is my belief it behoves one to reflect upon the spiritual insights imparted by other spiritual traditions.

I do not mean to imply all religions are the same.  They are not.  But there are a number of tenets most share ―such as some version of the Golden Rule (do to others, as you would have them do to you)― and each enduring religion of which I am aware does offer some value to any sincere seeker.

If we believe there is only the physical universe ―nothing More― we must remain open to new discoveries.  Modern science is replete with discoveries which have completely reversed earlier models of the universe, or have completely upset previous paradigms.

One of the “hard” views of this position holds that all religions are illusionary ―if not delusionary― in nature, and as such are products of a weak, gullible mind.  There is nothing such as spirit-based beings, and those who claim to have encountered such beings are either lying or suffering from a hallucination or a malfunctioning brain.

While I cannot demonstrate this is untrue, I do observe that as the frontiers of science advances, sometimes that which was thought to be foolish is later found to be quite sound in principal, once properly understood.  This suggests to me a higher standard of humility than to denigrate all religious and spiritual teaching and practice as imaginary or magical thinking, or as simply as Iron Age superstition.

To those of us who hold there is More to the cosmos, I would appeal to one’s sense of the transcendent, and suggest that most of us should take this far more seriously than most do.  If this is a true proposition, then the “truth” will be far, far stranger than we can even imagine.

If there is a reality which transcends our own, by definition we are unable to apprehend It.  Therefore, we should be extremely humble in our declarations of Truth, and express a great deal of compassion when dealing with others, and their apprehension of the transcendent.

Is there More?

If we believe there is, or have had one or more experiences suggesting there is something More, then we may wish to embark upon our spiritual quest.

But even if we believe there is nothing More, we may still wish to improve our life and the lives of those we love through the expression of love and compassion.

So for me, while how one answers this question has a great impact upon one’s personal theology (or denial thereof) I still arrive at the same answer as how one might best live their life:  in the words of Bishop Spong…

Love wastefully.

May you be blessed,
Erik+

Pauline Mysticism

"Saint Paul Writing His Epistles" by Valentin de Boulogne

“Saint Paul Writing His Epistles” by Valentin de Boulogne

Pauline Mysticism

It was on icy January day in South Carolina, that the sacrament of Holy Orders was celebrated in which I was ordained.  It was the feast day of the conversion of St. Paul.  So, as this anniversary fast approaches, my thoughts turn once more to St. Paul.

Conversion of Paul

Paul’s is the earliest Christian voice we hear.  His earliest surviving letters date to about 20 years after Jesus was crucified, to about the year 50.  Paul is thought to have continued writing until the year 67 or so, when he was martyred in Rome.  During this brief span of 15 years or so, Paul traveled throughout the eastern Roman empire, spreading his understanding of the Christ.

The surviving undisputed letters of Paul account for some 25% of the Christian New Testament.  If one includes letters written in Paul’s name ―but almost certainly not by Paul himself― we can say Paul directly or indirectly influenced nearly half of the New Testament!

But Paul initially persecuted followers of Jesus.  Indeed, Paul was engaged in a mission of persecution right up to the moment of his conversion, when he was struck by a vision so powerful, that it changed his life forever!

Thus, Paul became a Christian instantly, directly as the result of a profound mystical experience.  And if we take Paul at his word, he continued to have visions and mystical encounters throughout his life.

This is why I believe it is accurate to call St. Paul a Christian mystic.

Emotional or Sense-Based Mysticism

Many of us associate mysticism with highly emotional, or sense-based experiences.  One of the better known works of Western Christian mysticism is “The Cloud of Unknowing” written in the 14th century by an unknown author.  This author encourages feeling, especially love, when seeking an ecstatic state which they understand to be a means of drawing nearer what we may of the Divine.

But Paul did not speak well of this kind of mysticism, despite reporting that he had such experiences.  Perhaps the best example of this is found in 2 Corinthians, chapter 12, when Paul speaks in the third person of having been “caught up to the third heaven … caught up into Paradise and [having] heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat.”

But he doesn’t mention this experience in order to suggest others should seek similar experiences.  Rather he uses it as a cautionary tale, as an example of what one should *not* seek.

Among Paul’s concerns with feeling- or sense-based mysticism, is that it may lead to boasting of one’s accomplishment in having had the experience.  This in turn may lead to a sense of self-centeredness, or as we might say today, our falling prey to an inflated ego.

More to the point, it draws attention inward to ourselves, and may lead one to believe that observing the Christian tradition ends with ourselves.  What Paul fears I suspect, is that we may pay too high of a price in that we may neglect our service to those in our community.

Ekklesia-Based Mysticism

Paul was very concerned with the ekklesia he was establishing.  Ekklesia is the Greek word which we often translate as church.  But it may mean many different kinds of gatherings or assemblies of persons.

  •      The sense which I mean to convey with the phrase Ekklesia-based mysticism, is a form of mysticism that is based in concern for one’s community.

For Paul, in our dealings with one another ―in community― love is always of central importance.  Paul said this most famously in the 13th chapter of 1st Corinthians, “…faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13).  But he also spoke of the critical importance of love ―and specifically of love working in our community― in one of his earliest letters, to the Galatians:

     “…through love become slaves to one another.  For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself'” (Gal. 5:13-14).

 

     “For in Christ Jesus … the only thing that counts is faith working [or: made effective] through love” (Gal. 5:6).

Living in the Mystery of the Christ

Paul’s mysticism does have a personal component.  We each are to individually seek the Christ, and anticipate encountering a very real experience of the Christ in our lives.  I believe this is certainly part of what Paul was trying to relate when writing to the Galatians:

    “…it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20).

And this remained an important theme for Paul, as we read in the 2nd chapter of Philippians:

     “Let the same mind be in you that was [or: that you have] in Christ Jesus”

Seeking the Mystery of the Christ in You through Theosis

I speak of theosis with some frequency.  Theosis is what I believe Paul is encouraging us to seek when he says we should put on the mind of Christ, or live is such a way as to have the Christ live in us―through us.

One aspect of this is captured in the popular question, what would Jesus do?  Psychologically, this is a re-frame.  We prompt ourselves to step out of the human animal-driven moment, and ask what a person who lives within a higher spiritual frame of reference might do?

Jesus also spoke of this when asked what were the most important laws of the Torah.  Jesus basically answered that one must love God, and love one’s neighbors (there are more subtle points, as well, but I am simply paraphrasing).  As we read, Paul said the same thing (Gal. 5:14, “‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself'”).  This is not surprising, as it is a long-held ideal in Jewish thought.

One of the main points of theosis is to strive to become a living embodiment of Christ Jesus.  Another main point of theosis is to strive to help others become a living embodiment of Christ Jesus.  And on a practical level, the point in doing so is transformation of our own consciousness, and to transform our community into a living example of God’s kingdom, right here on earth, during our own life time.

And what is the key to seeking the mystery of the Christ in you?

Love.

I believe this is the most important message Paul delivers.  If you get nothing else out of reading and studying Paul, understand that love is at the center of all that we do, when we are striving toward our highest standards.

Do you want to put on the mind of Christ?

Do you want to live in such a way as to uphold the Word (what I would argue is the Christian apprehension of the Torah)?

Do you wish to see Christ Jesus living within you more strongly each day?

If so, then take Paul’s words to heart, and live them to your utmost:

    …the greatest [virtue] is love.
…through love become slaves to one another.
For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment,
‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’

 

May you be blessed
Erik+

References:

“The Cloud of Unknowing” (unknown author)

“The Mystery of Christ in You: The Mystical Vision of Saint Paul” by George Maloney

Seeking the Face of Christ

Christ And The Two Marys by William Holman Hunt

Christ And The Two Marys by William Holman Hunt

 

Seeking the Face of Christ

 
While reading Celia Hales’ blog, “Miracles Each Day” (https://celiaelaine.wordpress.com/2014/12/19/seek-to-find-christs-face-and-look-on-nothing-else/) the following observation struck me as worthy of reflection:

“Until we see the face of Christ in all others, we are still in the learning stages. And often, even when we succeed briefly, we do not sustain this manner of looking. When we see Christ, we are being loving and forgiving.”

This strikes me as one example of what I imagine Paul may have been suggesting when advising us of the importance of putting on the mind of Christ.  In so doing, we are seeking to emulate the behaviors that Jesus modeled for us, and to live in such a manner as to encourage the Christ to flow into us, and through our thoughts, words, and deeds, into the world; thereby affecting others positively through the example of our lives.

Understood in this way, I believe putting on the mind of Christ is one aspect of the process of theosis.

  •      Theosis  ―  Deification;  divinization;  in Eastern Orthodox theology it is the process of coming into union (or oneness) with God;  “The Son of God became man, that we might become god”  (St. Athanasius of Alexandria).

I believe we Westerners often have great difficulty seeing through the lens of Eastern Orthodox Christianity.  In the above quote of St. Athanasius it is important to understand there is a difference in becoming God, and in becoming god:  the capital G God points to one meaning, and the lower case g god points to another.

The upper case God is the Uncreated;  that from which all that is created flows.  In the Christian tradition -both Eastern and Western- we perceive a line which cannot be crossed, between that which is Uncreated, and that which is created.

Henosis, in contrast, is the ancient Greek belief that one may literally be fully absorbed into God.  Therefore, using Christian terminology, henosis fails to make a distinction between the Uncreated and the created.

Eastern Orthodox Christianity appreciates there is a power or energy of God flowing from the Divine, into and through, all that is;  everything which exists, is caught up in the process of becoming or being, and does so as a result of being bathed-born of this energy flowing forth from the Divine/God.

There is a further subtly, in that there is both the potentiality to exist, and the actuality of existing.  Many things are possible;  some of these come into being.  This becoming is the the actuality of God ― the point at which a creature attains real-ness, as opposed to merely having a potential to become real.  The same may be said of atoms and rocks and suns.

This is how we see the cosmos itself as comprised of the Immanence of God.  The energy (Energeia) of God is sustaining the cosmos coming into existence as the actuality of God.  Were God *not* flowing into Time and Space, the cosmos would cease to exist.  Thus, the Immanence of God is the very fabric from which Time and Space is constructed.

Our solar system and planet may offer a useful analogy.  Energy flows from the sun, and this energy has the potential to sustain all manner of life on earth.  If the energy radiates out of the solar system, missing our planet, it’s life-giving sustenance may be said to have remained only in potential.  However, if the energy from the sun strikes earth, this potential blooms into life, and becomes the actuality of the sun on earth.

The energy of the sun (God) flows everywhere;  in some cases it also transforms into life, and becomes the actuality of the sun (God).

So, while we as creatures can never share the ontology (being-ness) of the Uncreated (we can never become the sun), we are living in the field of energy (sunlight) flowing forth from the Uncreated.

Perhaps this is what Paul Tillich had in mind when he spoke of God as the Ground of Being?  

The concept of God as the Ground of Being, I continue to find an awkward idea to wrap my mind around, but I suspect there is something to it.  It certainly better lends itself to the understanding of “God” as Transcendent, as well as panentheistic.

The pay-off is that a Transcendent, panentheistic God is the Immanence which sustains all of the cosmos, and without which/whom the cosmos would cease to exist (Hinduism and Buddhism have long held this view).  This is the aforementioned effect or “energy” of God within Time and Space.

But if we are to take panentheism seriously, there must be another aspect of the Divine which is outside of both Time and Space, which is totally alien to us.  We are creatures of Time and Space, so we cannot intellectually grasp what it means *not* to be of Time and Space.  Time and Space define everything we know and have the capacity to know.

However, I believe this is largely a mental-intellectual limitation.  If we reside only in our head, we cannot grasp God.  God must remain forever abstract, alien, and ultimately unknowable to us in any literal, logical sense.

In fact, every time we intellectually define God, we limit and diminish God.  We must do so, because we are taking what is Transcendent, and forcing it out of the Infinite, into a concept tiny enough for us to wrap our minds around.  This is seeing with our head.

But the mystics tell us we can learn to see with our heart.  They indicate we each possess some facility to sense there is something More beyond the confines of Time and Space.  This seems to be based in experience, is intuitive, and suggestive, and cannot be adequately described with words.  (Words are tools of symbolic logic, and therefore within the intellectual domain, not the domain of the heart experience.)

Becoming a lower case g, god

It is because we are living within the “energy” of God that we may aspire to become a lower-g god.  God is always everywhere, and God is always the center of the cosmos.  As the late Joseph Campbell observes:

God is a circle whose center is everywhere, whose circumference is nowhere.

Thus, God is anywhere we happen to be.  God’s Light, God’s Radiance, God’s Immanence, *is* the cosmos in which all the galaxies of the universe spin.  Thus, in a certain sense, we cannot help but be in the presence of God;  God is everywhere, always.

  •       God is always open to us.

The critical point is that we must open ourselves to God, so as to be able to perceive the Immanence of God.  But this does not normally happen spontaneously (although some report that it has);  typically, it requires that we change our perception through mindful attention and intention.

When religion is operating at its greatest spiritual potential, it helps open us to the Transcendent;  but when religion is made concrete and literal, it has the opposite effect, closing us to the Transcendent.

Living into the actuality of the Divine

Given that we are alive, we are already caught up in the actuality of God;  as with a fish living in the ocean, we cannot do otherwise.  But unlike the fish, we have the choice of living mindfully within this actuality, or of living our life in metaphoric darkness, unaware of, or denying, any connection to the Ground of Being.

With all of the above informing our thoughts, let us return to the observation made by Celia Hales:

“Until we see the face of Christ in all others, we are still in the learning stages. And often, even when we succeed briefly, we do not sustain this manner of looking. When we see Christ, we are being loving and forgiving.”

 

All of us are living within the actuality of God;  whether we know it or not.  Not only is the fish in the water, but the water is in the fish.  So when we look at another person, we should look for the Divine in them.  If we do not recognize the Divinity present in all persons ―and other creatures, for that matter― we are operating from a very young, early stage of faith, and we have a great deal more to learn about our spirituality.

As our spirit matures, and we become increasingly aware of the Divinity in others, at first we tend to do so only for short periods of time.  Life gets in the way, and we forget that we are all moving and living in the same God, sharing in the same Ground of Being.  Such is human nature.  Strive to do better, but do not beat yourself up unduly for simply being human.

With sustained observation, mindfulness, and practice, over time we will do better.  We do not physically or psychologically or emotionally mature over night.  So too with attaining greater spiritual maturity.  We are all works in progress.  But the work begins with mindfulness;  being present in each moment, and throughout our interactions with others.

Seeking the face of Christ

Where do we seek the face of Christ?  We seek the face of Christ in others!

When we are able to look into another person’s face, and see in them the Christ, we are able to recognize the Divinity living in each of us.  And seeing this, how can we fail to rise ourselves to a higher standard of living ―even if only briefly― and how can we fail to treat others with greater compassion and love (agápe)?

The more often we practice holding this vision of the Christ, the longer we will be able to retain it, the more easily it will return when disrupted, and the more deeply, and naturally it will become part of us.  All of this is related to the psychological and behavioral transformation of self.

Where do we seek the face of Christ?  We seek the face of Christ in ourselves!

This is why we strive for theosis, so that we may open ourselves to the in-flowing energy of the Christ, to first fill us, and then flow through us, into the world.  This is the process of conditioning ourselves to become beacons through which the Divine Light may illuminate the world.

Water, Light, Energy, the Christ, these are all metaphors which are designed to open us to some experience of the Transcendent in our lives;  hopefully, guiding us to engage in more compassionate dealings with ourselves and others.

And this is what takes place during the Eucharist.  We seek to open ourselves to the Divine, so that we may become entry points for the Divine into this world.  Ideally the in-flow of the  Christ energy takes place not only during the Eucharist, but continues to take place as we move through the world, revealing itself in our compassionate interactions with others.

This is why we seek the face of Christ in others.

This is why we seek the face of Christ in ourselves.

And Jesus said:

 
…Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, you are gods’?  (John 10:34, quoting Ps. 82:6, “I say, “You are gods, children of the Most High, all of you”)

…Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above [or born anew].  (John 3:3)

…the Father’s kingdom is spread out upon the earth, and people don’t see it.  (Gospel of Thomas, 113)

…the (Father’s) kingdom is within you and it is outside you.  (Gospel of Thomas, 3)

…the kingdom of God is within you. (Luke 17:21)

May the Lord Bless and Keep You,
Erik+

Resources:

http://orthodoxwiki.org/Theosis
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theosis_%28Eastern_Orthodox_theology%29
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Potentiality_and_actuality

https://celiaelaine.wordpress.com/2014/12/19/seek-to-find-christs-face-and-look-on-nothing-else/

Joseph Campbell, “Mythos” (Vol. I, II, and III)

Gospel of Thomas:
http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/thomas/
http://gnosis.org/naghamm/gosthom.html

Thin Places: Opening the Heart

Modern Celtic cross at cimetière du Père-Lachaise, Paris

Modern Celtic cross at cimetière du Père-Lachaise, Paris

 

My title is taken from the eighth chapter of Marcus Borg’s book “The Heart of Christianity” which prompted my thoughts for this essay.  This is a moving, thoughtful book which I enthusiastically recommend.

 

Thin Places

The image of Thin Places occurring throughout the physical world is often attributed to the Celts.  And while the Christian tradition may attribute the term to the infusion of ancient Celtic influences, we should recognize that the concept, and more importantly the experience of Thin Places, is far older than is Celtic Christianity (dating from the third century CE).  Thin places are in fact reported in all spiritual traditions of which I am aware.

A closely related concept is that of the axis mundi:

Axis Mundi (Merriam-Webster)  turning point of the world; line through the earth’s center around which the universe revolves

Everywhere the divine realm meets the earthly realm in which we live, that intersection becomes an axis mundi.  Frequently these locations are sacred mountains (Mount Fuji, Mount Olympus, Mount Hermon, Mount Sinai) or sacred trees (Bodhi tree, Yggdrasil, The Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil).

A church, temple or an altar may also become an axis mundi.  Less obvious to many Westerners, one’s home may become an axis mundi (as in the practice of Feng shui).  Our physical body may also become an axis mundi:  the chakra system common to Hinduism and Buddhism, as well as the practice of Yoga and Tai Chi, are all rooted in the understanding that the human body forms a pillar between heaven and earth (an axis mundi).

Within the Judeo-Christian traditions we can easily recognize the shared concepts of the axis mundi and of Thin Places in the telling sacred stories such as Jacob’s Ladder, Moses’ encounter with the burning bush, and the transfiguration of Christ on Mount Tabor.

We may also recall that Jesus often sought out a special place to commune with God (Mark 1:35, Matt. 14:13, Matt. 14:23, Luke 4:42, Luke 5:15, to name just a few).  Among the more memorable occasions are his 40-day fast in the wilderness,  praying in the garden of Gethsemane,  and the aforementioned transfiguration upon Mount Tabor.

While we seldom refer to Jesus as seeking out Thin Places, it seems obvious to me that the gospels tell us he did so with great frequency;  only the words used to describe his experience differ.  Thus, seeking out Thin Places, or a private sacred space in which we may seek an encounter with the divine, is as authentically Christian as is Jesus himself.

By whatever name we give it, persons from all cultures have sought an experience of the divine.  Thus, we may quite properly observe seeking Thin Places in which one may encounter the divine is a shared human experiences, common to all religions.  It is as much Christian as Buddhist;  as much Muslim as Hindu;  as much Jewish as Taoist;  as much Shinto as Native American.

It is true that the highly personal and subjective nature of the encounter with a Thin Place makes it difficult to convey to others.  And for those who have not had their own experience, it is also very easy to deny that it ever happens.

For those of us who have not had our own Road to Damascus experience, we must rely upon testimony of persons trying to share something of their encounter with the divine, however limited by language their efforts may be.

In 1931, during a trip to England, Mahatma Gandhi was asked to record an address.  He chose his essay “On God” which opens with the following lines:

     “There is an indefinable mysterious power that pervades everything, I feel it though I do not see it. It is this unseen power which makes itself felt and yet defies all proof, because it is so unlike all that I perceive through my senses. It transcends the senses.”

One may note that Mahatma Gandhi was speaking of a personal encounter, somehow perceiving a presence, which he identified as God, yet transcendent to his senses.  Near the end of his address, he states, “I confess that I have no argument to convince through reason. Faith transcends reason.”

I suspect another way of saying this, is to observe that having had the experience of encountering the divine, one no longer questions the existence of the divine.  But one may never “prove” the divine exists to a person who has yet to have a similar experience or encounter.

In this we are all alone:  we perceive the world only through the lens of our own sense experience.  Anything we have not yet experienced, we may only appreciate through the testimony of those who have gone before us, those who may light the flame of our own imagination.

And we choose to accept or reject their testimony.

“Life is this simple. We are living in a world that is absolutely transparent, and God is shining through it all the time. That is not just fable or a nice story. It is true. If we abandon ourselves to God and forget ourselves, we see it sometimes, and we see it maybe frequently. God shows Himself everywhere, in everything ― in people and in things and in nature and in events. It becomes very obvious that God is everywhere and in everything and we cannot be without Him. It’s impossible. The only thing is, is that we don’t see it.”
― Thomas Merton, Trappist monk, in a 1965 audiotape

 

Opening Our Closed Heart

Marcus Borg observes that our heart closes as a result of the very natural process of growing up.  As we mature psychologically, we grow more deeply into a sense of “us.”  We become increasingly aware of the lens through which we observe all that lies outside of ourselves;  in fact, we perceive ourselves as that lens.

I am convinced Borg correctly identifies this process as “[t]he birth and development of self-awareness [which] involves an increasing sense of being a separated self” (page 153, “The Heart of Christianity”).

It is this self-awareness which creates the sense that we are separated from the rest of the cosmos.  And this sense of isolation and disconnection is what must be overcome, at least to some degree, if we are to begin opening our hearts.

This is part of what it means to be born again (or born from above).  I am convinced the author of the Gospel of John is alluding to a psychological-emotional-spiritual process ―although they would not have used that language 2,000 years ago― which brings about a reforming of one’s state of consciousness.

  •      (For a deeper discussion of the psychological and spiritual aspects of the Gospel of John, I recommend Bishop Spong’s book “The Fourth Gospel” and John Sanford’s book “Mystical Christianity.”)

Opening our heart is a process, and one which requires a daily effort.  We must seek out ways of opening our senses to the sacred, of feeling that presence of which Mahatma Gandhi spoke, or as Thomas Merton intimated, of forgetting ourselves enough that we may see that divine light shining everywhere into the world.

Perhaps it is useful to hear how we might recognize when we are failing to open our heart.  Borg gives us a stark example (“The Heart of Christianity” page 154):

     “When I stand in a supermarket checkout line and all the people I see look kind of ugly, I know that my heart is closed.”

 

Thin Places Facilitate the Opening of Our Heart

We truly are creatures of habit.  If we never seek out a Thin Place, we are unlikely to find one.  Yet if we make it a habit to seek Thin Places, thresholds where the divine crosses over into the physical world are increasingly likely to be revealed to us.

There is no guarantee this will happen, but I do believe it becomes increasingly likely over time.  (Especially if we are attentive to how we are being affected by our behaviors;  see Newberg in the Recommended Resources.)

Thin Places may be physical locations.  I have been in places where I felt something which may be described as a presence.  I suspect there may be some merit to the argument that we may encounter something like a “spiritual battery” if we enter a physical space which has been regularly used for spiritual and/or religious practices.

  •      ( And if this is true, we may ask whether the religious relic makes the shrine holy, or whether the heart-felt prayers of pilgrims sanctify it. )

But I am not suggesting we seek out a specific physical location.  One may, of course, but I suspect this is of secondary importance.  I am suggesting of primary importance is that we seek inwardly for our Thin Place.

A Thin Place may be encountered wherever we happen to be.  It is a matter of changing our state of consciousness.  It is a matter of training our body to trigger certain mental, emotional, and psychological states so that we become sensitive to the existence of a Thin Place being created within us.

This may happen any where.  It may happen at any time.  It may happen to us unexpectedly.

But I firmly believe we may also engage in certain behaviors which make the experience more likely, and increasingly so over time, with practice and iteration of our behaviors.  I see this as one of the practical functions of ritual.

Practical examples include:

  • Attending regular places/modes of worship
    Sermons (although words tend to be least effective)
    Liturgical ritual
    Liturgical language
    Liturgical time (Easter, Christmas)
    Study of the bible and other sacred texts
    Contemplation of the bible and other sacred texts
    Internal, silent prayer (especially wordless, feeling-based)
    Communing with/in nature
    Participation in the sacraments (especially the Eucharist)
    Music, hymns, poetry
    Speaking/chanting in tongues
    Dancing, drumming, chanting
    Praying the rosary, or other prayer beads

 

Getting Thin

Getting “Thin” is about entering a psychological-emotional state in which we are more receptive to the Divine.  Intention is also important.  I believe fostering a sense of love is key to improving our spiritual health.

And we need travel no farther than where we are to do so;  provided we travel within.  We certainly may travel to a sacred place, but this is not required.

The specifics of the process are best tailored to the individual.  My best triggers may leave you unaffected, and vice versa.  Experimentation is required, and sufficient time so as to develop a sensitivity to the technique in question is recommended.

In trying to decide what practices may be more likely to bring about results, I suspect that C.G. Jung is correct in suggesting those behaviors which diminish our strongest conscious psychological functions, while supporting our unconscious psychological functions are the better choice.

But I do not think it matters whether one takes a quiet, subtle inward-directed approach (meditation and contemplation, for example) or whether one takes a louder, active outward-directed approach (singing and dancing, for example).

One approach to developing a trigger, is to so thoroughly engage either the active or quiet portions of the mind, that the neural networks supporting these areas of the brain saturate, and create an over-flow or cascading effect which ends up triggering both the active and quiet portions of the brain-mind simultaneously.

  •      ( To gain some insight as to how this may take place, I refer you to Dr. Andrew Newberg books, “Why God Won’t Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief” and “Mystical Mind: Probing the Biology of Religious Experience.” )

 

The Practice of Esoteric Christianity & Christian Mysticism

All of the above is part of what I understand to be the practice of Inner (Esoteric) Christianity, as well as the practice of Christian Mysticism.

In addition to reading classics on Christian Mysticism, one may study Dr. Newberg’s material on neural-theology as well as Neural Linguistic Programming (NLP).

I believe Dr. Newberg’s material offers valuable insights as to what is happening in our brain as we seek to enter transcendental states of consciousness, providing a useful over-view of what physical-psychological states we are trying to induce in ourselves.

NLP offers a number of very practical suggestions as to how we may “speak” to our own brain, so as to be understood most effectively.  NLP communicates to us the importance of appreciating various “states” of physiology and consciousness, as well as how they are related.

Some of the elemental aspects of NLP include understanding triggers, state, and modes of perception.  I believe each of these are very useful concepts with which to be familiar as we attempt to travel into Thin Places.  (See “Frogs Into Princes” by Bandler and Grinder.)

And, as described above, I do believe travelling into Thin Places is one means of Seeking the Divine Center.

 

May the Lord bless and keep you,

Erik+

 

Recommended Resources:

Bandler, Richard; Grinder, John:  “Frogs into Princes: Neuro Linguistic Programming”
http://www.amazon.com/Frogs-into-Princes-Linguistic-Programming/dp/0911226192/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1417408101&sr=1-1&keywords=frogs+into+princes+by+bandler+and+grinder

Borg, Marcus:  “The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith”
http://www.amazon.com/The-Heart-Christianity-Rediscovering-Faith/dp/0060730684

Gandhi, Mahatma:  Spiritual Message (“On God”), 1931
http://youtu.be/EtWr04MBGYI
http://www.gandhiserve.org/information/listen_to_gandhi/lec_1_on_god/augven_spiritual_message.html

Newberg, Andrew:
http://www.andrewnewberg.com/
“Why God Won’t Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief”
“Mystical Mind: Probing the Biology of Religious Experience”

Sanford, John:  “Mystical Christianity: A Psychological Commentary on the Gospel of John”

Spong, John Shelby:  “The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic”