Archive for the 'Religious Mysticism' Category

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)

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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”

Seeking Consonance with the Transcendent

William Blake's "Jacob's Ladder"

William Blake’s “Jacob’s Ladder”

Do you see an apparent contradiction in the following statement?  In my previous essay, I wrote:

  •      “I understand the inner (esoteric) religious experience to be concerned with personal transformation, so as to bring ourselves into increasing consonance with that which transcends our human experience.”

 

If the Transcendent is truly transcendent, then by definition it is beyond our ability to experience.  How then, is it possible to bring oneself into consonance with something one posits must exist outside our universe and experience?  

 

This is the point I will address in this essay.  But first, let’s refresh our memory of certain terms, and provide a frame of reference for this discussion.  The following are the best definitions of “transcendent” when I use terms like “Uncreated/Divine/God” and “Transcendent-Ineffable”:

  Transcendent

  •     Being beyond the limits of all possible experience and knowledge;  being beyond comprehension (Merriam-Webster);
  •     Beyond consciousness or direct apprehension;  beyond or before experience (a priori);  having continuous existence outside the created world (Collins English);
  •     Being above and independent of the material universe (American Heritage);
  •     Not realizable in human experience;  referred to, but beyond, direct apprehension; outside consciousness (Kernerman Webster’s College);

 

The view that “God” (the Uncreated-Divine-Transcendent-Ineffable) is to an indeterminate degree Unknowable, is one of my radical (meaning, foundational) theological tenets.  (I addressed this point in a previous essay).  I find it to be the most certain positive statement I may make concerning the Divine;  more than this, everything else one wishes to say of “God” must reside within the shadow of this observation.  (We forget this at our peril, and the peril of others, as history is replete with examples.)

 

Negative theology (also known as Via Negativa, “Negative Way”) seeks to clarify this point by stating we are unable to make *positive* assertions as to the nature of the Uncreated/Divine/God.  This is because the divine realm is completely unavailable to our human senses.

When using negative theology, we limit our statements to observing what the Uncreated/Divine/God is *not*.  The intention is to specifically limit our statements to that of which we *do* have experience, namely:  objects, events, and persons of this world.  Simultaneously, we assert the Divine always exceeds that which is limited to human experience.

Thus:

  • Our experience is limited to the world in which we live
  • We assert there is a divine world, which transcends our world
  • As human beings, we are unable to directly experience the divine world *
  • Therefore, we are insufficient to the task of describing and defining the divine world
  • But we are able to describe experiences we have as human beings
  • And we may acknowledge human experience is insufficient to fully describe & define the Divine
  • This leads some to the adoption of the Negative Way:  limiting ourselves to stating what the Uncreated/Divine/God is not **

*  This is not to say that the Divine is unable to enter our world;  I believe it may.  But it is to say, that in so doing, what the Divine reveals of itself to us is limited by our ability to perceive it.
**  I am not aware of anyone who thinks the Negative Way adequately reveals the Divine to us.  Primarily it is an exercise designed to make us mindfully aware of our limitations in attempting to describe that which is outside the meaning of time and space, or any other categories of understanding we have access to as human beings.

 

But God Can Do Anything!

I frequently hear the argument that God can do anything, including reveal the entirety of the divine to the mortal.  I disagree.  The problem is this:  we remain mortal;  human.  Anything revealed to us must *still* be filtered through our perception and then cognitively processed by us.  We have bodies, sense organs, and a brain;  and these present limitations.  And so long as we remain human, we will always face limitation.

 

  •      The limitation in receiving divine revelation is not God (the Source), but ourselves (the Receptor)

 

If we use the metaphor of radio waves, the Uncreated sends forth a vast array of radio waves -we may even posit an infinite range of frequencies- but we as the radio receiver are only able to perceive those frequencies which our antenna and filters allow us to receive.  Psychologically, we may also consider more human corollaries.  There have been cases of persons born blind, who later gain vision;  but they cannot make any sense of what they are seeing, because their brains never developed the ability to make sense of the photons hitting their retina.

 

  •      As with one born physically blind, we are all born spiritually blind, in terms of directly seeing the divine realm.

 

The Claims of Mystics

Mystics, however, report experiencing something which they interpret as an aspect of the Divine.  But they have difficulty relating their experience to someone who has not had a similar experience.  Invariably, such experiences lose a great deal when transmitted by the spoken or written word.  A great deal of mysticism struggles with exactly this problem.

Mystics tell us they are able to push their perception to some degree beyond those most persons experience.  For those wishing to explore this more deeply I believe it is helpful to distinguish between perception, comprehension, and apprehension.

Perception is both physical and psychological;  it requires the ability to receive raw input, and it requires the ability to be aware of the input.  Comprehension is a cognitive process;  this is making sense of the raw data we are receiving as input to our perceptions.  Comprehension is a conscious endeavour.

Apprehension is more subtle.  Apprehension is linked to instincts and intuition.  I suspect it is also linked to the human collective unconscious;  which may in turn be linked to the what we might call the divine collective unconscious.  (I believe there is an interesting Jungian argument here, which I will not explore in this essay.)

Thus, through apprehension, we are able to exceed our purely physical (sensory) and psychological (cognitive) limitations.  Through apprehension, the mystic seeks connection with the Divine, pushing back portions of the veil which separates the mortal and divine realms.  And I suspect many mystics would agree that the Divine may simultaneously pull back this veil.

So I do believe the Divine is both willing and able to assist us.  (Which leads to a future discussion regarding the immanent nature of the Divine.)  And I do believe that given sufficient desire, trial, and effort, we may gain greater access to what may be a “shadow” of the divine realm.  Yet there remains a radical, fundamental difference between the divine and human which cannot be fully bridged.

Not even God can fully bridge the gap between the divine and human.  Because to do so, we could no longer remain human.  And we are not capable of being fully human and fully divine.

 

  •      This also opens the door to a discussion about “Christology” -the study of Christ- and theological debate surrounding the questions of Jesus being fully human while simultaneously fully divine.  It took several hundred years for the Church to address these and related questions.  These are extensive discussions and are beyond the scope of this essay.  Christology may be the topic of future essays.

 

Healthy Humility

Developing a healthy sense of humility is very important.  In fact, I believe this to be critical for our spiritual maturity.  This is my starting point when contemplating the Divine.  It may sound strange at first, but I believe having severely limited access to the Divine may actually be beneficial to our spiritual growth.

 

  •      Knowing that the ultimate nature of the Divine is unavailable to human experience, is a very healthy and peace-affirming theological position to assume.

 

After all, if everyone were to admit the greatest depths of the Divine are totally unavailable to our comprehension (that the Divine is in fact “transcendent”), each of us would be *unable* to assume the position that *I* understand the Mind of God –and most importantly– therefore, *you* *lack* this understanding.

 

  •      To believe and accept there are depths of the Divine beyond our ken, is a significant step toward eliminating the religious persecution and victimization of others.

 

It is a sad indictment of humanity to observe this would be a giant step forward.  It would be the end of religious war, and the end of murdering in the name of God!  (The greatest of sins, in my opinion.)  If for no other reason, this makes it an extremely worthwhile theological tenet to adopt (even if only provisionally).

 

Are We Then Bereft of God?

If we can never have any experience of, and are unable to have any contact with, the transcendent elements of “God” does this mean we have no access to any part of the Divine?  Does this mean we are utterly alone and alienated from that which we believe is the Source of existence itself?

Not at all.  We do have the ability to access those parts of the Divine which are manifest in this world.  But we should be mindful that this is only a partial understanding, and affords us an incomplete view of the Divine.  But there are steps we may take to mitigate these difficulties.

Religious Education

In the outer, exoteric sense, this is the role of religion in the public sphere.  This is a beginning point.  We attend public worship, meetings, and study sessions.  Largely, I see this as an effort to educate ourselves.  In this “exoteric” category I would also include private bible study and seminary studies.  We are trying to better understand our own religious tradition, the roles persons play within that tradition, and where we fit into our religious tradition.  (We may further benefit by including the study of other religious traditions;  how they both differ and are similar to our own.)

Public Mysticism

There are also more mystical encounters which take place in the public sphere, which are not about educating ourselves, but are instead focused upon *experiencing* the Presence of the Divine.  In my opinion, facilitating our connection (with what we may experience of) the Divine is the role of the Holy Spirit  (which I equate with the Shakinah in the Jewish tradition).

Several very different examples which immediately come to mind include:  Catholic Eucharist;  Whirling Dervish;  and very active forms of worship, such as Pentecostal, Charismatic, and Appalachian Snake Handling services.  Of these, the Catholic Eucharist is the most introverted expression of public mysticism.

Private Mysticism

For me, this is the deeper experience.  But I may simply feel this way because I am strongly introverted, therefore I have a natural inclination to this path, and a natural disinclination toward being part of a “public spectacle.”  I will point out that each of us should endeavour to be aware that what *we* find natural, may or may not be what another person finds to be a “natural” means of entering an experience of the Holy Presence.

Judge not.  Whether one sits quietly, mumbles under their breath, chants, drums, dances, or whirles in dizzying circles, it is the state of entering a sense of rapport with the Divine which is important, not how one achieves this state.  And this is an internal state, which only the person entering it may judge to be effective or ineffective.  Therefore, use whatever approach works for you.  And feel free to experiment with different means of entering this state.

Inner Mysticism

Inner mysticism may also be called esoteric mysticism, because at its core it is an internal event and experience.  One may enter this state through a public event (Eucharist, Pentecost, etc) or one may enter this state through a private event (contemplation, meditation, drumming, chanting, etc).

The point is that the encounter itself is internal to the person experiencing it.  Whether this encounter takes place in a public space or within a private space is secondary.  Another way of saying this, is that our body just happens to be wherever it is occupying physical space;  however, it is our spirit, that is engaging the mystical experience.

For this reason, I believe the inner-esoteric experience is properly called “spirituality.”  Here we seek to bridge the gap between our (lower case) spirit and the (upper case) Divine Spirit.  In this essay, I will suggest we may think of this process as trying to attain “resonance” with the Divine.  This is an intermediate step (it was preceded by the educational process, and as we shall see, may eventually may lead to a state of “consonance” with the Divine).

Attaining resonance with the Divine, repeated over time, leads to an even deeper connection.  Terms which I find useful in describing this state are establishing a “rapport” with the Divine, or of attaining “consonance” with the Divine.  Both terms are useful.  Rapport is very useful when speaking of the neural-linguistic processes taking place within our body, brain, and mind.  Consonance offers a beautiful musical metaphor for the experience, which also lends itself to the concept of participation in the “Field Theory” of the Divine.  By whatever name one wishes to use as a label for the encounter, the active attempt to bring oneself into a state of rapport/consonance with the Divine is the primary objective of mysticism.

Each of these processes builds upon and refines that which precedes.  First an outer-exoteric religious experience, followed by a spiritual attempt to bring oneself into “resonance” with the Divine, followed by a deepening “consonance” with the Divine.  While the terms used to describe these processes vary, all great religions acknowledge them.

 

Achieving a State of Consonance

It is understanding the role of mysticism as a means of establishing rapport with the Divine which I wish to discuss in this essay.  I propose this may be thought of as a two-step process.  First we determine how to enter a state of resonance with the Divine.  Once we have learned to enter a state of resonance, we refine the process over time, through repetition and exploration.  Ultimately repetitive states of resonance results in achieving a state of consonance.

Resonance & Consonance

The following are the Merriam-Webster definitions of resonance and consonance:

Resonance

  • The quality or state of being resonant
  • A vibration of large amplitude in a mechanical or electrical system caused by a relatively small periodic stimulus of the same or nearly the same period as the natural vibration period of the system

Consonance

  • Harmony or agreement among components

 

Tightly stretched wires which share the same fundamental frequency will vibrate in sympathetic response with one another.  If you have access to a piano or two tuning forks of the same frequency (or a harmonic thereof) you may easily test this for yourself.

If you strike a C-note on a piano, every other wire in that piano tuned to a C will vibrate in resonance with the one you struck.  In fact, the same effect will take place with other musical instruments in the vicinity.  This is an example of sympathetic harmonic resonance.  Sound waves are transmitted by air molecules between the strings, tuning forks, or other musical instruments.

Related effects are well known in modern physics.  Gravitational waves are a form of field effect, electromagnetic field effects are integral to many mechanical and electromagnetic systems, and at the subatomic level, field effect semi-transistors control the flow of electrons in the computer you are using to read this essay.  Thus, we see examples of resonance throughout nature, at all scales.

Consonance is a particularly useful term as it is used when describing musical relationships, because it speaks to an artful impression of which we become aware when listening to a beautiful piece of music (there is also dissonance, which describes the opposite effect).  Personally, I find resonance to be a more abstract, sterile term than consonance.  Consonance conveys a sense of beauty and heart-felt appreciation.  Thus, we seek “consonance of the heart” when seeking union with the Divine.

 

  •      One may measure resonance with a frequency meter.  But one experiences consonance in one’s heart.

 

Is there a “consonant field effect” connecting us to the Uncreated/Divine/God?

I am asking whether the above examples of field effects in the physical realm -gravity, sympathetic harmonic resonance, electrical and magnetic fields- may serve as analogies for a similar “field effect” existing between the human spirit and the Divine Spirit.

 

  •      Might a “spiritual field effect” comprise a subtle connection between the physical and divine realms?

 

I suggest that such a connection does exists.  Further, I am suggesting that understanding our connection between the human and Divine realms as a form of spiritual “consonance” is instructive for a number of practical reasons.

 

First and foremost, it affirms we have access to some aspects of the Divine Spirit while we exist in the physical-human realm.

People who have not felt any indication of such a connection are often doubtful of this assertion, but those who have felt it, no longer question that it exists.  They may question a great deal more, about its nature and meaning, and what to do with/about it;  but this connection itself, has become a part of their personal experience;  thus, it is not a theory, or an article of faith, it is something they know/feel to be as true as the wind upon their face.

It is important to emphasize, this does not mean they also understand or comprehend it.  Being certain a thing exists, is not the same as knowing all there is to know about it, or even assurance one knows anything about it, beyond its existence.

 

Secondly, it suggests we may gain access to the Divine Spirit by conforming ourselves to become first “resonate” and then “consonant” with the Divine Spirit.

This point is critical.  This is what spiritual practices are all about.  Whether one is a whirling dervish, speaking in tongues, or practicing kataphatic and/or apophatic contemplation, all are means of placing oneself in greater resonance with what one perceives as the Uncreated/Divine/God.

And as one deepens one’s spiritual practices, from this preliminary state of *resonance*, one is increasingly likely to develop a resulting sense of *consonance* with the Uncreated/Divine/God.  And mystics indicate this in turn promotes a deepening sense of peace within, which is reflected upon the outer world through the experiences of richer, more peaceful relations with others.

 

  •      Divine Light is engendered in our heart, fills it and cascades, shining forth into the world as the ray of Love

 

How might we engender this sense of consonance within our experience?

We must first discover which of the many ways of experiencing a sense of the Uncreated/Divine/God in our personal lives is effective for us.  This will likely differ from one person to the next.  I suspect our individual psychology, and cultural influences are major contributing factors for such differences.

The uniqueness of our individual psychological and behaviour development influences whether we respond well to active dancing and chanting, or prefer quiet, solitary contemplation/meditation to enter an open spiritual state.  This is a case where the “how” is subjective, and completely secondary, to being able to achieve the state of connectedness with the Divine.

Once we discover one or more ways which promote -for us- this state of connectedness to the Divine, we must determine specifically under what circumstances this effect is experienced.  Equally important is learning what discourages this sense of connection.  Both are effected by our development as individuals:  culturally, socially, psychologically, and spiritually.  We should also be aware that we may discover certain methods are more appropriate given different circumstances.  We each may cultivate multiple means of connecting with the Divine.

 

Participating in the Kingdom of God

Over time, we should anticipate changes within ourselves.  These internal changes lead to behaviour modification, leading to changes in how we interact with other persons.  These mental, emotional, and behaviour changes which take root and blossom within our hearts is the “personal transformation” I speak of as one of the two major goals of leading a spiritual life.  The second major goal of leading a spiritual life takes place when our personal transformation is transferred to our interactions with others.  This is integral to the “transformation of society.”  In fact, I believe it is the only means of transforming the community in which we live.

It is my belief these transformations -personal and communal- are vital elements of what Jesus referred to as the coming Kingdom of God.  It is already present:  in potential.  But it requires our personal, individual, mindful participation to initiate the process.  And we do so by living appropriately spiritual lives;  spiritual lives which over time bring us into closer consonance with the Divine.

 

And how are we to judge whether we are living appropriately spiritual lives?

I believe we find this guidance in the ideals of selfless love, compassion, and loving-kindness.  These become our daily measures of success.  All great religions speak of these ideals.

We should also acknowledge we will trip and fall at times.  To err is human, after all.  The key is to get back up and recommit ourselves to the principals of selfless love, compassion, and loving-kindness, to whatever extent we are able.  It is a moment-by-moment, day-by-day continuing process.  It is a process of spiritual cultivation which we will practice for the rest of our lives.

I believe this is the process of “becoming more fully human” which bishop Spong speaks of in concert with his appeal for us to “love wastefully.”  And if we can remember only a single thing, if we may hold onto only a single thought throughout our daily lives, this is certainly a wonderful, transforming thought:

love wastefully!

 

Selected References:

Art of the Religious Experience

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Modern science is a predominately progressive endeavour.  Those of us living in the developed nations, not only anticipate new discoveries, we normally embrace such change as beneficial.

We have become accustomed to the idea that pretty much everything is subject to revision and refinement.  This is among the identifying features of living in a technology-based society.  Everything changes, and over the course of time, generally for the better.

In contrast, true art reaches something deep within us, something which is timeless.  In Jungian terms, one might say true art resonates with a counterpart in our deep unconscious;  this may reach even deeper, into the depths of our collective -shared- unconscious.

Art awakens within us a desire for -and facilitates a connection to- that which is timeless.  Likewise, profound religious-spiritual experiences bring us into an awareness of this timeless dimension of reality.

In thinking about the religious experience as a form of art, I am suggesting there are unchanging elements of human nature, which activate archetypal resonances.  One may even argue whatever these elements are, they reach across species.  After all, why did Neanderthals bury their dead, with apparent concern for their continuing care, even in death?

But how might we identify what in our religious experience is timeless?  And how might such experiences differ from secular (non-religious) experiences?  I would begin by suggesting we consider two broad categories of experience:

  •   External (Exoteric)
  •   Internal (Esoteric)

External / Exoteric

In this view, external experiences govern our interactions with others.  The application of morals and ethics within our society serve as examples.  These concerns may be both secular and religious.  While it is possible to live to a high moral and ethical standard without holding a religious conviction, both the secular and religious norms seek to instruct us how we are to live with one another.

The central difference between the two are found in the “whys” of doing so.

Secularly, such reasons may range from, these are the regulations handed down to us from our rulers, to these are the means of finding personal happiness;  if we are more ethically mature, to allowing others to also find their happiness;  and for those embracing very mature ethics, to actively assisting others find their happiness.

What of the religious dimension?

I believe the shift from the secular experience to the religious experience is revealed in the transformational qualities of that which we seek.  The call of the secular is of a more limited nature to my ear.  At its best, it calls for us to live in peace, and live our life so as to be happy, and helping others do likewise.  But where is the terminus, the end?  For the secular, that ending point is here, on planet earth.

If we care only about ourselves, it ends with us, here and now.  If we care about our children, it ends with them, and their children.  If we care about the children of strangers, we extend our concern greatly.  But all these concerns are limited to the continuation of life on this planet.

It is not that seeking to live a life filled with happiness is a bad goal.  It is not that seeking out ways of helping others to do the same is a bad thing.  These are objectively beneficial goals to hold throughout one’s life.  But they are goals limited to our worldly realm.  Thus, their nature is secular.

Positive transformation of society is a good thing, but by itself it falls short of being a religious experience because it limits itself to the “horizontal” axis of our lives.  Time is the horizontal axis in which we all live in this world.  We are by our physical nature creatures subject to time;  we are captured within its boundaries.

Vertical Axis of the Eternal

But there is also a “vertical axis” which the religious experience affirms:  the eternal;  that which is outside of time;  that which is unconstrained by time;  that which transcends time, and by extension, everything found in our vast universe.

This contrast and interaction between the horizontal and vertical aspects of our existence is part of what is symbolized in the cross.  The horizontal arm symbolizes our physical, material, time-constrained presence in the mortal world;  the vertical arm symbolizes our connection to the eternal.

I believe we may think of our desire for the eternal as what Joseph Campbell called “finding our bliss.”  And I believe Bishop Spong invites us to “love wastefully” because we are best in alignment with the vertical component of our nature when we live in a state of love.  And I believe this is what St. Augustine was aware of when observing that our weight is our love (in whatever we place our love, that acts like gravity, drawing us ever-nearer to it).

What have these views in common?  They are transformative experiences, because they encourage us to live for more than merely the horizontal dimension of our lives;  they point us toward the timeless, vertical-spiritual axis of our being, which transcends our mortal experience.

Internal / Esoteric

Internally -esoterically- the religious experience is about living in the vertical axis.  Here we meet what we may of that which transcends our human condition.  This experience is as limited or profound as is our state of consciousness.  The timeless-transcendent is always available to us;  *we* limit how much of this we may drink.

The objective of this encounter is to experience the numinous in our life.

  Numinous  (Merriam-Webster)

  •     Having a mysterious, holy, or spiritual quality
  •     Supernatural, mysterious
  •     Filled with a sense of the presence of divinity :  holy
  •     Appealing to the higher emotions or to the aesthetic sense :  spiritual

The numinous encounter is what I see as the primary goal of mysticism.  And I see the numinous as a unifying force across many -perhaps all- religions.  This is what draws their mystics of differing religions closer to one another, even as they are sometimes distanced from non-mystics within their own religious tradition.

  •      There is a tension between persons within each religion, of the mystic/esoteric and the non-mystic/exoteric, persuasion.  This may be symbolized by a circle with a dot in the middle of it:  persons experiencing the exoteric nature of their religion, traverse along the outer perimeter of the circle, and quite accurately, note differences among the various religious traditions;  meanwhile, mystics experience the esoteric nature of their religion, and move ever-nearer to the central dot, which represents the Transcendent, and in so doing, note their experience is becoming increasingly similar to other esoterics, regardless of their exoteric religious tradition.

I understand the inner (esoteric) religious experience to be concerned with personal transformation, so as to bring ourselves into increasing consonance with that which transcends our human experience.

In Christian and Jewish terms, these transformational experiences are conveyed in the teaching of the Greatest Commandment, which St. Augustine presented as:  loving God with all that you are, and loving others in such as manner as to best foster their ability to love God with all that they are.  This is why Augustine said our love is our weight, meaning:

  •   …as gravity draws a rock to the ground, so too, that in which we place our love, to that we are drawn.

The Art of the Religious Experience  

I believe the Art of the Religious Experience is about Transformation:  of ourselves;  of our communities.  We are to transform first ourselves and then our community in such a manner as to bring us into consonance with what we identify as our Ultimate Concern (God, Oneness, or Love, for the religious;  perhaps Happiness or Love, for the secular).

I further believe all great religions may be understood as using the ideal of selfless love (or compassion, or loving-kindness) as our daily measure of success in striving toward this understanding of Ultimate Concern.  I would further observe this is the process of becoming more fully human which bishop Spong speaks of in concert with his appeal for us to “love wastefully.”

The opposite of this is also true.  Should our Ultimate Concern become Hate, we transform our communities into machines of war and destruction.  We turn from mystical unity with all, toward isolation, rejection of all that is not “us” (tribal thinking), and we project (transform) our hatred upon others to alienate them, so as to more easily cause them harm.  This is the corruption of the religious experience, and the rejection of the numinous.

Yet we may hope to learn from the great mystics of all religions, who seek to reveal to us the light they have encountered in presence of the timeless, eternal.

  •    It is up to each of us to choose that which shall become our Weight, our Gravity.

We each carry the dichotomies of Love-and-Hate, Eternal-and-Worldly, in our hearts.  The choice between Love and Hate is present in our interactions with others;  in each thought we harbour;  in each feeling we allow to linger within us;  in each look we cast upon another;  and carried in each word we speak.

We cannot be perfect, and we would drive ourselves mad were we to set such an impossible standard.  But we each may strive toward more frequently nourishing loving thoughts, feelings, and interactions with others.  This is a critical first- and continual-step in our spiritual maturity.  And I believe this is common to all true religions, when lived in their deepest, most spiritually transformative expression.

We should give ourselves permission to be gracious to ourselves when we fall short of this ideal.  And we should be gracious with others when they too fall short of “loving wastefully.”  Forgiveness, as with all things human, begins within us.  It is OK to be human.  It is OK to fall short of our ideals.

What is important is that we get up again;  that we start anew.

  •   It is never too late to recognize the vertical axis in our lives.
  •   It is never too late to embrace this spiritually transformative process.
  •   It is never too late to promote compassion for others.
  •   It is never too late to pick ourselves up after a fall.
  •   It is never too late to recommit our lives to transforming ourselves, and our community.
  •   It is never too late to be happy.
  •   It is never too late to love.

These are all important aspects of the Art of Living the Authentic Religious Experience.

Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle 2014

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O God, who taught the whole world
through the preaching of the blessed Apostle Paul,
draw us, we pray, nearer to you
through the example of him whose conversion we celebrate today,
and so make us witnesses to your truth in the world.
    (Roman Missal)

Today is the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle.  It is also the first anniversary of my ordination as a priest.  So I thought it appropriate to say a few words about Paul.  I find Paul to be a very complex and interesting person.  His writings are sometimes confusing, sometimes polemic, sometimes mystical.  Paul can both challenge one’s mind and inspire one’s heart.

By happen stance, in recent months I have revisited my studies of Paul, and found a deeper appreciation for his writings than I had previous felt.  If one accepts that Paul wrote all of the books and letters of the bible once attributed to him, he wrote half the New Testament.  If one accepts only those letters which the vast majority of biblical scholars consider Paul to have written (the “authentic” or “uncontested” letters of Paul), then he still authored about one quarter of the New Testament!  So whether we believe Paul wrote 7, 13, or 14 books of the New Testament, we can certainly agree his influence upon the early development of what was to become the Christian Church was quite large.

A rather indirect way of reading Paul, is as a means of better understanding some of the changes that took place within the early church.  Although, calling this the early “church” is somewhat problematic, as this presumes a Christian perspective was in place at that early date.  (This is doubtful at best, and it certainly would not be anything we would recognize as today’s orthodox Christianity.)  Jesus, was of course Jewish, as was Paul.  In fact, it seems safe to say that the vast majority of persons following Jesus would have been Jewish.  In this sense, it is very correct to observe that this “Jesus Movement” took place within Judaism, and was another means of understanding and expressing Judaism.  I am reasonably convinced that Paul must have died thinking of himself as Jewish.  And more specifically as a Jewish Christ Mystic (more about that shortly).

I do not wish to become bogged down in details, but a few chronological markers may be useful.  Jesus was executed by the Romans circa 30 ce.  Paul’s earliest surviving letters were written between 50-67 ce.  Paul was martyred circa 67 ce.  The first gospel (Mark) was written circa 60-75 ce;  Matthew and Luke/Acts circa 75-85 ce;  and John circa 90-95 ce, about the same time frame as Revelation (although written by a different John).  The late letters in the New Testament are usually dated by biblical scholars to between 75-125 ce.

A closer examination of the questions of dating the texts of the New Testament, and proposing a chronological ordering of them, took place in a pair of my previous posts:

There are a few primary touch points to pull out of that string of dates:

  •   Paul is our earliest author of the New Testament.
  •   Paul’s authentic letters pre-date the four gospels.
  •   Among the last texts of the New Testament to be written are the Gospel of John and Revelation.
  •   Also among the last texts to be written are many of the letters found in the New Testament.

We may also observe there is an apparent difference of character of texts written in the 50’s vs those written in the 90’s.  This allow us to read parts of the New Testament against others, to obtain a sense of how the early church was changing, and how its understanding of itself evolved during the first 100 years following the execution of Jesus.  We may most clearly see this in the various letters of the Pauline school.  We may see some of this influence in the Johannine school as well, although they are all later understandings of the church, by which time I believe we may properly speak of a Christian Church.

Which underscores another set of touch stones for better understanding the organization of the New Testament:

  •   The “proto-church” prior to the 50’s is best understood as a Jesus Movement, taking place within Judaism.
  •   The “proto-church” of the 50’s and 60’s may be understood as developing into a schism between the Jewish and Gentile Movements.
  •   Both of the above are best understood as separate movements, stemming from a common Jewish Jesus Movement.
  •   The church of the 90’s is best understood as having by that date developed a distinctive Christian Church self-identity.
  •   It is often useful to think of the proto-church of the 50’s and Christian Church of the 90’s as distinctly different from one another.  To use round numbers, I sometimes speak of these as the proto-church of the 50’s and the early Christian Church of the 100’s.

So what has this to do with Paul?

The collection of Pauline writings are understood by the vast majority of biblical scholars and historians as ranging chronologically from the early 50’s to the 90’s, and in some cases even later.  Clearly, if this is true and Paul died in about 67 ce, he cannot be the author of all the letters written in his name.

It is fair to point out this is hotly debated in some circles.  One may find opinions ranging from Paul wrote all of Paul’s letters, to Paul only wrote the seven uncontested/authentic letters.  I number among the second group.  Therefore, I see several “Paul’s” as contributing to the collection of Pauline texts.  In fact, there are at least three or four different Paul’s.  And given Paul’s character plays such a large role in Acts, I think it is appropriate to count that as the fourth Paul.

The first is the “authentic” Paul who wrote in the 50’s and 60’s.

  •   First Thessalonians     (c. 51 ce/AD)
  •   Philippians                   (c. 52-54 ce)
  •   Philemon                      (c. 52-54 ce)
  •   First Corinthians         (c. 53-54 ce)
  •   Galatians                      (c. 55 ce)
  •   Second Corinthians     (c. 55-56 ce)
  •   Romans                        (c. 55-58 ce)

The second Paul is the author (or authors) of the “disputed” or “contested” letters of Paul.  Scholarship is roughly evenly divided on these letter, as to who wrote them.  It is possible that by this time there was a “school of Paul” which produced these texts, either with the authentic Paul as a contributor, or after his death, but still close enough to feel a close kinship with most of Paul’s central teachings.

  •   Colossians
  •   Second Thessalonians
  •   (Ephesians, which is a “circular” letter, is sometimes placed here.)

The third and last group is the Pseudepigraphic (forgeries) Paul.  Almost no one thinks Paul wrote these letters.

  •   Pastoral epistles (letters) of 1st & 2nd Timothy, and Titus
  •   Ephesians (unless one places it in the second grouping)

The fourth Paul is the character represented in Acts.  This is clearly not actually Paul, in the sense that when “Paul” is speaking in Acts, the author is writing as all ancient historians did, placing on Paul’s lips those words which the author thought Paul would have spoken in those or similar circumstances.  Acts is a secondary source, and we should bear this in mind when Acts is at odds with Paul’s own letters.

These are the various Paul’s.  I find this to be highly instructive as Paul is a complex figure, and often misunderstood and even, I feel, sometimes misrepresented.  This is one of the reasons “Paul” presents such a divisive bone of contention among some Christians.  How are we to read Paul?  Did Paul teach we are all one in Christ, or was Paul a misogynist?  Are we to seek freedom in this life, or remain slaves?  Engage in an active sexual life (within marriage) or should we remain celibate?  Do we love Paul or revile him?

Each of these competing views of Paul have an answer.

In some cases the apparent dichotomy is illuminated by understanding Paul better.  Paul was an apocalyptic Jew.  Among other things, this means he believed in a future bodily resurrection.  Not only this, he believed Jesus’ resurrection was best understood as the First Fruits of the wider general resurrection, and that the general resurrection was soon to come.  Therefore, it is best to remain celibate and concentrate upon the dawning Kingdom.  And for those unable to remain celibate, to marry.  Therefore, if a slave it is best to remain a slave.  If already married, remain married.  What these views have in common is that the end is soon to come (Paul fully expected to be alive for the general resurrection), so there is no point in changing your mundane life;  one should instead focus upon the sacred.

I believe we can be certain had Paul known that “soon” meant 2,000-years or more, in some ways his teaching would have been quite different.  This is a valid point to my mind, and one of which we should be cognisant.

But all of the above, as interesting and instructional as I personally find it, is not really the most vital and important aspects of what I feel Paul was trying to teach us.  I feel the most vibrant and deeply meaningful way of reading Paul is as a Jewish Christ Mystic.

Jewish. Christ. Mystic.

Each of these words is important, and draws us into a closer understanding of Paul.  He was Jewish.  In fact, he was a pharisee.  Pharisee’s have gotten a bad reputation over the centuries.  But most basically they were extremely concerned with keeping the laws of the Torah.  So much so, for fear of breaking these laws, they developed an even more strict interpretation!  But Paul was also an apocalyptic Jew.  This meant the end of the present era was to come to an end, and God would bring about a new world.

And what of Christ?  Paul himself states he initially prosecuted Christians!  (Although that specific term may be anachronistic.)  Why?  I think the most reasonable explanation is the claim that Jesus had been resurrected, and was therefore the Jewish messiah.  This would have been categorically unbelievable to Paul, a skilled Jewish pharisee.  Jesus was crucified, and that alone would preclude him from ever being any kind of Jewish messiah.  Jesus would have been cursed by God, not raised into glory by God!

But then Paul had his conversion experience on the road from Damascus.

Paul either saw and/or heard the raised Jesus, and this experience totally and completely changed him for the rest of his life!  This is when Paul came to understand that Jesus *had* been raised, and this understanding was framed by his apocalyptic world view.  Thus, Jesus becomes the risen Christ and is the First Fruits of the impending general resurrection.

And this is where Paul begins to develop his mystical understanding of what role the Christ plays in our lives.  I would say this is one of the central tenets of Paul’s mission, as he saw it.  This is also my favorite aspect of Paul’s teachings.  Central to Paul’s teaching is experiencing the risen Christ in our lives.  This may happen in a variety of ways, some identified by Paul and some not.

As a mystic Paul was all about the *experience* of being in the Presence of the Divine.  Paul himself had a number of such experiences.  This is what I find so appealing about Paul.  Whatever we may make of his letters, we can appreciate that he had a number of experiences of Divine Communion.  And this is something to which we may all aspire!

Within Paul’s mystical teachings there are two themes which run hand in hand.

The first is of personal transformation.  We must put on the mind of Christ, and allow the Christ to live in us, through us, for us to become one in the same with the Christ.  The second point is in having this experience of personal connection to the Divine, and experiencing the personal transformation that comes from such an experience, to effect transformation of the world!

*Both* points are very critical to Paul.  And I think it is fair to read Paul as saying that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, yet it is each of *us* who must do what we are able to bring this Kingdom into our world.  It is a participatory event, in which we are integral members, not inactive hanger-ons!

Faith, hope and love.  But the greatest of these is love”  (1 Cor. 13:13).

This is the light by which I read Paul.  When I find a passage which conflicts with these aspirations, and which conflict with his two central teachings of personal transformation and transformation of the world, then I feel confident either Paul did not write that, or we misunderstand Paul’s meaning.

Recommendations for further study of Paul.

I wish to leave this feast day message with two recommendations for the further study of Paul.  One is a lecture series about the apostle Paul given by Prof. Luke Timothy Johnson, a former Benedictine monk, and offered through The Great Courses web site.  The second is a book written by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, entitled “The First Paul.”

Prof. Johnson holds a very different view of Paul than do I, as he reads all of the Pauline material as being directly or indirectly authored by the apostle Paul.  He offers a wonderful and stimulating lecture series which I highly recommend.  One of the points I find most interesting turns on a widespread misinterpretation of the original Greek in one of Paul’s letters.  He explains this much more fully in his lecture, but the issue concerns faith *in* Jesus or the faith *of* Jesus.  As many Christians will recognize, one of these views forms a cornerstone of Christian Faith for a great many Christians!  Yet it is based in a misinterpretation of the original Greek.

This is a subtle and to my way of thinking very important distinction.  Having faith *in* Jesus really removes us from the process.  We cast our “faith” upon Jesus, and therefore we are saved.  Simple to understand.  But for many, not such an easy thing to accomplish!  I think it is fair to say Martin Luther struggled with this greatly in his life!  Marcus Borg says he did too.  And so have I.  (I’m in good company at least!)

Having faith *of* Jesus may be read a number of different ways.  In part I believe this is because it is born of a mystic interpretation, and such interpretations are always at least a little misty, if not down right foggy!  First, we recognize that Jesus had a tremendous and deep faith in God.  In this light, the path to God is not through faith *in* Jesus, but in having the same quality of faith *of* Jesus *in* God!  See the difference?  *We* are active participants in this process.  As I think we must be, if personal transformation is one of the vital keys (as I do).

I relate this to the theme of theosis which is so important to the Eastern Orthodox Church, but which has been largely lost here in the West since the Great Schism in the 11th century.  And I also relate this to putting on the mind of Christ, as Paul spoke of so often.

The book authored by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan offers a wonderful collection of insights to Paul!  I thoroughly enjoyed it and found it both refreshing and instructive.  One of the main themes they paint is that of Paul the Jewish Christ Mystic.  I really do think this grabs a hold of something vital in Paul.  And I do not think we can really understand Paul without seeing him in this light.

This book is a mixture of solid scholarly historical research, and of developing a sincere appreciation for the Mystical Paul.  And we need both.  We need to understand as well as we may the world of the 1st century, and we need to read Paul as a mystic, trying to reveal to us what he may of his experience of the Divine, and how we might take part in the spiritual transformation of the world.

“The greatest of these is love.”

If we don’t get that -until that hits us on a gut level- we are missing the whole point of the New Testament!

Offered with blessings,
On my first anniversary as priest,
Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle 2014

May the Lord Bless you and Keep you,
Father Erik

Is God an Outside Job or an Inside Job?

Whether God is an Outside Job or an Inside Job, is a fundamental question which strongly effects how -or even whether- one might seek a mystical experience with the Divine.  It requires us to question how we anticipate God acting in the world.  Answering, requires that we reflect upon our understanding of the ontology of God.

(Merriam-Webster.com defines ontology as:  1. A branch of metaphysics concerned with the nature and relations of being;  2. A particular theory about the nature of being or the kinds of things that have existence.)

  •   What is God’s nature?
  •   What is our relationship to God, in terms of relative classification or “kind” of being?

I believe Theologian Paul Tillich is correct in observing that the Western perception of God is most commonly described in one of two ways:

  1.   An outside force, divorced from humanity (this is the “invading” God of which bishop Spong speaks).
  2.   A living force, which flows up from our depths of being (an aspect of Tillich’s “ground of being”).

The Outside God is always alien to us;  a God from which we are forever separated due to our nature;  God is radically Other.  For those seeking a mystical apprehension of the Divine, perhaps the most important point to note is that -due to our very nature- we can *never* attain Unity with the Divine.  The separation between God and Humanity is devastatingly, categorically absolute.

The Inside God, in stark contrast to the Outside God, is of the same nature as are we;  we share an essence of the Divine;  we have access to the vitality of the Divine;  some even observe the Divine *is* the very life we carry.  In this view, each of us contains an “inner spark of the Divine.”  Some view this spark as innate, others as potential.  (Is it a flame or a seed?)  We may be removed from God by various degrees, but because we and God are of the same root nature, ultimately of the same Source -because ultimately there is only One- we are always potentially able to attain (or return to) Unity with the Divine.

Among the major contrasting themes are:

  •   Separation vs. Unity;
  •   Alien vs. Intimate;
  •   Exterior Force vs. Interior Force;
  •   Acting Upon Us vs. Acting From Within Us;
  •   Transcendence vs. Immanence.

And there is a direct corollary to how this effects our understanding of the bible (or any other sacred text).  These two very different perspectives from which to view God, the bible, and humankind may be illustrated by asking ourselves two questions:

  1.   Did God write the bible?
  2.   Or are the texts of the bible representative of the human effort to apprehend God?

These are very different things!  If God wrote the bible we must struggle with why God hates some people and loves others.  Why does God demand genocide?  (Bishop Spong answers this quite simply and effectively:  the god of hate represents a tribal god;  tribal gods always hate who we hate.)

Once we recognize that sacred scripture is written as a human attempt to explore our apprehension of the Divine, we are able to see instances of tribal god worship contrasted against worship of a Universal God of Love.  Which expression of the Divine is nearer our human heart largely is a question of which stage of faith we predominately occupy spiritually.  (For a discussion of stages of faith, see earlier blogs of March, June and July of 2013.)

Are we derivative of the Divine?

I suspect we are.  I suspect we flow from the Divine Source.  I certainly do not think the Divine flows from us:  through us, yes;  but not from us, as if we are the Source.

At least, in so far as we presently exist.  But I also suspect the question is more complex.  Our views are constrained by concepts such as Time.  If one is able to imagine a view which does not include Time, one might find questions such as who is derivative of whom to be without meaning.

For reasons such as this, I believe we are well served by maintaining a certain “looseness” in our thoughts and apprehensions.  I have long suspected that after our physical deaths we may very well discover that a great many of the questions with which we are so concerned, will not be found to be right or wrong, but rather so thoroughly misapprehended, as to be without meaning.

Yet we must begin where we find ourselves, and work with what tools we have.

I call this Practical Mysticism.  The subject of mysticism and of seeking union with the Divine is so broad and deep that I suspect we will never take its measure in one lifetime.  Severely complicating matters is our inability to express the experience through language.  This inability to share the subtle nature of the experience of the Divine limits our ability to learn from the experience of those who travelled before us.

Great mystics have left us clues.  Impressions, however vague, of their apprehension of the Divine.  But such works are nothing like engineering texts describing how to build a bridge or rocket.

Thus, to a large degree we each must plot our own course into the Unknown.  And it is all too easy to loose our bearings.  It is my opinion we should attempt to fix, as best we may, certain points to serve as light houses, or constellations, by which we may sail into the Cloud of Unknowing, which surrounds and obscures the Divine.  Yet we must always remain aware these are relative bearings only;  they do not, and are not meant to, literally limit the Divine to the confines of our puny intellect.

As I now apprehend the Divine, It is both Transcendent and Immanent.  And ultimately, Ineffable.   Merriam-Webster.com defines these terms as:

Transcendence

  •   The quality or state of being transcendent.

Transcendent

  •   Extending or lying beyond the limits of ordinary experience;
  •   In Kantian philosophy:  being beyond the limits of all possible experience and knowledge;
  •   Being beyond comprehension.

Immanence

  •   The quality or state of being immanent.

Immanent

  •   Indwelling, inherent;
  •   Being within the limits of possible experience or knowledge — compare transcendent.

Ineffable

  •   Incapable of being expressed in words — indescribable.

There is an aspect of the Divine which will always remain to the human mind and heart utterly Transcendent.  We forget this when we squish God into a box and define who God loves and hates, and are so arrogant as to explain why.  This aspect of the Divine is incomprehensibly alien to us.  This apprehension of the Divine informs us that we know so little of the Divine, as to know nothing.  We should be incredibly humble in face of this profound state of ignorance, which we all share.

Yet, simultaneously there is an immanent aspect of the Divine, one which bubbles forth from our own depths!  (And from all life, for that matter.)  This is the aspect of the Divine which we may come to know as a part of ourselves, intimately.  This is the inner-divinity of which all mystics speak, yet are unable to fully express.

We might consider the implications of the ineffable nature of the experience which mystics seek.  Having had an experience of “Mystical Union with the Divine” it is consistently related as being an experience which is incapable of being expressed in words.  Imagine “seeing the face of God” and being unable to relate that experience to others, except in the most impoverished terms.

Many find this frustrating.  However, I believe we should consider reframing our perspective.  While we may not be able to share in the experience others have had, we are able to draw inspiration from the event itself:

  •   we too may aspire to share a similar sense of Union with the Divine!
  •   if they can do it, so may we!

 

With blessings,

Erik+

Infallibility & Inerrancy

Infallibility & Inerrancy:  Do Words Have Meaning?  Who Decides?

This is an addendum to my evaluation of two Statements of Faith in August 2013.  As is often the case with theological discussion, one must be careful to define the terms one is using, and to be aware of the definitions others are using.  One of my bishops observed that it seems I made a mistake in assuming the dictionary definitions of two particular words were being used, when it is much more likely their theological definitions were intended.  Now I believe these represent fairly minor points in the respective documents, however I do wish address this point for two reasons.

  • First, I think it may be a useful illustration of how important it is to be aware of the meaning of the specific words.
  • Second, it underscores how easily we can fall into the trap of assuming we know what another person means to say, only later discovering we may have been mistaken.

The following are representative of the definitions I found in online dictionary listings:

Infallible (Merriam-Webster.com)
1 : incapable of error : unerring [an infallible memory]
2 : not liable to mislead, deceive, or disappoint : certain [an infallible remedy]
3 : incapable of error in defining doctrines touching faith or morals
Inerrancy (Merriam-Webster.com)
: exemption from error : infallibility [the question of biblical inerrancy]

Inerrant (Merriam-Webster.com)
: free from error

Merriam-Webster defines these words quite closely, in fact, one of the definitions of inerrancy is infallibility.  I suspect this is the root of my assumed meanings conveyed by these words, as I expressed in the previous evaluations in August of 2013.

However, upon reading the definitions more closely, one might discern that inerrant is a more limited term.  A text may be determined to be free from error, but one may think of this as a technical description of the competency of the editing, publishing, and printing processes.  A key point is that inerrancy may not speak to the truthful, or even the factual, quality of the premises which the document asserts.

Regarding inerrancy, Wikipedia offers the following….

  • (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biblical_inerrancy)
  • Biblical inerrancy is the doctrine that the Bible, in its original manuscripts, is accurate and totally free from error of any kind; that “Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact”.[1] Some equate inerrancy with infallibility; others do not. [2][3]

The obvious problem with this proposition is the “original manuscripts” no longer exists.  So logically the argument is of no use as any kind of proof.  But this is a different argument, and not the one I wish to pursue in this addendum.  A greater difficulty is this definition is already slipping into the realm of infallibility, which is a highly subjective measure.

But it appears we are in good company with regard to being confused over this question’s fine points.  In the Roman Catholic Church this question has been debated in Vatican II, and the decades since;  without resolution as near as I am able to determine.  The following is a short quote from an interview with Roman Catholic Cardinal Francis George:

  • The question, finally, is what kind of confidence can those who hear the Word of God proclaimed from scripture have that it’s the truth? Fundamentalists would say that it’s all literally true, so we have every reason to be confident. But that ignores what exegesis has done for us in the last 200 years, identifying the different forms of literature in the Bible, the contexts of the communities in which it was written, and all the rest.
  • You’ve still got the problem, however, of the affirmation in faith that inspiration and inerrancy go together, so that what is inspired is also inerrant. At the same time, you have to discover what inerrancy means when you’re not reading a newspaper, but you’re reading poetry, or a myth of some sort, or a fable or a parable. We can make that distinction more easily in the New Testament, when Jesus is speaking in parables. It’s harder sometimes for us to make those distinctions in the Old Testament.
  • http://catholicism.org/biblical-inerrancy-revisited-but-not-revised.html

Please note the Cardinal’s observation that we must distinguish the type of prose we are reading.  This is critical.  Reading a newspaper speaks to a different kind of truth than does poetry and parable.  I have tried to make this point in some of my past writings.  I have found the late Prof. Ron Miller expresses this better than anyone else I have yet heard (most likely in his “Unpacking the Parables” talk, given to the Theosophical Society).

Elsewhere in the short except of Cardinal George’s interview, he states that one view of the understanding of biblical inerrancy is that the bible speaks to our salvation:  it is our salvation which is ultimately held to be inerrant;  not the literary forms of expression;  not the authors understanding of geology nor of astrophysics.  I find this very easy to believe.  On the feet-on-the-ground perspective, it is obvious to me that our understanding of science and the nature of the universe has evolved over the centuries, and it is unreasonable to try to force a mind of the 1st century to fit the molds we have developed in the 20th century.

Much more intriguing to me is the conversation surrounding the inerrancy of salvation.  I have to assume that Cardinal George is speaking from the dominate position of the Roman Catholic Church, and not that of the early Church Fathers, such as Clement and especially Origen, who spoke of Universal Salvation.  Personally, I find the early understanding to be much more sensible;  but I must also admit, it is also a better fit to some of my formative spiritual understandings, which may bias my evaluation.  However, I still think the question of Universal Salvation withstands serious and objective investigation.  (Those interested in pursuing this line of thought should consider reading Dr. J. W. Hanson’s book “Universalism:  The Prevailing Doctrine Of The Christian Church During Its First Five Hundred Years.”)

Another view Cardinal George shares is the understanding that inerrancy means the central teachings of the biblical authors which were inspired by God are inerrant, whereas the cultural influences surrounding them (“zeitgeist, the understanding of the world at the time”) are not inerrant.  Here, while I agree with the proposition in theory, there are remaining difficulties, which I find renders this an untenable position to maintain:  it presumes we are able to discern that which God wishes to become Inspired;  it presumes God as Active Agent, periodically “invading” the world;  and I read this as merging with the definition of infallible, whereas I would prefer to define these terms separately, as I find this offers a more practical, rational use of language and cognitive tools.  (This is already a difficult conversation to pin down in detail.  Therefore, we should attempt to refine our definition, as opposed to diffuse our definition, of key terms.)

The arguments about God, God’s Inspiration, and “invasion” into the world are critical points.  These will be discussed later.  For now, I wish to set them to the side, and simply observe they are not required, and not highly useful, in defining our terms inerrant and infallible;  nor are they very useful in discerning the differences between these two terms.  So I set them aside for the time being, not because they are unimportant, but because I do not find them useful in refining the definitions of inerrancy and infallibility.

Regarding infallibility, Wikipedia offers….

  • (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biblical_infallibility)
  • Biblical infallibility is the belief that what the Bible says regarding matters of faith and Christian practice is wholly useful and true. It is the “belief that the Bible is completely trustworthy as a guide to salvation and the life of faith and will not fail to accomplish its purpose. Some equate ‘inerrancy’ and ‘infallibility’; others do not.”[1]

I also wish to offer additional views discussing the subject of biblical infallibility.  Should readers wish to peruse these sources, I believe they will find a deeper appreciation for the lack of clarity surround the questions of biblical inerrancy and biblical infallibility.  Efforts to closely define these terms is difficult.  Agreeing upon how they are best employed in aiding our understanding of sacred scripture, has yet to occur.

  • http://catholicism.org/apologetics-infallibility.html
  • This web page covers a lot of ground, including the doctrine of papal infallibility (which I have no intention of discussing at this time), not all of which pertains to our current discussion.  But it does offer a broad view of a number of points of divisiveness surrounding the topics of inerrancy and infallibility.
  • http://catholicism.org/vatican-ii-some-clarity-please.html
  • This web page presents an interesting summary of a debate between two distinguished Roman Catholics, who none-the-less draw opposite conclusions in their close readings of a particular Vatican II document (I believe it was “Dei Verbum” (Latin for “Word of God”)).
  • http://www.biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/bets/infallibility_lewis.pdf
  • This PDF document offers an objective discussion of meaning and language.  Across pages two and three there is a table with the heading: AN ANALYSIS OF MEANING AND LANGUAGE.  I found their comparison between meaning and language informative.  It appears to me that among their points, meaning is divorced from written text.  This is a point I have heard before, and to which I agree.  Words are just comprised of symbols written by one person to later be interpreted by another person.  A thoughtful author attempts to convey their intended meaning as clearly as possible.  However, the words they use (and images, if included in the document) must be interpreted in the mind of the person reading the document.  And we all bring our own life experiences to our reading;  to our understanding of the world;  to our understanding of words.  There is an unavoidable barrier between one human mind and another.  (The gulf between the human mind and the Divine Mind is greater still!)

The above discussions, while interesting, for the most part take a different line of questioning than I intend to engage in at this time.  Let’s begin by returning to the Merriam-Webster definitions, and from there transition to a discussion about our means of discernment.

Infallible (Merriam-Webster.com)
1 : incapable of error : unerring [an infallible memory]
2 : not liable to mislead, deceive, or disappoint : certain [an infallible remedy]
3 : incapable of error in defining doctrines touching faith or morals

Inerrancy (Merriam-Webster.com)
: exemption from error : infallibility [the question of biblical inerrancy]

Inerrant (Merriam-Webster.com)
: free from error

In my opinion the differences as defined by Merriam-Webster in meaning are subtle, and of only minor significance in the scope of my evaluations of the previous Statements of Faith (see August 2013).  But as we have seen above, if we begin to parse out the relative meanings of these words as defined by various theological sources, we find greater differences emerge.

I see much of this as the result of failing to distinguish between qualitative and quantitative interpretations.  Most basically:  a qualitative measure is subjective, and a measure of quality;  a quantitative measure is objective, and a measure of quantity.

For example, how I feel about the color blue is subjective and qualitative, whereas the measurement of the frequency of its wavelength in nanometer is objective and quantitative.  The first requires I make a subjective judgement regarding “quality” of the color;  the second only requires a properly designed and calibrated machine to measure the “quantity” of light.  Each of us may find the shade of blue chosen evokes different feelings;  but each of us must come to realize the measurement of a meter is always the same, and that our feelings regarding the measure of a meter in no way effects its length.

A silly example perhaps, but I think instructive in helping us recognize two very different methods of biblical interpretation.  And should we confuse one for the other, or fail to recognize there are multiple methods of “measuring” sacred scripture, we are doomed to failure before we have begun our efforts.

My opinion is inerrancy is an objective measure, and therefore quantifiable.  It is a measure of the words employed in the text, and in the accuracy in duplicating a text.  If we wish to instead discuss the *meaning* of the words employed in the text, we have then entered into the realm of the subjective and qualitative;  such discernment falls within the definition of the word infallible, but not inerrant.

The question of “inerrant” we may dismiss immediately, because we may demonstrate there are factual and logical errors to be found in the texts of the Hebrew bible and Christian New Testament.  This has been discussed in my previous evaluations of the respective Statements of Faith, so I will not spend much time with it here.  I will however mention a few points for consideration:

  • We may observe that where there are multiple copies of manuscripts (hand-written books) no two have been found to be entirely identical (small fragments excepted).
  • This is not to say that all hand-written copies of sacred texts are wildly different from one to the other.  Most errors, or differences, are quite minor and easily detected.  Poor spelling is the most common “error” but given that the dictionary had not yet been invented, we can forgive such minor differences.
  • Larger differences include skipping lines, or omitting words, or citing quotations from scripture improperly (and in some cases, in correcting previous errors of this type), or in mistakenly incorporating an earlier margin note into the body of the text.
  • So we find that some of these differences are quite minor.  Some differences are more significant, but still readily detectable, provided one has a sufficient number of additional manuscripts for comparison.  However, in no way can one state the body of work is “inerrant.”  For this to be true, all manuscripts must be identical.

“Infallible” is a more resilient term because it may simultaneously distance itself from “inerrancy” while pairing itself to what one subjectively considers to be the proper spiritual or moral interpretation of the text.  And this is a qualitative judgement, frequently claimed by virtue of one having been granted Divine Inspiration.  “Because God told me” is clearly a less objective measure than pointing to a printed text and claiming that the reproduction of the document is without error.

My problem with this line of argument is the word “infallible” becomes increasingly slippery.  This seems to my mind to be shifting the question to an ever-receding point.  And I want to answer the question of whether and to what degree do we entertain sacred scripture is literally true?  Metaphorically true?  Allegorically true?

If one grants that the bible is not inerrant (my apologies for the double negative), but that it remains infallible, what is the scope of this claim?

Does this apply to every single verse? Every sentence?  Are all sentences describing the same event equally infallible?  My belief is this puts too fine a point on the measure of “infallibility.”  If we do so, we witness a precise, functional meaning of infallibility slipping from our grasp.

Beyond this, how do we resolve irresolvable and incompatible differences between texts?

For example, did Jesus die on the day of preparation for Passover, or on Passover day itself?  He only died once, so it must be one or the other;  Jesus cannot have died twice, on consecutive days.  How do we explain this from the perspective that each gospel is infallible?

I find the best answer to this kind of question is to recognize that each author wished to emphasize a different point.  The four gospels are each different in certain respects exactly because each author was trying to highlight a different understanding of what the life and ministry of Jesus meant to them.  This is why it is useful to better understand the context in which each book or letter was written:  written by whom?  to what audience?  for what purpose?

Seen from this perspective we realize that sacred scripture may be objectively incompatible, yet subjectively coherent.  The measure of infallibility has eluded our grasp yet again.

Might holy scripture be infallible, yet errant?

To my eye, to say that the bible is infallible, yet subject to error (not inerrant), is to say that while specific facts may be found to be in error, or that technical errors, omissions, and contradictions take place in the text, when it comes to critical matters of theology, the truth being related is infallible.

I feel this is the strongest claim one may make for sacred scripture.  But will this position survive scrutiny?

Obviously, this leaves as an ongoing question, of what specifically are these “critical” matter of theology.  Whether the bible is infallible on specific points of theology one must examine each point.  And this is a complex process, even limiting the scope of the theology to the Hebrew bible and New Testament, let alone if one extends the scope to underlying truths common to all religions.

This is also deeply steeped in subjective judgements regarding the content of the scriptures.  I have very little faith that people will be able to agree on the details of such subjective, yet to many of them highly emotionally charged beliefs.  I see no hope for consensus in determining exactly what words would be used in printing any single “infallible” edition of the bible.

And to do so in modern English is an impossible task.  There are too many choices that must be made when interpreting the oldest and best (least errant) Greek manuscripts.

So where does this leave us?  For my part, the best I believe I can honestly offer is that holy scripture offers us inspiration.  I’ll leave this important word hanging until I address the topic of mysticism, for they are closely related.

Is sacred scripture infallible or not?

I do agree that scripture may be argued to be infallible.  However  -and this is a giant however!-  in no way do I believe we are capable of arriving at a consensus as to what this actually means once we begin discussing the text in a close, critical reading.  Sacred scripture is infallible only in theory;  but not in any practical sense which we may objectively put to use.  The degree of personal interpretation required in digesting holy, sacred scripture pushes any such consensus beyond our mortal reach;  therefore, infallibility is always a subjective standard.

  • As an aside, for the purposes of this discussion I read no significant difference between the words holy and sacred.  Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines, in part, these terms as follows:

Holy
1:  exalted or worthy of complete devotion as one perfect in goodness and righteousness
2:  divine [for the Lord our God is holy — Psalms 99:9 (Authorized Version)]
3:  devoted entirely to the deity or the work of the deity [a holy temple] [holy prophets]
4a :  having a divine quality [holy love]
4b :  venerated as or as if sacred [holy scripture] [a holy relic]

Sacred
1a :  dedicated or set apart for the service or worship of a deity [a tree sacred to the gods]
1b :  devoted exclusively to one service or use (as of a person or purpose) [a fund sacred to charity]
2a :  worthy of religious veneration :  holy
2b :  entitled to reverence and respect
3:  of or relating to religion :  not secular or profane [sacred music]

More to the heart of the matter, why should we think the bible (or any sacred scripture, for that matter) is inerrant or infallible in the first place?  I think it is important to consider this question mindfully.  The root of such questions is the critical -yet often unstated- question of exactly who wrote the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament…

  • God or human beings?

If one believes God wrote the scriptures (which requires resolving the large problem of defining exactly what that means) *then* we may be able to sensibly ask whether or not the scriptures are inerrant and/or infallible.  (But if they fail either of these tests, we must ask:  How?  Why?  Does such a failing devalue the entire body of work?  If so, to what degree?)

But if the scriptures were written by human beings, I do not think the question is even sensible.  The problem is this:  only perfect human beings (or those who have perfect knowledge, even if “limited” to the subject of the Divine, of all things), can write an inerrant or infallible book of sacred scriptures.  And no person is perfect.

And one must remember we are not speaking of one perfect person, we are speaking of a long chain of such perfected persons over thousands of years of human history.  This just seem completely implausible to me;  completely beyond credibility.  Ludicrous, to be brutally honest.  Especially given we have a perfectly reasonable and logical alternative model.

I packed a lot into the previous three paragraphs.

Perhaps a way of making my thoughts more clear is to ask what mind composed our sacred scriptures?  Is sacred scripture a product of a Divine Mind or of a human mind?  I believe this is at the core of the question with which I am struggling in this blog, and which lies at the heart of determining if sacred scripture may be inerrant or infallible.

What if God is the author of sacred scripture?

Does this offer a better solution to the questions of inerrancy and infallibility?  Clearly not in any literal sense.  What of the error?  What of the contradictions?  Once again, the question of inerrancy is a non-starter.  I believe, in and of itself, this precludes any chance that “God wrote the bible.”

What of infallibility?  If God did not literally “write” the bibles (Hebrew and New Testament) did God “inspire” them?  Did God inspire these scriptures in such a manner as to install infallibility into the writing -and copying and editing- of these scriptures?

We have returned to very slippery ground.

But I’ll add another perspective to the question.  For the sake of argument, let us grant that God *has* provided, through human devices, the perfectly inspired, infallible set of texts.  Even if this is true….

  • human beings are unable to discern it!

Why?  Because we do not possess the Mind of God.  While I do believe we may be inspired to greater degrees of clarity and understanding, and while I do believe epiphanies take place,  our comprehension is limited by the nature of our humanity.  God must speak to us in terms which we are capable of understanding.  And our human limitations leave us short of grasping perfection – and almost everyone who makes this argument also asserts God, by definition, is perfect.

What of apprehension?  If our comprehension is too limited to grasp the Mind of God, then perhaps we may perfectly intuit God’s Message?  I do suspect this is one of our best means of experiencing the Divine in the fullest degree of which we are able.  But I do not believe this offers complete or perfect connection with the Divine.  To say we may be able to maximize our human experience of the Divine, is not to say a human may experience the maximum degree of all that is Divine.

Expressed another way, to say we may be able to completely fill our senses and perception with that which is Divine, to become totally immersed in the Divine, in no way means that we have experienced the totality of that which is Divine.

This concept may be more obvious when presented as an image:  imagine a small circle and an extremely large circle;  you and I are the small circle;  that which is Divine is the extremely large circle;  even if we reside entirely within the Divine, there is much more of the Divine than we occupy.  We are simply too small.

I do believe there is an overlap between the human and Divine.  I even believe there is a Divine Spark within each of us (which we may either nurture or ignore).  But the entirety of the Divine is incapable of being contained within that which is human.  I believe this is why the Hebrew scriptures say we cannot see the Face of God – to do so would be to metaphorically burst us into flames, reducing us to ash!

And this leads us to the “perfectly reasonable and logical alternative model” which I believe provides us an answer to these, and many other, theological questions:

  • Quite simply, the bible is *not* a Top-Down document.
  • The bible is a Bottom-Up document.

The bible is not God speaking to us.  It is a bunch of human beings working out an increasingly refined understanding of the Divine, over a period of thousands of years.  Instead of revealing God to us, the bible reveals our human perception of God.  And these are two very different things!

Furthermore, this is an evolving perception.  It does include inspired insights as to the nature of the Divine, but it also includes some horrifically human-centric ideas which show how we have objectified and brutalized one another in the past.  (And, sadly, as we continue to do to this day.)

That we humans wrote the bible, and not God, I find a great relief!

We need not ponder why “God” desires to slaughter entire ethnic groups, or pours out a flood in an effort to wipe out nearly all of humanity (to say nothing of the rest life teeming on the planet).  Instead we are able to appreciate the slow advance of human compassion and our growing spiritual maturity over the course of thousands of years.  Ever-so-slowly we are learning to leave behind the tribal god, who hates everyone we hate.

We are creatures of intellect.  Our ability to reason is that which has raised us above all other animals on this planet.  But intellect has its limits.  Intellect can be cold and devoid of love or compassion.  Intellect is a tool – an important and wonderful tool, in fact.  But this tool is not the spiritual imperative which drives us to develop and use that tool.

Beyond simple survival of the fittest, we discover a drive for spiritual enlightenment.

To be made in the image of God means that we have the ability to reason logically and to behave rationally.  But we are also creatures of the heart.  To be made in the image of God also means that we possess emotional and spiritual aspects which are every bit as important as our rational abilities – perhaps more so.  It is these qualities of the heart which we desperately need to develop.

We like to believe we have very effectively put on the Mind of God.  We have libraries filled with books of theology, comprised of many religious traditions.  Yet we cannot live in peace with one another.  Love for that which is Other remains largely beyond our reach.

We need to focus on living in the Heart of God.  We need to learn that where hatred and murder reside, God does not.  Where we are to find God, we will find tolerance, acceptance, and love for self and others.  I like to think that many of us are learning to live in our heart, and beginning to discovery therein resides God.  Ever-so-slowly we are moving toward embracing God as a unifying source of empathy, compassion, and love.

Love is the measure of the Divine.

But how might we get there?  Or at least get started heading in the right direction?  For me, this is where Inspiration enters the picture.  We are all “inside jobs” and God is to be found within our hearts.  God is not the whirlwind bearing down upon Job, or the column of fire destroying our (tribal) enemies.  God is made manifest through each of us, flowing into the world through how we choose to live our lives.

This is what the great mystic spiritual traditions tell us.  And each religion offers its internal, mystical connection with the Divine.  They tell us we find God within our own hearts, and we are the vehicles through which God chooses to become manifest in the world.  

Why?  I suspect it is because we are operating under an imperative to to become More.  We are drawn to the Divine because we sense we may enter into common union with something which is greater than ourselves, and our small human existence.  What draws us toward it, is what some call the Inspiration of the Divine.

In Christian terminology this is the Holy Spirit.  This may be thought of as the “energy” or Active Agent of the Divine in the world.  But for whatever reason, it enters into the world through each of us.  Our active participation is required.  We each have been granted free will.  In many small ways each day we are invited to choose between love and hate.

I am reminded of a well known Native American story.  A youngster has had a falling out with a friend, and is feeling conflicting emotions as a result.  On one hand they want vengeance and retribution for perceived wrongs done to them.  On the other hand, they do love their friend, and want to wish them well and enjoy their company in the future.  Their grandfather explains this is an internal battle we each face our entire lives.  We each have two wolves living within us.  One seeks to harm others.  One seeks to love others.  One will only bring us pain and loss.  The other joy and love.  Considering this, the youngster earnestly looks to their grandfather and asks, “Which wolf will win this battle?”  Grandfather answers, “The one we feed.”

In what way have these 5,000-words brought us any closer to answering the questions surrounding inerrancy and infallibility?

Asking if sacred scripture is either inerrant or infallible is to miss the larger point.  The text is literally neither.  It is certainly not inerrant, because it contains errors.  Nor are we able to determine that it is infallible, because we are unable to agree upon what this means.

At best, sacred scripture offers us instruction and inspiration.  At best, we are each “inside jobs.”  We each must take a long, deep look into our own hearts, seeking Divine Inspiration, apprehending what we may, so that we might learn to express ever-greater portions of the Divine through how we choose to live our lives, and in how we choose to interact with others.

God does not “invade” the world from the sky, like Zeus hurling lightning bolts.  The Presence of the Shadow of God enters into the world subtly;  through our ability to love those who hate us;  by our loving others as if they were ourselves;  by loving ourselves as if we were living expressions of the Divine acting in this world.

“Why?”  This is a Divine Mystery.

Erik+

An Expansive Crown Chakra!

Apostolic Succession OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The theory of apostolic succession says there is a physical connection from the present reaching all the way back to the time of Jesus Christ. This “line” of succession is passed along by the physical laying on of hands from bishop to bishop, connecting all the bishops throughout all the centuries from now all the way back to Christ’s original Apostles.

Some people question whether there is anything behind the idea of being ordained into a line of apostolic succession. In fact, I was once among these persons! Having now been ordained into such a line (in the Old Catholic Church tradition) I can affirm and honestly attest, that yes, I think there is something to this!

My rite of ordainment included an anointing of the hands and upper chakras as I was brought into the priesthood of Melchizedek. I could clearly and easily feel many of these spiritual energy centers becoming activated. This sensation of activity in my various energy centers would come and go throughout the rite (and days following). I felt the strongest energy/Presence in my palms and crown chakra. I was also very much aware of a sense of “Presence” which I attribute to the Holy Spirit/Shakinah. Clearly something was happening!

Expansive Crown Chakra

For me the activity in my crown chakra was the strongest chakra activity I have to this day felt. I had always assumed when people spoke of the “crown” chakra they meant by this, the top of your head. But this was different. Very different – I felt like I was wearing a flaming crown! I could feel the energy all the way around the entire “hat line” of my head, as if I were in fact wearing a “crown” made of energy. And I was aware of it “flowing” upward, as I might imagine flames burning up and out of the top of my head, licking one and two feet above me – yet they were cool flames!

And Orbs Too

Yes. Orbs too. I wasn’t aware of this at the time, but the image accompanying this blog shows me performing my first priestly duty, creating holy water for the upcoming consecration of a new bishop. This image may not show this very well, and I am not a photo analysis expert, but the apparent “orbs” seem to have both depth and definition to my eye. That they appear over my head and over the altar at which I am working I find quite interesting. No proof of anything mind you, but for those of us who believe in such things this is another piece of evidence suggesting that something very real happened to me during my ordination.

“One knows one” is a saying I once heard. And I can say that “I know.” I have no need or interests in “collecting ordinations.” I am a priest. I may become a poor priest or a good priest, that remains to be seen. Others are free to doubt – I do not. A priest in the line of Melchizedek, I am.