Posts Tagged 'Marcus Borg'

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)

Belief & Faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What the Christian New Testament attempts to convey when using faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What the Christian New Testament attempts to convey when using belief

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why pray? Why study scripture? Why attend Mass?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May the Lord bless and keep you,
Erik+

Footnotes:

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

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

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

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

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

[6] Borg, “What is Faith?”

[7] Borg, “What is Faith?”

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

[9] Borg, “What is Faith?”

[10] Borg, “What is Faith?”

Resources:

Books:

Borg, Marcus J.:

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

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

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

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

Online:

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

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

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”