Today on Facebook, I was compelled to post the following:
I do not claim to be Christian, altho I have a long & deeply studied history with the faith & various of its derivative religions. There are some really smart people who recognize that the “path” to heaven involves actual terrain, which merely following lists of rules cannot substitute for. People who understand that spirituality is getting to the core of the divine & not merely trying to mime a facsimile. For that reason, I read Slacktivist. His article on Sex & Money (part 3) is an inspiring example. His intelligent spirituality is inspiring for divinity’s sake.
The fact is, I am not a Christian in the sense that I practice any brand of Christianity. My problem is that I so abhor how the faith is practiced that I simply cannot subscribe to it and the intellectual stunting that so often results in concentrated congregations of followers. But I think that, within the guides (to wit, books) of many faiths, there is legitimate spirituality to be learned.
Problem is, most humans don’t know what spirituality is or why spirituality is actually the objective of any path toward providence. It’s not a path if it doesn’t go somewhere; it’s not conducive to participating in the Divine if it is merely a collection of dogmas, tenets, creeds, actions, or agendas. Nevertheless, I was compelled, as I often am, to say something to my Christian friends to remind them that I support them on their journey to the divine and to try to offer a perspective of spirituality that I think is what the Bible is a textbook for.
My thesis is that, if God is spiritual and the end-result of getting close to Him is spiritual, then “spiritual” is probably the state most appropriate to being in His presence; and spirituality is the nature of the “right” path for getting there. On the flip side of that are rules grounded in the physical/mundane anchoring us to the spot (the ground) like some horse tether around our ankle.
A Concept of Path: the Trailhead
I have loaned out both my copies of Eckhart Tolle’s book, “New Awakening,” so I’m going to have to recall what I can, resulting in what I’m sure will be a not entirely faithful transfer of meaning.
In the course of the book, he quotes different spiritual leaders, such as Jesus, and sheds a remarkably brilliant light on the quotes’ meanings. What he did with the quoting was to show where the spirituality lies in biblical teachings and how the mundane sludge we churn up around us has obscured both the meanings and the tradition behind the meanings. The Bible is being misused, misconstrued, and misappropriated when it really contains an immense amount of truth about spirituality. When you objectify the spirit, you turn it into a rock with as much potency to sanctify you.
As an example, understand that the faith Jesus descends from is a highly spiritual one, one that even included what we term magic. (Some Christians would say that what Jesus did was “miracle” as opposed to “magic,” but the affect is the same.) And how did Christ say that one could accomplish things like walking on the water: to keep your mind focused on him and not on , in the context of walking on water, physical matters. You can overcome the physical by putting your mind above it and keeping it in the divine. Supernatural, or “above nature.” This not to say that you’re not conscious of the physical realm in which you exist, but rather that there is more to consciousness than contemplating the mundane.
He referred to something called (if I recall correctly), living in the present, being conscious. That’s different from “thinking” in that, when you’re thinking, you’re inside your head (dreaming). When you’re present you’re outside it and participating in the greater existing — that is, larger than just you.
It looks oddly contradictory: how can you be present and still be spiritually outside the mundane. Answer: because in being present, being conscious is a spiritual state if you consider what consciousness is. (C.S. Lewis in his “Problem of Pain,” goes so far as to equate consciousness with Soul.)
Can you think and be conscious at the same time? Of course! Just for fun, sit quietly and marvel at the sensation of being conscious of your thinking. You immediately see that consciousness is a state above merely thinking. It’s weirdly spiritual because we, mundanely, confuse thinking with being conscious.
At this point, some readers might think this post is a plug for Tolle. It’s not, really. I am not a big believer in self-help books. But at some point, something or someone helps you see nuances you’d not seen before; or helps you see concepts previously obscured or simply not pointed out before.
How can that happen? Well, there is only one working theory of perceptual development, and it goes roughly like this: you learn to distinguish one thing from another as a function of need. If you never found occasion to distinguist between a tree and a telephone pole, you wouldn’t “see” the difference! It’s very Plato’s Cave.
Tying this back to Tolle, he simply helped point out things, obvious things, in a simple enough way as to allow us to perceive distinctions between thought and consciousness that were always there but that hadn’t been presented in a distinctive way before. Well, that is to say, in the way in which he did it. Others have presented it in their ways. Tolle’s worked for me.
How is this related to “path”? Recognizing consciousness as a spiritual state provides you with someplace to start in recognizing a path. The direction it takes you is up to you and the relationship you want to have with the divine.
Trajectory as Path
In C.S. Lewis’ book, “The Problem of Pain,” he talks about trajectory: how establishing momentum can carry you evolutionarily toward an eventual end state. It was a fascinating read that used at least three topics as the medium for the argumentation: a) do animals have souls, b) if the lake of fire was actually created for Satan and his ilk, how is it that the human soul can qualify, and c) what is with “purgatory,” and is there an out?
Once you’re dead, I’m pretty sure you cease being “physical” where seemingly important rules of behavior on this plane are probably not so applicable. Yet the “journey” continues. It involves a type of evolution, positive or negative. It depends entirely on the trajectory created by our hearts and the effort to focus on the divine.
You can create a type of trajectory by amassing the sludge of the mundane, like making mud and sliding on it. In this way, the “evolutionary” direction you create is made up of edicts, rules, worries about everyday things, reputations, etc. The thrust of your effort is physically based, like trying to walk on water by sheer force of will to defy gravity.
Or, you can create a trajectory propelled by spiritual efforts, where there is no “trying” to walk on water, but rather that walking on water is a “fruit” that being spiritual simply bears. Where walking on water is not a goal, it’s a side-effect natural to approaching the divine in nature and within His presence.
“Likeness of God”
In the reading of Genesis, describing where we and everything else came from, we find Adam. The “name” was not a human name as we use it now, but means “earth,” as in dirt. We associate Adam with guys, so we project back onto the original Adam that “he” must have been male. (Of course there’s another reason, but I’m getting to that.)
Mankind started out, apparently, without the need for a complement in order to procreate. Woman didn’t come until later. Thinking along these lines and knowing that, in nature, there are creatures that can change sex and some that are asexual (meaning having no sex for the purposes of reproduction), it is more than likely that, to be most like “in His image,” we were capable of procreating without the need for sex, but rather via the divine will inherent in us…er, him, or it.
Then God saw man needed a helpmate because he was lonely (?, stemming from the word lone, as in ‘alone’ in type), put Adam to sleep and pulled out a rib. (So, then “he”/it woke up as a he with some post-partum pain, I’m imagining.) That in itself is a type of asexual reproduction because another being divided itself out of the parent being. In any case, we ended up, only then, with two acknowledged sexes.
My argument, tho, is not about sex. I’m using sex as an example of how the mundane/physical appearances have clouded our minds to the fact that we are spiritual beings first, physical second.
Some RedHerring-shaped Mud
In the current Christian tradition, the naturalistic fallacy that, since the plumbing is complementary (an ‘is’), then using it according to the plumbing’s apparent design is moral → right → Godly (a ‘should’) is a red herring, obfuscating cloud. This way of thinking churns up plumbing and its ends to obscure spiritual being: what is essentially more important?
Getting bogged down in plumbing is getting bogged down in the mundane. Maybe you have a Godward trajectory, but it will be slowed down by the weight of sludge. In Christian theology, you may not end up in Heaven upon your death; you may end up in Purgatory first, just like Christ did. A weigh station while you continue to evolve in accordance with your trajectory, ala C.S. Lewis.
Or your trajectory can be composed and propelled by so much of the mundane that this is what defines it; and your evolution will one day result in your qualifying for the lake of fire. Devolution, if you will.
(Some Christian theologists will argue that Christ’s sojourn in Purgatory was to clean it out and do away with it. But that is one interpretation that the Bible doesn’t really clarify further.)
Suffocating Out the Light
Rules and edicts are mental constructs that we transfer to behaviors with the expectation that doing them is participating in the divine. Do we really think that enacting something with the expectation that the action carries moral justification is being spiritual?
Paul to the Thessalonians or Galatians (?) says something like living spiritually is “living in such a way as not to quench the spirit,” and that the “fruits of the spirit” are the resulting actions, not the actions themselves. (“Fruits,” of course, refers to the product spawned, generated, born of something else. It would be a seriously odd thought to think you could poop something out and call it a peach later. But too many are “led by the Spirit” to do this or that, when in actuality they’re being led by fulfilling their rules and calling it fruit of the Spirit. Actually, the thought of a tree “grunting out” a fruit is also hilarious, yet this is the paradigm of “fruits” as practiced by many Christians.)
“Quenching” the spirit does NOT mean satisfying the spirit with a good beverage, but rather just the opposite: suffocating the spirit, like snuffing out a candle. Acting on rules or ritual or other physical form of behavior, if done apart from its spiritual source, is divinely empty. Acting spiritual, with emphasis on the “acting.” Being spiritual is what produces the fruit, not the other way around.
Figuring Out the Path
The Bible, as a guidebook (as the Slacktivist says), is not a rulebook. It is a lesson book — a “map” — on how to get on a spiritual path and navigate it. But to do that, we have to understand first how we’ve misconstrued both what a “path” is and what following it means.
To too many, it means “if I follow all these rules, there is reward — or lack of punishment — waiting at the finish line.” Great, but you can’t be sure that the rules you’re applying are actual rules and not some artificial contrivance. “Woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees…” (Matt. 23:27).
I’m not alone when I say that rules beyond the basic Golden one are exrapolations based on narrow interpretation which creates more the log one wedges in his eye than it does righteousness. It’s so much easier to just be told what to do, with faith that you’re being led correctly. Unfortunately “narrow is the way” does not describe the easy, rule-based path. I almost laugh out loud when some “Christians” point to the difficulty in acting on their rules and interpretations instead of to the difficulty in attaining a level of spiritual development. They’ve so missed the point.
For atheists or agnostics, within them there can be a profound appreciation of beauty (everywhere it lies), truth, nature, and the moral. Theists would attribute this appreciation to the divine spark which animates us. But nevertheless, atheists can be deeply spiritual when their minds operate with an open channel to whatever it is that lies at the core of the appreciation. The common denominator is where the mind is and what it is focused on.
Do atheists have only one trajectory? Can we say that “living a good life” isn’t enough? No, we cannot say that because He has “measures we know not of” and because what is “right” is written on the soul. If it is true that “no man comes to the Father but through the Son,” it is still also true that a trajectory can be established by abiding by the soul’s godly nature.
Mistaking Context for Content
Today I read in the news that “Fox & Friends” ridiculed Obama’s prayer for guidance over the oil spill and future solutions to our energy needs because he, apparently, doesn’t attend church very often — meaning (?) that his prayer, therefore, is “disingenuous” (fake or deceptive). How much Spirit is involved in this characterization … well besides, that is, of the one called Morning Star?
Not-so-funny story. When I was in junior high school and in a civics class studying the US Government, we set up a “mock” congress with debates and procedures and whatnot. We elected officials for every post, and I was, for some seriously odd reason, elected Chaplin. So, I led a prayer to God that we learn from this experience, a prayer that was halted by the holier of the class. Their reasoning: if this is a mock congress, then any prayer within it must also be “mock.” They could not fathom tapping into the spiritual for its sake, or even to pray to learn everything the teacher wanted us to learn.
The minds of the class Pharisees were utterly clouded by the dust of context, mud not yet settled, but nevertheless as spiritually confounding. Absolutely everything — every thing — can involve spirituality, from taking a shower to pretending to be a Congressman.
Beyond the Trailhead
So, how to figure out whether what you’re on is the “right” path — it ain’t easy. You have to peal way what you think you know, avoid how to “enact” spirituality, and focus on understanding what love and peace actually mean. You have to challenge rules and edicts: what is the spiritual affiliation for acting on them? How has the Spirit generated them? Where is the love in them that doesn’t involve judgment? (The moment you make a distinction of value between yourself and someone else, you have made a risky judgment.)
You must be willing to humble yourself — sacrifice being something “special” or “unique,” feeding the ego and self-esteem. These are all rooted in what Tolle calls “thought forms.” Drench your very being with the concept of beauty and truth and fairness. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to physically generate a single thing. The only work involved in being spiritual is the willingness to let go of the rules and maintain the discipline to stay the course. The tree is not grunting out fruit — it happens naturally as a function of its simply being a tree.
The words I just used above about peace and love have been so tarnished by years of overworking them apart from the spiritual that they’ve become nearly pathetic platitudes. But in them is where spirituality lies…underneath the words, in the cracks between the letters, and in the air used to form their sounds.
While I don’t subscribe to Christianity, this is what I appreciate about the Slacktivist: he is able to sift off the chaff to see the gems, the truths under, behind, and within the words the Bible is written in. Anyone of any faith can benefit from the spirituality.