Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Thou Transformed

I'm sharing this here, because my friend, Kevin (who wrote this), said I could:

Thou Transformed

You know those special three little words. They have etched our hearts and chiseled our lives. These ancient words originated in our primeval past, and they continue to influence our Transmodern consciousness.

Chances are that you learned those three words in your infancy. Before you could talk, think, or understand spoken language, someone uttered them to you. Maybe in a whisper, maybe with shrieked intensity, well-intentioned adults repeated three little words that have directed your path.

You've heard the words frequently and from countless sources. Teachers, coaches, employers, and religious leaders have reminded you of the power these words convey. Authority figures communicate the message that they, too, have been hearing since childhood.

The three words are suggested to be the cornerstone of an orderly society. They are displayed in courtrooms and in various public buildings. They are the subject of bitter legal disputes, and they are a topic of contention amongst culture warriors.

The scriptural tradition suggests that the three little words were the earliest instructions that an unseen deity taught to primordial humanity. Later, the narrative says that God etched them in stone and handed them to an elderly prophet who had hiked to a mountain peak to receive the ordinances. Upon returning to the waiting multitude, the lawgiver recited the three words that have forever shaped humanity.

"Thou shalt not."

Usually, they're not spoken in Shakespearean English. But their demanding ubiquity has wormed its way into the depths of individual and collective consciousness. Parents constantly remind their children, "Don't touch. Don't put that in your mouth. Don't run with scissors." Teachers enforce the rules. "Don't talk. Don't chew gum. Don't look at your neighbor's test." Street signs order drivers, "Don't go too fast. Do not enter. Thou shalt not make a left turn."

Much of religion has embodied "thou shalt not" as a fundamental premise. Do not eat forbidden food. Do not forsake the ordered gatherings. Do not wear unauthorized clothes. Thou shalt not read banned books, listen to prohibited music, or have proscribed sex."

Often, the instruction comes as a command accompanied with implied threats. If you disregard the "thou shalt not," thou shalt be utterly punished. Laws offer the illusion of limiting harmful behaviors and encouraging approved behaviors. This is especially true when it comes to breaking the command. Did you always obey your parents, teachers, or posted speed limits even if you knew you would be punished if caught? Have antifraud laws and long prison terms eliminated Ponzi schemes?

Paradoxically, restrictions can elicit the actions they purportedly abolish. Consider the Garden of Eden. God says, "Don't eat." About ten minutes later, Adam and Eve eat. The apostle Paul noted his similar experience, "For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, 'You shall not covet.'" (Romans 7:7). For Paul, "thou shalt not" led him to do what he was told not to.

A further irony emerging from the illusion of "thou shalt not" involves ongoing bondage long after the command has served its alleged purpose. Perhaps, even now as an adult, you hear the voice of your parent scolding you. "Don't cross the street. Don't get your clothes dirty. Don't you disrespect me." The worry instilled through the command, its threat, and its violence has forged pathways in your thinking that left a scar. Instead of simply channeling actions, the command-punishment matrix reinforces fear, anxiety, and hypercritical apprehension. The threat haunts you long after the specific command passes away.

Moreover, Jesus showed how easy it is to get around commands. You can follow the letter of any command while mitigating its spirit. You haven't murdered anyone. That's great, but do you hate your neighbor?

Besides all this, "thou shalt not" belies most people's lived reality. "What do you mean, 'Thou shalt not?' I already did, and I continue to."

However, the intense dread, sidestepping, and charades can dissipate by looking at the three little words in a new light. Rather than understanding "thou shalt not" as a command that you must fulfill upon the risk of being castigated, you can look at "thou shalt not" in two creative interrelated ways that bring about peace and wholeness. In this light, "Thou shalt not" becomes an invitation into self-awakening and a divine promise.

Consider the phrase, "Thou shalt not bear false witness." It is usually taken as a command teaching honesty in dealings with others. Be upright. Don't lie. Don't cheat. Who can argue against that? However, there are more layers.

First, as an invitation into self-awakening, it functions as a wake-up call to personal authenticity. Be an honest spiritual witness of yourself to yourself. Do not think of yourself as a rotten scoundrel deserving of punishment. Don't reinforce the falsehood that you are separate from spirit. You participate in the divine nature. Make that affirmation clear to yourself.

Second, as a divine promise, "Thou" transforms from the individualistic egoic self into the transcendent integral Self. Thou is the eternal Witness that is above all, in all, and through all. Thou is the infinite You that cannot be co-opted, bribed, or tricked into false testimony because its presence embraces everyone and everything. Martin Buber describes it as "the universal relation into which all rivers pour without drying up."

In this sense, Thou shall not bear false witness because Thou is the witness. As the witness, Thou is not a judge. Thou is not a condemning voice. Thou watches, not from the outside as a disembodied spectator, but from the inside as a holy incarnation. Jesus spoke of this function of witnessing when he said, "I bear witness on my own behalf, and the Father who sent me bears witness on my behalf" (John 8:18).

Jesus distinguished between the individual witness seeking approval and the ultimate Witness whose presence accepts all as it is. Thou sees each sparrow and numbers the hairs on your head without accusation, reproach, or censure. "If I bear witness about myself, my testimony is not true. There is another who bears witness on my behalf, and I know that his testimony to me is true" (John 5:31-32).

By transforming Thou from an overactive sense of identity (whether prideful or critical) into the awareness of the all-encompassing spirit, you will experience liberation from oppressive burdens that neither we nor or ancestors were able to bear. As command transfigures into promise, you will experience a deeper and truer integration with God and others in the recognition that a profound causal connection exists not through meticulous rule-following but through the sharing in the nature of the One who fills all-in-all.

If it feels right with you, please share this email with a friend.

Kevin A. Beck is COO of Presence International. He is married to Alisa, and they live in Colorado Springs with their three electrifying children.




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