Friday, July 31, 2009

Cleansing the Lens - OR - The Seduction of Fear

I'm sure enjoying this grand adventure ... and enjoying how the "just right" book falls into my lap at the "just right" time. Recently, it's been a confirming joy to bounce back and forth between Richard Rohr (a Catholic mystic) and Marcus Borg (a Protestant scholar) ... and to discover how these two dear and brave and radical men have come to the same conclusions about the heart and nature of our uberly-beyond-good God...!

I found this chapter of his book, "Everything Belongs" to be enrapturing - as soon as I'd read it I had to jump up to share it - but no one was unbusy enough to sit and indulge me, so I had to wait 24 long stinkin' hours in order to share it here with y'all. First I have to process inwardly (for I am a slight introvert - which doesn't mean "shy"...!), and then the "owning" of a concept isn't complete unless and until I can share it. Good thing I can talk and type fast!

Take from it whatever resonates for you ... freely let the rest go:

- Instead of leading us to see God in new and surprising places, Christianity too often has led us to confine God inside of our place. Simone Weil said, "the tragedy of Christianity is that it came to see itself as replacing other religions, instead of adding something to all of them."

(I see that [even as I would go further, and say that I see Christianity as a man-made attempt to define, confine and control God's truth -- which was always meant of the world-at-large, and never meant to be turned into a separate sub-culture -- a spiritual ghetto]. This is, after all, good news for *all* mankind.)

- Corporate religion gets all tied up with totems and symbols and arguments about who's right and who's wrong. This preoccupation with religion as an ideology leads to over-identification with the group, its language and symbols. Group loyalty becomes the test rather than loyalty to God or truth. It is easier to belong to a group, than to belong to God. Thomas Aquinas said, "If it is true, it is of the Holy Spirit." The only question is veracity, not origin.

(LOL, I experience this continuously...! I'll share something, and I'll inevitably hear back, "aha! You're a universalist/new-ager/Preterist/mystic/heretic!" Somehow, by labeling me, it gives them permission to not hear nor consider whatever it was that I said ... I am dismissed, devalued as a human being, cast into the box of "daughters of perdition" and therefore my words have no merit. It's the spiritual version of sticking one's fingers in one's ears, and yelling, "I can't heeeeeeeear you - la-la-la-la-la-LA!" Once, when telling a friend about what I was blogging about here, I said, "I may not be traditional, but what I'm sharing is biblical." My friend actually said, "Well, we're traditional, so we can't go there." I was incredulous! Did he even hear what the choices were, and which one he chose..? Having been a participant in the house church "movement" in recent years, I can attest that this "group-think" preoccupation is strongly prevalent within that realm ... thinking themselves so very radical, they don't see how, while they've left the buildings, they've kept the institutional spirit alive and well.)

- God does not lead with his judgments. When we lead with our judgments, we can't see correctly... when we lead with our fear, we can't see correctly. If we lead with the calculating mind, we'll never get to love. But God refuses to be known except by love. If contemplation teaches us to see an enchanted world, cynicism afraid there is nothing there. The problem is no longer to believe in God - it's to believe in humanity. We're tremendously under-confident about what it means to be human. We tend to see ourselves living in a disenchanted universe without meaning, purpose or direction. We are aware only of what it is not. Seldom do we enjoy what it is. Healthy spirituality is an enthusiasm about what is, not an anger about what isn't.

(An enchanted world ... yes, I'm coming to see that. Who knew it was always there?!? So label me an emerging Pollyanna...! Better than the correctly-pessimistic perfectionist that religion had trained me to be! As a Christian, it seemed that I was known for what I was against, more than what I was for. If someone mentioned one of the "blessing" verses, I'd counter with a "yeah, but look at this destruction verse -- God is both love AND wrath, y'know!" I made a good and miserable little parrot...!)

- When we see that the world is enchanted, we see the revelation of God in each individual as individual. Our job is not to be like anyone else, but to do what is ours to do. We must find out what part of the mystery it is ours to reflect. There is a unique truth that our lives alone can reflect. all I can give back to God is what God has given to me - nothing more and no less! Our first job is to see correctly who we are, and then to act on it.

(I see this as part of the "all truth" that the Spirit will lead us into ... we come to see God as He is, which in turn, almost simultaneously, reflects who/how we really are, and out of that flows God-through-us.)

- We determine by our internal dialogue and predispositions - fears, angers, and judgments - much more than we'd like to admit. We determine what we will see and what we won't see, what we pay attention to and what we don't. That's why we have to clean the lens: we have to get our ego-agenda out of the way, so we can see things as they are. We usually see everything through our own egocentric agenda. Our preoccupation is "How will this inconvenience/affect me - make me feel?" Then we twist realty so we can feel good.

(Our minds are seemingly wired to latch on to what we think is our version of the truth -- but in reality, it's just the "story we tell ourselves." We dub it as "THE TRUTH" and then our brain seeks to prove that it really IS the truth -- it will resist, ignore, discount, deny and denounce anything that it perceives to be a threat to what it thinks IS the truth. Hence the lies we believe, thinking them "truth." Hence our need for mind renewal. Our egoic/carnal minds need renewal - to line up with the Mind of Christ which we already have - affirmed even by scripture.)

- The truth is always too much for our ego - who is ready for the whole truth? I'm not. For the thinking of the ego is largely based on fear. Fear of what I might not be. Fear of what I might see. Fear I won't be successful or accepted, or that I will be hurt. So we have to recognize how dominant fear is in our lives. But this fear is not a great big teeth-chattering fear that something is going to kill us. Our fear is in the service of all the little ways we have learned to protect our false self. But love is who we really are. We'll never see the love we really are, our foundation, if we keep living out of our false self of self-protection and overreaction.

(Woah ... let that one sink in a while. Do you see it? Do you see how everything we do, think, believe, is rooted in either love or of fear? Can you feel that? Test it a bit ... think of some situations in your own life, some recent conversations, some recent thoughts. Dig in a bit, and ask yourself some questions -- can you lift the veil of the story you tell yourself, and see what's there, at the root? Is it love, welling up and over, wholly uncontainable? Or is it fear, sniveling in the corner, pretending to be something moral and altruistic and noble, not wanting you to peer too closely? Or does fear even *keep* you from questioning in the first place -- dismissing the notion as "unnecessary" or "ridiculous"..? Are you yet aware of how subtly fear can masquerade as pseudo-love? Do you want to be that aware? Can we handle the truth..?)

- The world, the system, moves forward out of fear. That's why it has to threaten us to make us play the game. We're threatened with loss of job, money, reputation or prestige. Another reason we play the tame is the high reward we receive for staying in it. Why else would we play it? Rewards and punishments become almost the only game in town. But true power moves us, with great difficulty, beyond the reward/punishment mentality. In contemplative prayer, we move into a different realm. It is not the arena of merit, of reward and punishment; it is the realm of pure grace and freedom. Religion drags along the reward/punishment system since it can understand no other. But love flourishes only in the realm of freedom.

(Think about it: how did you first get enticed to "come to God"? Were you drawn in by His love, or scared into accepting Jesus as your Savior? Never mind that that phrase is not found in scripture -- notice how that keeps happening? How many of us would be Christians, were it not for either the threat of "hell" or the promise of heaven? What does that say about our concept of God? Do we believe He's got not enough going for Him, that we have to resort to either threats or bribes to come to Him? Is knowing God, here and now, not *enough*...? Further, what if knowing Him here and now was the very point of all of Jesus' messages? What if He never was talking about life-after-death in the first place? What if He was always more concerned about life-before-death, because the outcome is secure..?)

- Sometime around the 1960's and increasingly since then, the language has switched. We have switched from a language of responsibility to a language of rights, which only aggrandizes the private self. "I deserve, I have a right to, I have been hurt, I have been offended." These are huge debts the fragile ego tries to pay to itself. But they have to be forgiven, because they can never be paid. The private ego does not deserve all this supposed dignity it thinks it has accrued and can pull from the outside. The real primal dignity is a gift from God and is nothing that can be claimed by other people's response to me.

(Ohhhhhh, to *get* that! I mean, down deep, where I live and move and have my being - oh wait, God's there. And the ego cannot "get" anything -- it can only be exposed for what it is, i.e., "oh, it's only you, you lil' stinker!" It can only be absorbed into the light. It's meant to be a gift to me -- that which looms large and gets my attention, and shows me who I'm *not* -- so that I can finally see who I really *am*.)

- The wounds to our egos are our teachers and must be welcomed. They must be paid attention to, not litigated.

(Yes! I no longer want to despise my ego/carnal nature -- I want to learn, and not repress, deny, and thus repeat the same errant thinking/behavior. To "die to" our egos, doesn't mean to kill off our egos -- as if that were possible! It means to accept what is ... to face reality, on a deep and naked level.)

- A contemplative posture faces reality and sees the presence of God. So there is ultimately nothing to fear. True religion is never about fear, but always about moving beyond fear. Yet many of us were religiously trained to be comfortable with fear.

(Don't get me started ... too late! How many times have I been told that I "should" fear God. "The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom." Yes - the beginning, but not the place to remain! Perfect love casts out all fear - including the fear of God. Intimacy cannot thrive (or even exist!) in an atmosphere of fear. Think about it - how many women would respond positively to a man 'courting' her with this statement: "I love you SO much - I must have you! I want you to love me in return, and live with me forever -- and if you do not choose me, I will hunt you down and torture you forever!" Yeah, that'll inspire "love"...! How could she trust such a one? And yet we put that on God. Sheesh. Do we really listen to what we accept as traditional truth...?)

- A lot that's called orthodoxy, loyalty and obedience is grounded in fear. Fear of being wrong, fear of being rejected, or fear of not being "in." Fear of not being promoted, fear of a God who has not been experienced. WE call it loyalty, but it's often fear.

(Fear leads to control and manipulation, or anxiety and paralysis - always. We cover over our fear with platitudes, and symbols, and rituals ... we shut down questions by implying that it demonstrates rebellion. We deny that we have fear, and thus insure that fear is thus all the more entrenched in our hearts! But anxiety and faith seem to be opposites for Jesus. Sometimes we mistake fear for humility, but it's just a perverse blindness. Fear is contrary to truth.)

- Love is the ultimate reality. And yet love can be hidden -- we don't see it unless we learn how to see, unless we clean the lens. In a perfect mirror I see what's there, not what I'm afraid of, nor what I need to be there, but what is really there. Mirror-wiping is the inner discipline of constantly observing my own patterns, what I pay attention to and what I don't pay attention to in order to get my own ego out of the way. Teresa of Avila said, "for the most part all our trials and disturbances come from our not understanding ourselves." We must learn to observe our own stream of consciousness. What is my agenda? What is my predisposition? What are my prejudices? What are my angers? We need the ability to stand away from ourselves and listen and look with some kind of calm, not judgmental, objectivity. This process can be brutal, but it is absolutely necessary. Most people become their thoughts. They do not have thoughts and feelings; the thoughts and feelings have them. It is what the ancients called "being possessed by a demon."

(We need eyes with which to see -- the eyes that see beyond the form, into the essence of reality. We need to see within ourselves - minus the shame-colored-glasses that most of us were taught to wear! The brutality spoken of here only comes from the judgments of ourselves, and others -- or what we believe is coming from others. That judgment is not coming from the very God who made us exactly as we are -- for His "very good" purpose! The brutality is to our ego, who is highly-invested in seeing things its own way, highly-invested in masquerading as the real us -- but it's not. As for the demon-part, that's all been dismantled for me... Jesus tells us that evil comes out of our own hearts -- we have met the enemy and he is us. We just can't bear to see that, so we egoicaly project our unbearable stuff "out there" onto an overly-personfied "being" -- i.e., "the devil made me do it". Satan, as I now see it, is nothing more than our own adversarial/egoic nature, which resists God and truth -- it's been defeated, but it still makes a lot of noise. So much fluff and nonsense. We don't have to agree with how the ancients, groping in the dark, explained that which they didn't understand. We can receive more truth, if we can but bear it.)

- The watcher can become self-preoccupied, which only distorts things further So we have to observe, but also not let the observer become an accusing tyrant. If we get past that temptation, we no longer ask questions about whether we're doing it "right." We stop pestering our soul with questions like, "Am I pure?" "Am I holy?" "Am I good?" "Is my technique proper?" They all fade away. When the veil parts and we see love, the self-conscious watcher, preoccupied with doing it right, just forgets the self. After worrying that I don't know about myself, a lovely question then arises. Who cares? Prayer then is not finally self-observation, but rather to "fall into the hands of the living God."

(Ahhhh, the relief! After years and years, and decades of being told to "examine myself" I get instead to observe, and learn from what I see. No judgment, no condemnation, no shame! We're so terrified that we'll find wrath, and harshness, and condemnation when we look deep inside, that we're afraid to look -- not knowing that we will experience only LOVE. Love is all there is -- the strongest force in the universe! The very essence of God! The rest is our own illusions...)

- When the soul lives in that kind of security, we're no longer occupied with technique [or doctrine]. We no longer follow rituals and disciplines idolatrously. We don't condemn people who don't do it our way.

(Christianity has SO very much to learn from that last statement...! It majors in technique and doctrine ... in smug and self-righteous certaintude of correctness. In zealousness to convert everyone to the "right" way of thinking/believing/acting. Condemnation is a knee-jerk response -- as if judgment triumphs over mercy.)

- We are energized by what we see. And our private darkness is no great surprise. Who cares? Who cares where I am on the ladder of perfection? That's an egocentric question. "Where am I?" "How holy am I?" become silly questions. If God can receive me, who am I to not receive myself - warts and all?

(When you look inside of yourself, in this gloriously-messy human form that God intentionally breathed His very breath into - thereby inspiring you, are you energized, and delighted, by what you see? Can you see your own private darkness for what it is - a no-thing? Can you see the perfectionism-game for the silly snare that it is? Do you know, I mean *really* know, that God receives you? If you knew that, if you lived that, how would it change the way you see yourself, and all others? And God?)

Tomorrow, I want to splash around a bit in the concept of free will ... perhaps in a way you've not often heard before. And I reserve the right to go down some curiosity-seducing rabbit trails, should the rabbits catch my attention ... (I'll have to share some of my "God sends me bunnies as signs" stories ...!).

Shalom, Dena

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