Inside Your Own House

I laugh when I hear that the fish in the water is thirsty.

You don’t grasp the fact that what is most alive of all is inside your own house;
and so you walk from one holy city to the next with a confused look!

Kabir will tell you the truth: go wherever you like, to Calcutta or Tibet;
if you can’t find where your soul is hidden, for you the world will never be real.

— Kabir, Ecstatic Poems

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Intelligent Obedience

“No one can become a saint or a contemplative merely by abandoning himself unintelligently to an oversimplified concept of obedience. Both in the subject and in the one commanding him, obedience presupposes a large element of prudence and prudence means responsibility. Obedience is not the abdication of freedom but its prudent use under certain well-defined conditions. This does nothing to make obedience easier and it is by no means an escape from subjection to authority. On the contrary, obedience of this kind implies a mature mind able to make difficult decision and to correctly understand difficult commands, carrying them out fully with a fidelity that can be, at times, genuinely heroic. Such obedience is impossible without deep resources of mature spiritual love.”

– Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation

“Dealings with the generous are not difficult.”

Love of the dead does not last,
because the dead will not return.
But love of the living is in every moment fresher than a bud,
both to the inward and outward eye.
Choose the love of that Living One
who is everlasting, who offers you
the wine that increases life.
Do not say, “We have no entrance to that King.”
Dealings with the generous are not difficult.

— Rumi

This is a time of great Christian anxiety. We read book after book of the decline of Christianity, whether it be a story of some “fake Christianity” being brewed by the apathetic believers or a story about failure of our younger generations with their iPods, cell phones who lack real interest in the church. We hear stories of our supposed Muslim President or we wilt away more and more with each Barna study that tell us the story is getting worse, if that were even possible.

I can help but meditate on the last line of this beautiful poem, “Dealings with the generous are not difficult.” If we are an anxious Church, worried about our status in the world, then maybe we doubt the endlessness of God’s generosity. And if our story is one of a God who’s generosity has a limit, then maybe, for a growing number of folks, that’s not a story worth reading.

On a side note, if you enjoy the poem above, do yourself a favor and pick up some of Rumi’s writing. Read more about Rumi here.

What is my deepest identity?

“Love alone of all things is sufficient unto itself. It is its own end, its own merit, its own beginning, and its own satisfaction. It seeks no cause beyond itself and needs no fruit outside of itself. Its fruit is its use. I love simply because I am love. That is my deepest identity. I am created in and for and because of love. I came forth from a God who is love (1 John 4:16), and share in that divine identity. Without love, I will never know who I am, or who God is, or why the universe was created.”

— Richard Rohr, Radical Grace: Daily Meditations

Life’s Hidden Wholeness

“Spiritual truth often seems self-contradictory when judged by conventional logic. Where logic wants to separate and divide, the seeker looks for what Thomas Merton called life’s “hidden wholeness,” the underlying unity of all things. Logic assumes that whatever violates the rules of rationality cannot possibly be true. Spirituality assumes that the deeper our questions go, the less useful those rules become. The spiritual life, whose territory is the nonrational, not the irrational-proceeds with a trembling confidence that God’s truth is too large for the simplicity either-or. It can be apprehended only by the complexity of both-and.”

— Parker Palmer, The Promise of Paradox

When Belief Has Begun to Slip

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“There’s a symptom apparent in America right now. It’s evident in political talk shows, in entertainment coverage, in artistic criticism of every kind, in religious discussion…

We are living in a culture of extreme advocacy, of confrontation, of judgment and of verdict. Discussion has given way to debate. Communication has become a contest of wills. Public talking has become obnoxious and insincere. Why? Maybe it’s because, deep down under the chatter, we have come to a place where we know that we don’t know … anything. But nobody’s willing to say that…

What is Doubt? Each of us is like a planet. There’s the crust, which seems eternal. We are confident about who we are. If you ask, we can readily describe our current state. I know my answers to so many questions, as do you. What was your father like? Do you believe in God? Who’s your best friend? What do you want? Your answers are your current topography, seemingly permanent, but deceptively so. Because under that face of easy response, there is another You. And this wordless Being moves just as the instant moves; it presses upward without explanation, fluid and wordless, until the resisting consciousness has no choice but to give way.

It is Doubt, so often experienced initially as weakness, that changes things. When a man feels unsteady, when he falters, when hard-won knowledge evaporates before his eyes, he’s on the verge of growth. The subtle or violent reconciliation of the outer person and the inner core often seems at first like a mistake. Like you’ve gone the wrong way and you’re lost. But this is just emotion longing for the familiar. Life happens when the tectonic power of your speechless soul breaks through the dead habits of the mind. Doubt is nothing less than an opportunity to reenter the Present…

There is an uneasy time when belief has begun to slip, but hypocrisy has yet to take hold, when the consciousness is disturbed but not yet altered. It is the most dangerous, important and ongoing experience of life. The beginning of change is the moment of Doubt. It is that crucial moment when I renew my humanity or become a lie.

Doubt requires more courage than conviction does, and more energy; because conviction is a resting place and doubt is infinite; it is a passionate exercise. You may come out of my play uncertain. You may want to be sure. Look down on that feeling. We’ve got to learn to live with a full measure of uncertainty. There is no last word. That’s the silence under the chatter of our time.”

— John Patrick Shanley in an introduction to his play, Doubt.

(HT: Experimental Theology)

The Gift and the Giver

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What does not come into man’s imagination is called a “gift” because whatever passes through his imagination is in proportion to his aspiration and his worth. However, God’s gift is in proportion to God’s worth Therefore, the gift is that which is suitable to God, not what is suitable to the imagination or ambition of God’s servant. “What no eye has seen nor ear heard nor has occurred to the mind of man”– that is, no matter how much eyes have seen, ears heard, or minds conceived the gifts you expect of Me, My gift is above and beyond all that.”

– Rumi

Testify to Invisible Love

“If love were only spiritual,
the practices of fasting and prayer would not
exist.
The gifts of lovers to one another are,
in respect to love, nothing but forms;
yet, they testify
to invisible love.”

– Rumi, Mathnawi

As you might infer from a few of my previous posts, I’m on a Rumi kick. You can read about Rumi here. Shambala Library has published a fantastic collection of Rumi’s poems and I’ve been wandering through this book a lot ever since I picked it up on a whim. Like all good poetry, his poems trip you up in the midst of day to day life in a way that ushers in wonder and vitality. I’m sure I’ll post more selections because they seem to be never-ending.

Exoteric and Esoteric Religion, Part 3-Final Entry

Ken Wilber continues in his book, Grace and Grit:

“Exoteric religions vary tremendously from each other; but esoteric religions the world over share many similarities. Mysticism or esotericism is, in a broad sense of the word, scientific, as we have seen, and just as you don’t have German chemistry versus American chemistry, you don’t have Hindu mystical science versus Muslim mystical science. Rather, they are in fundamental agreement as to the nature of the soul, the nature of Spirit, and the nature of their supreme identity, among many other things. Of course their surface structures vary tremendously, but their deep structures are often identical, reflecting the unanimity of the human spirit and its phenomenologically disclosed laws.

The mystics are the ones who give an esoteric or “hidden” meaning to the myths, and those meanings are discovered in the direct interior and contemplative experience of the soul, not in some outward belief system or symbol or myth. In other words, they aren’t mythic believers at all, but contemplative phenomenologists, contemplative mystics, contemplative scientists. This is why historically, as Alfred North Whitehead pointed out, mysticism has always allied itself with science as against the Church, because both mysticism and science depend on direct consensual evidence. Newton was a great scientist; he was also a profound mystic, and there was, is, no conflict there whatsoever.”

This relates very much to my previous post on the nature of the cognitive aspect of religion and how it is absolutely essential. If anything, mystics rely more heavily on reason but it is reason that is shaped primarily by experience, not myth. The vast majority of world religions today are based on the rationalizations of the different myths or the surface structures that each religion offers. We are all running around claiming that “our myths can beat up your myths,” while the mystic asks what he or she can learn from the myths of others and how different myths might help guide and support their own experience. For the mystic, the importance of the myth is not whether it’s true or not. The myth’s importance lies in its ability to spark something in us that moves us closer to God and to each other.

For some, they experience freedom when they’ve managed their myths in a way that subsides their doubts. This is a freedom provided by the desire to be right. They profess devotion to a set of beliefs which, to them, are right and reject all the other religions which are, for them, not only wrong but threats which endanger their own system of belief. Even in this kind of freedom transformation takes place and people’s lives are changed and that should be celebrated. But mere myth management for the benefit of everlasting life comes with a ceiling through which, as long as we are anchored by right belief, can’t be broken through. It is a freedom that, while still valuable, is limited. But when we can relax our need to be right and are no longer threatened by competing religions or myths, we can then remove the ceiling to discover an unending freedom. Instead of being our anchors to a fixed point, our myths, which have been deeply embedded into our traditions, transform from fixed anchors that hold us down to a collection of sign posts, pointing to a way forward.

We’re seeing this dynamic work itself out in the world. For more human beings, especially in the developed Western world, the myth versus myth feud has become tiresome and has not really yielded the kind of transformation that each religion professes. Why is it that the societies in which atheism is on the rise are the most peaceful societies on the globe? If we look throughout the course of human history, how are human beings becoming less devoted to religious myths and at the same time less violent? Simply put, where is the transformation that the wisdom traditions of the world claim to offer? This is why eventually we must turn the page on exoteric, myth defending, sectarian religious life. If not, then the book will simply be shut, put on the shelf and ignored.

What I Believe About Belief

Jeff Cook, a fairly regular commenter on this blog and more importantly the author of Seven: The Deadly Sins and the Beatitudes, asks me to clarify my view on the role of “right belief” and the cognitive element of the religious life. He writes:

It feels like your critiques of a right-belief-is-all-that-counts Christianity (which are normally spot on) diminish the cognitive side of life. Some may think you would hold a position that “right thinking” does not matter at all. I assume you think this is false (otherwise why try and persuade anyone of your position). I would love to hear you comment on this in the future:

What is the proper and good role of the mind in our understanding, enjoyment, and engagement with God? What is a healthy way to conceive of our beliefs that does not make them irrelevant, but so too does not make them an idol?

I appreciate this because Jeff’s right. I do tend to critique the over emphasis of belief without articulating a space for a healthy role of belief. To put it plainly, we cannot escape the cognitive aspect of our faith. After all, if I were to profess that belief is devoid of any value, that would be me articulating a belief. We can’t turn belief or cognitive awareness into a perceived virus that is to be avoided at all cost.
Instead we must strive to give belief it’s proper place, a healthy space that doesn’t short circuit how we experience God. The writers that I often cite like Merton and Rohr aren’t calling into question belief. They are questioning Christianity’s overwhelming tendency to overestimate the idea of right belief and illuminate for those with an ear to hear how this overemphasis is ultimately a obstacle to God’s gift.

The mystics employ common sense and cognitive recognitions as much as anyone. Cognitive awareness is essential and often times helps us nudge open a door open that was previously jammed shut. Even before we walk through the door, just being aware of what’s on the other side reduces our anxiety and gives us a direction, thanks all to the miracle of the mind.

Where belief becomes a virus is when the point of our religious life is to be right. When one religion is pitted against all others and we divide the world up between right and wrong. The center of gravity of Christianity today is ultimately sectarian and divisive. Unless people of other faiths agree with the Christian perspective, they will experience eternal torment. This is a religion that resides in the mind and has little to do with the heart. On the contrary, mystics don’t buy into this religious construction. They employ beliefs but their beliefs don’t rely on dogma and myth, although those can be helpful, and their beliefs are fluid, shaped by their experience and reside in their hearts. Both the heart and mind are absolutely necessary, but greatest of these is the heart, in my opinion.