Father Karl Rahner (1904-1984), a well-known German Jesuit Roman Catholic priest and theologian, claimed: “The Christian of the future will be a mystic or will not exist at all.” When we look at the continuing decline in organized Christianity and its churches and its seeming irrelevance in the lives of many people, I believe this is a true statement and an accurate prediction. Anything less than a strong inclusion of the mystical dimension will leave Christianity confined to the level of doctrine and dogma that will only serve to judge who’s in and who’s out according to the boundaries set by the words. While this may have worked in the past when human consciousness was at the tribal level, it will no longer suffice. Human consciousness has further evolved and will continue to do so until, in Christian language, Christ, the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End, becomes the “all in all.” Colossians 3:11.
There have always been mystics in Christianity but it seems they have often in the past been relegated in our perception to a place somewhere beyond where most of us are. They surround us in images and statues and we read their spiritual writings but somehow they seem to be of a distinct caliber from “normal” humanity. They seem to have a special connection to the Transcendent that most people do not have. To understand what and who a mystic is we need to grasp a very fundamental idea regarding human consciousness.
Max Planck, the theoretical physicist who originated quantum theory, which won him the Nobel Prize in Physics, said, “I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness (italics & underscore mine). We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness.”
Please pause here and reflect on this vital and significant concept and try to grasp and see what Professor Planck is saying, for this is fundamental. Once what he is saying is seen it changes how we see and starts to lead us into a non-dual way of seeing, which, I believe, is what Jesus was all about.
In trying to get this point across I have often used the analogy of a paint chip palette as well as the analogy of water. On a paint chip palette we see a particular color going from the top where there is a subtleness of the color and as you go down the paint chip the same color becomes more dense. In a similar way water can exist as steam, as a liquid, and more dense in its frozen form, but it’s all water. So consciousness as it exists in us exists from a subtle dimension to a gross dimension (our physical bodies). This understanding is what helps us explain how substances varying from very dilute substances (homeopathic remedies for example) to more gross particulate substances (conventional medications) can be effective depending on the level and density of consciousness being treated. Likewise it helps explain how subtle to gross energy can be used in healing depending on the level being treated.
To carry this further, consciousness – which we cannot get behind – is our very soul existence given to us by God. This is what carries our unique blueprint originated at conception. It is who we each are at our deepest identity. It is our “True Self,” as Fr. Thomas Merton, a well-known Trappist monk, theologian and mystic says. So even though we speak in terms of “our soul,” “my soul,” or “your soul,” for convenience in speaking, the soul is not somehow something that is “attached to” who we really are. It is actually who we each uniquely are as one made in the Image and Likeness of God! Consciousness – soul – is who we fundamentally are and how we fundamentally and essentially exist! But we obviously have a denseness to us also – a body. This consciousness, this soul, is what manifests through and enlivens all the processes of our material body. When the soul is withdrawn – departs – the material organized constituents cease to function, other than to go through the natural process of the yet existing energetic cellular process of decay (which is retarded by embalming, burial vaults and grave liners, although it still occurs in time). This we term death.
As there is an intimate and continuous connection within consciousness between the layers comprising our soul and body as these layers go from subtle to dense, there is likewise an intimate connection between soul and Spirit. And this connection between soul and spirit has what we might term a connecting point that is often referred to as the nous. It is also often referred to as the spiritual eye and the gate. Consider these teachings of Jesus:
“The light of the body is the eye: if, therefore thine eye be single, they whole body shall be full of light.” (Mt 6:22) [So if the soul that we each are is Divinely spiritually illumined, our whole body – our whole being – is illumined.]
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Mt 7:13-14) [Only a few find it because we’re almost always looking “out there,” through the wide gate and broad road leading to the external world, but the narrow gate is only found by looking “within.”]
The soul (consciousness) has within it the “capacity” of Awareness. When our awareness is open, we exist in a space where we can be “illumined” and our spiritual eye becomes single. But…..our awareness often gets grabbed and focused by the components of our nervous system (our brain, our spinal cord, and all of our peripheral nerves) which carry impulses, create sensations, form mental images, construct and record memories, hold information, create what we term “mind” that in turn creates an egoic self, etc. Our awareness frequently gets confined to and trapped at this level as we focus on ourselves, on what has been termed our “little egoic self” or as Merton calls it, the “false self.” When our awareness becomes focused and trapped at this lower egoic level we see life in a very dualistic way. We see ourselves as distinct from others. So we can say we have this little “false self” that is composed of our earthly experiences, knowledge and information but we “are” our essential Self, a Soul with a “portal,” a “gate,” through which we receive Divine Enlightenment or “Holy Illumination.” This allows us to be placed in the position of our True Self.
So we must realize then that consciousness – contrary to popular belief – is not a product of the brain but consciousness (also known as “soul”) exists beyond the brain and the brain is the receiver and processor of what occurs in consciousness. It has been said that consciousness sleeps in minerals, dreams in plants, wakes up in animals, becomes self aware in humans – Rumi. All true mystics, from whatever religious tradition they come, have had their awareness opened from the confines of awareness limited to their isolated human existence (known as “my life,” “my self,” and the mind-body apparatus) to an “awareness of Awareness Itself”! Sometimes individuals are ushered into this when they’ve had a profound spiritual experience or find themselves immediately present in nature where there is no separation between themselves and life in nature all around them. At other times it happens slowly as one starts to become aware that one is the Witnessing Presence. It can also happen when one suffers greatly and awareness confined to the egoic self, or “little self,” “explodes” as a final surrender in deep suffering.
To have a realization of this most often requires a profound stillness and quieting of that which creates and composes the mind where one then becomes aware that there is a living presence within and to them and this living presence “is” Awareness Itself. This carries us into the mystical dimension of Christianity. All true mystics (from whatever tradition) move beyond the level of information, doctrine and dogma to a personal realization of the Oneness of Life embraced in Divine Love. They see this personally spiritually and sense this “in soul.” They see a singleness – a Oneness – to Life and within this Oneness are embraced all opposites.
This is not to discredit Christian dogmatic and doctrinal teaching and understanding but to stay at this level keeps individuals, individually and collectively, at the level of religion and comparison and does not carry them into a realization of the Kingdom of Heaven, the Kingdom of Divine Love, that Jesus proclaimed. This is where there is a distinction between religion and spirituality. When the “Good News” is confined to criticizing others who do not hold the same religious doctrines or beliefs and trying with an intent and deliberateness to convert others to one’s personal beliefs and held organizational doctrines, it really is not “Good News.” It is not the fullness of Divine Love in which true freedom exists. On the bottom line, it’s manipulation to satisfy one’s own religious, psychological, and spiritual insecurity. When one moves from religion and religious beliefs into Christian mystical spirituality, one, or a community of such individuals, does not need to say much of anything. Their very fragrant and compassionate presence is the Living Eternal Good News! They cannot imagine doing harm. It is this presence that transforms others! We could say that transformed people transform people; doctrines, creeds and beliefs do not. For all that may be found in the Nicene Creed we must realize that this fundamental statement of the Christian faith does not even contain the word, Love!
Those who study consciousness have described, along a historical timeline, how there have been points where human consciousness has undergone major collective shifts, one of which we have been and continue to be within and amidst presently. Tribal consciousness, and its tribal concepts of isolated religions, is transitioning now into a new place where all that is good from before is retained and expanded from and that which is non-unitive is abandoned, and there is an openness to and trust in where the Holy Spirit is yet leading and propelling human consciousness. For many Orthodox Christians this can be very threatening and uncomfortable. For others it can be very enlivening and life-giving for one can find their true place then as a co-creator in Christ.
Here is the summary of what this all boils down to:
- Everything is a manifestation of consciousness.
- Soul (who we each are) is consciousness condensed we might say in our individualized form.
- The consciousness that we are (soul) has the capacity of awareness and the potential for Holy Illumination.
- There are times when major shifts in consciousness – individually and collectively – occur. We are within a major shift presently and this is threatening to many. Hence the hostility we witness.
- The shift in consciousness that is happening is moving us out of tribal religion and into a mystical way of seeing.
- This mystical way of seeing is supported by the mystical teachings from mystics from a variety of religious traditions.
- To come into this way of seeing in a rooted way one might explore other spiritual pathways but, in most circumstances, one must honor, penetrate to, and become grounded in the depths of the pathway they have been given. In other words one initiated in the Christian tradition should explore and become grounded in its mystical depths, even while perhaps exploring and benefitting from other spiritual traditions and the writings. It is not necessary to “jump ship.” The Christian spiritual path will take you there!