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!
A Lenten Reflection by Fr Jeremiah
I was reading yesterday morning from a publication on human embryology put out by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences. Consider an essential and fundament salient point that was written. Here it is: Each of us began as a single cell. The text then goes on to highlight cell division that goes on and on and in time becomes a person. The text does not say when it is that “the person” is produced or becomes; it just says in time. If you ever took a course on human embryology this is likely what you were taught. Arguments abound of course on when it is that “the person” emerges as a creation or product of this original single cell.
So, how do you feel about yourself? How do you sense yourself? Do you believe that the “you” that “is” “you” was made by a cell? Do you believe the “you” that “you are” is a “product” of something, a “product” of cell division that appeared at some point in time? Perhaps you’ve never even considered this. Most people likely have not. But this is the prevailing strictly scientific understanding. Even, as a Christian, if you tack on the sense of a soul, it usually ends up being like that: it’s “tacked on” somehow to what the original cell is producing. So we end up with our conventional scientific embryological understanding of producing a person and in some way “the soul” is in the mix but we can’t see it or locate it within that which is being produced. We end up with this very dualistic, fragmented, non-integrated understanding of ourselves as soul and body. We don’t really know where the soul is and we can’t talk about it in scientific circles. This is why we have difficulties with science and religion…because religion (or better spirituality) can’t intelligently interface with what science is seeing or understanding. So we, as Christians, study science and what science teaches us and we by and large accept that, but from a conventional embryological standpoint we end up understanding ourselves in a very fractured way. We’re trying to say there’s something about us that we refer to as “soul” but we can’t really integrate that aspect of ourselves very well with what conventional science teaches us we are: that we are a product of cell division.
Now we can’t, or shouldn’t, just say that science is worthless and that we can’t believe scientific findings! If something is true, it is always true and hence it has to be true for science and for religion.
Maybe there’s another way to look at all of this?
During the Divine Liturgy when the Bread and Wine are consecrated the priest currently says the following:
And make this Bread the precious Body of Thy Christ.
And that which is in this Cup the precious Blood of Thy Christ.
“Changing them” by Thy Holy Spirit.
An older version of the Service Book uses the wording, “Transmuting them” by Thy Holy Spirit.
The word, transmute, means to change. The Cambridge Dictionary defines it as to change something completely, especially into something different and better. So here the simple, common, everyday bread and wine are changed into something different, something better. The Bread and Wine are no longer simply bread and wine! They are now the Mystical Presence of the Body and Blood of Christ.
Now let’s jump back to the cell for a different consideration. Perhaps you didn’t begin as a cell! You did receive a cell from your mother, but that fertilized cell was then no longer the same. It was “transmuted” into something completely different. It became now a living organism, a living whole (a zygote in scientific language). To make it personal: This is now You! This is your original undifferentiated wholeness! You now differentiate that undifferentiated wholeness but you can’t get anymore whole than what you’ve got in potential at that original point. That is your wholeness. In Osteopathy this is considered the Health that you have to draw upon. When you are injured or ill you mend or heal according to what you have in this original wholeness.
Let’s now consider this new, something different than a cell, living organism, in which there are genes that are not, as one spiritual and osteopathic writer has said, “egotistical.” In other words, contrary to what you may have thought, there is no “preformation” in our genes. Genes are not “self-emergent.” They do not have existing within them a preexisting miniature form of you that self-emerges. While they are the building blocks of life, and the blueprints for expression of individual potentials for differences, they have no capacity to just turn themselves on and off. There has to be an intelligence and there has to be a generative force, or forces, that guides this creative act of individual evolution.
From a Christian “integrative” perspective we can go back to Genesis, where we find recorded, “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” (Gen 2:7) So it is this Breath of Life that carries a “potency” that enables a transmutation to occur where the material “form,” is actually changed into something different, something better. Or, perhaps we could say, something more evolved. The Book of Job also refers to this Breath of Life. Here it is described how the cattle, the birds of the air, the creeping things of the earth, the fish, etc. all know and reveal to us that everything is of God’s making. Verses 9 and 10 then speak of the Lord in whose hand is the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind. Job 12: 7-10
It is this intelligence of the Potency of the Breath of Life in the fluid body of the embryo* that you originally were, and in one sense remain, and genetic expression according to blueprint “possibilities” that enables each developmental emergence to occur. [* Of note: you as an embryo are originally mostly fluid.]
In other words, you at conception were and remain matter (dust of the earth) who became a living soul through the infusion of the God-given Breath of Life at the moment of conception and you henceforth were and are involved in a process of creating yourself! If you happen to be following the Genesis story literally, Breath of Life here must ultimately be understood not as the Original Breath of Life instilled into a single figure, Adam, but the Breath instilled into all human form of matter that enables it to come alive and develop as a living soul. The Breath of Life then is not then subsequently just of the level of “nostril breathing” or “normal” or commonly called “physiologic respiration,” but it is to be understood as a much deeper “Breath of Life” that enlivens matter at all levels in human form, emerging from within the deepest layers and levels of individual human life, and in fact in all that we say is alive.
There has been a lot written about the Church being a hospital and in one sense it should be. It should be a place of receiving compassionate and forgiving acts and words and a place of receiving spiritual medicine. But one thing such a “primary” focus can imply is that we are fundamentally diseased or sinful. We begin then with Original Disease, Original Illness, Original Fallen-ness and sinfulness rather than Original Blessing, Original Goodness. To me it is very unfortunate that a lot of Western theological influence has crept into the Eastern Orthodox Church distorting accurate spiritual writings and liturgical wording. It is difficult to realize and embrace our actual Original Blessing when often the liturgical wording and terrible sermons yet reinforce our inherent sinfulness. Sometimes it seems to me that the Good News is so incredibly Good that we just can’t accept it – even as priests! – so we twist it into something that fits our own self-created distorted little-self ego-centric thinking and agendas!
When we focus on the Church, not primarily as a hospital, but as a Sacred Place for our continued evolutionary enlightenment in Christ – Holy Illumination of Soul – then we can truly enter into what the Lord Jesus proclaimed and taught; what He “pointed to.” We can then truly enter into Life, into Heaven now. We can be surrounded by a Light and breathe forth the Fragrance of a Holy Life that yields true Peace upon the Earth and not just truces or unending spiritual exercises trying to climb the ladder of holiness and never seeming to feel that we’ve gotten anyplace.
You are alive. The Breath of Life has been breathed into the very depths and all layers of that which makes you a person, into the depths of every cell. You were not conceived in sin*. No matter what the conditions of your conception were, you were conceived in Love because nothing – absolutely nothing – can exist or be outside of Love. Yes, you and I may make mistakes in judgment, but you and I are fundamentally good, and our mistakes and sins yet occur within this Sea of Divine Embrace. It even seems to me it’s scientific! Can you believe it? Can you believe this Good News? Or, do you prefer to live in the patterns and belief systems that focus on sin and remain blind to the Radiant Light of Love?
I am likely going to sound like a very “un-Orthodox” Orthodox priest but Lent should not be a time of simply “focusing” on how much you’ve messed up and how horrible you erroneously think you are, or becoming frustrated that you can’t complete the spiritual disciplines you’ve anticipated to “make you” a better person. Try instead to equally, if not more so, incorporate practices that help you realize – not in an ego-centric manner but rather a humble manner – that you are a Beloved in Christ; that you have an “original goodness;” that you live and exist in a Sea of Divine Love (in spite of what you may see or hear on the news or even sometimes hear in sermons, or isolated portions of Holy Scripture or Church Service’s wording); that the Breath of Life has been breathed into you and into all that lives; and that you have a place and purpose in this One Life we all share in.
If you start from a place of human Fallen-ness the Lord Jesus comes to be seen as just a repairman or one satisfying a vengeful spiteful Father God. If you start from a place of Original Blessing – which it seems to me is scientific, religious, and spiritual – the Lord Jesus becomes a Teacher of Divine Things, a Revealer of Divine Mercy and Love, a Guide, and one who reveals a pattern in the evolutionary unfoldment of human life where everything will ultimately – with our involvement as co-creators- be made new in Him. Our primary focus changes from “conquering” sin to Holy Illumination. When we can see and have our hearts centered from within such a Holy Gaze the desire to do any harm is simply not there.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
*: Someone asked me to clarify what I meant by “you were not born in sin.”
For any for whom this may have been confusing or unclear, what this refers to is the Western theological understanding that the “guilt” of Adam resulting from the “original sin” is transmitted to all the human race in the act of human procreation. Everyone therefore is conceived “in sin” and sex has a “dirty” connotation associated with it.
This whole theological perspective, as I mentioned, has unfortunately crept into Orthodoxy and when it is accepted as true the conception of a human being is seen as someone (the embryo) being conceived (born) in sin.
Lent is a time period of deep spiritual reflection and examination. For what it may be worth in your Lenten journey consider this:
I have spent many hours in prayer, reflection and meditation in the cemetery but for some strange reason out of all of those visits this is what struck me profoundly this early morning. As I looked about at the tombstones I noticed that what is marked are the persons’ names and the span of their life on this earth. I realized that a person’s name is the closest thing to them. It’s a major part of their perceived identity after they are born. Or, for a Christian it might be later the name placed upon them during baptism. When someone calls us by name it even has a certain vibration to it that we resonate to. But, who is this person that each of us is before and behind the name? What is our face before God…before the name…or (dare I say it) our naked presence before God?
As I noticed the dates on the tombstones I was realizing that we’re each granted so many years on this earth. Did these individuals whose bodies now lay in the graves discover their face before God and their reason for existence on this earth? Were they in communion with that reality…or did they consider themselves separate from God? Was God “out there” and they were “here.”
Lenten disciplines generally consist of fasting, praying, spiritual reading, etc; in other words, tasks. But what about taking some time, making some space, to be absolutely alone with the ever-present reality of God and discovering more deeply who we each are in Him? What is our face…our very presence… before God? Why are we here? Who really am I?
If we can discover, not a written statement about it, but a truer “realization” of this, then when we come to the end of Lent we truly will realize the Joy of the Resurrection of Christ for we will sense it, feel it, in the depths of our heart. As a person we will be “lifted up” into new life and we will be authentically able to proclaim Christ is Risen because we will know it deep inside. It won’t be just shouting words at the Paschal liturgy because “it’s the thing to do.”
For what it’s worth realize your name, and mine, will be on a tombstone with the dates of our earthly existence. This will mark us on this earth. It won’t say how many services we went to, how well we fasted, how pious we looked, how many spiritual books we read, etc. It will be only our name and the short space between the years we were here. It seems it would be well worth it to discover, realize, and rest in that beloved presence that we each are in God while we are now here. So amidst your spiritual reading, fasting, alms giving, verbalization of prayers, etc, take time to discover who you are in God. Take time to let God gaze upon you and you to feel that warmth and come to know…really know…who you are in Him!
Great Lent 2018
Father Jeremiah’s reflections:
Here are three Lenten Resources published by another Orthodox parish:
that you can use to prepare for Holy Confession: