MARRIAGE: BONFIRE OF THE EGO

All major religions agree on one thing: the ego, the small self that wants everything its own way, is the biggest impediment to spiritual growth. However, marriage provides one of the best vehicles for spiritual growth, because it is all about getting your ego out of the way.  

    Our culture is very ego-based and individualistic – it is all about me and my fulfilment. But when you are married, you are no longer a single individual, you are part of something bigger than either of your egos, that is, the marriage.

    God meant for marriage to be glorious, but often it is a disaster – two egos in a power struggle over who is going to win. The ego wants everything its way, but when you are married you must negotiate everything with your spouse. The ego cannot have total control.

    Marriage experts agree there are four stages to marriage: romance, disillusionment, misery, and true, seasoned love. There are nine things that help eliminate the painful parts.

    First, wake up to the law of unity and karma. Unity means the two of you are one, and karma means what goes around comes around. Karma is a universal spiritual law found in all the great religions. Jesus said that what you give, you receive. In marriage if the two become one, whatever you do to your spouse you do to yourself. If you sow good or evil, it will come back to you. So be good to your spouse. Paul wrote that “The man who loves his wife loves himself (Ephesians 5:28).

    Secondly, marital happiness mainly lies in you, in how you choose to think about your spouse, not in your partner doing what your ego wants. Your ego will always try to make your spouse into its own personal slave. Focus on your partner’s positive not negative points.

    A third key is to accept and love your partner as they are, not as your ego wants them to be, and not as a clone of the things on your list of the ideal spouse. This list is an ego-list.

    Fourth, realize that love is a decision not a feeling. Feelings come and go and make an unstable base for marriage. Seasoned love is choosing to love your partner when you don’t feel the love. This requires maturity and work, and the ego prefers immaturity and hates work.

    Fifth, listening non-defensively is a key to communication and conflict resolution. The ego thrives on not listening, emotional drama, and blaming the other person for the problem.

    Commitment is a sixth key. The ego always wants to run away when things get hard, but disillusionment and misery are normal stages couples go through. Commitment is what gets you through misery to seasoned love. Mind you, you have to make a careful discernment here. If there is severe or prolonged verbal, emotional, sexual, or physical abuse or neglect, this is not God’s will. God probably wants you to get out.

    Humility is a seventh key. To accept you are not perfect and humbly listen to your spouse’s complaints takes a lot of self-discipline. Humility gets rid of the defensiveness, anger, self-righteousness, mind-games, blaming, judging, self-pity, and victimhood the ego loves.

    Prayer is an eighth essential. Marriage can be extremely challenging. It always helps to call upon the wisdom, power, strength, and love of God to handle times of misery.

    A ninth and final key is to realize the purpose of marriage is not sexual or financial fulfilment, but rather to grow spiritually together. According to scripture, you are both made in God’s image. So, the closest you get to God in the flesh is your marriage partner. The way you treat your spouse is the way you treat God.

    Your marriage can be part of your spiritual practice, that is, an opportunity to grow in unconditional love, humility, acceptance, listening, commitment, gratitude, unity, and prayer.

    Marriage may take you through hell, but if you keep getting your ego out of the way you will eventually get through crucifixion to resurrection, to heaven, and to true love.

Bruce Tallman is a spiritual director and religious educator of adults. brucetallman.com  

 

 

HOW RELIGIONS CAN LIVE IN PEACE

If we want world peace, it is becoming increasingly crucial that Christianity and Islam get along. However, how can any religions get along? Religion, by its very nature, tends to take things to the limit, to globalize its beliefs and absolutize its truths. If my truth is absolutely true, your different truth must not be true.

    This attitude generates conflict not only between religions, but also within religions. For example, Sunnis and Shiites have a long history of conflict in Islam, as do Protestants and Catholics in Christianity.

     One attempt to solve this dilemma is the annual World Day of Prayer wherein the major Christian denominations try to pray together. Another effort is World Religion Day, usually in mid-January, in which the major religions get together and speak their truth about peace.

    However, these approaches, while salutary, do not address the basic problem of how to handle conflicting truth claims. On the one hand, the Koran tells us that Islam is the true faith, Buddhism maintains the Buddha taught the true path, Christianity claims the absolute truth is Jesus Christ is Lord, and Hinduism asserts that Lord Krishna was divine.

    On the other hand, every world religion also teaches wisdom, compassion, prayer, fasting, taking care of the needy, and avoiding evil. Given this, no one can say that every major religion is all wrong or all evil. All of them have at least some truth or goodness in them. So, how do we reconcile all this? There are four basic approaches to truth.

    The first approach is that all religions are equally true and valid. However, this choice has to be rejected when you compare say rabbinic Judaism to Aztec religion with its human sacrifices in order to keep the sun-god rising, or when you compare say Voodoo cults with the sublime theology of Thomas Aquinas.

    The second approach is that no religions are true. This is the stance of the atheist or the person who cannot reconcile all the competing assertions of absolute truth, and therefore decides that all religion must be nonsense.

    However, this choice is not very satisfying either. Religion expresses the deepest insights of the human heart. To say there is no truth in any religion is to leave humanity in a truly hopeless situation.

    The third approach is black and white religious truth. This is the attitude of “we are saints, you are sinners,” “we have all the answers, you don’t have any,” “only Catholics will be in heaven” or conversely “all Catholics are going to hell.”

    This approach, when taken to its limit can result in self-righteousness and endless division, hatred, and war between religions and within them. Truth as black and white eventually disintegrates when you start to notice the shortcomings and sin in your own community and the virtue in others.

    The fourth approach is degrees of truth. This choice has as its basic premise that there is truth in all the major religions, but some religions are truer than others.

    This choice forces you to really study and weigh where you can honestly find the most truth, rather than just accepting or rejecting everything wholesale. This approach also allows you to be completely committed to your own tradition while at the same time being open to whatever degree of truth you find in other traditions. In fact, everyone could enrich their own tradition with the truths they found in other traditions.

    Catholics could learn a lot about humble service and justice from the Salvation Army, peacemaking and community from Mennonites, preaching and Bible study from Baptists, and joyous worship from Pentecostals. Protestants could learn from Catholics about the riches of the sacraments, contemplative prayer, the saints, and church history.

    Christians in general could learn from non-Christians: love of God’s law from Jews, detachment from Buddhists, a spirit of poverty from Hindus, and zeal for God from Muslims. These traditions could similarly learn a lot about forgiveness from Christians.

    An objection from evangelical Christians might be “If we admit there is truth in all the major religions, why reach out to them with the good news of Jesus Christ?” The answer is simply that, if you believe Christianity to be truer than other religions, you will want to reach out to them with your greater truth. In the process you might learn why they believe they have the greater truth, and so understand each other better. This can only be good.

     In a degrees of truth approach, every person is given the human right of freedom of religion and is free to believe that their religious tradition is truer than other traditions without absolutizing their tradition as the one and only truth.

    “All religions are true” has great tolerance, but no commitment; “no religions are true” has no religious commitment or tolerance; “black and white religious truth” has commitment but no tolerance; only the  “degrees of truth” approach has both the religious commitment and religious tolerance which together can lead to world peace.  

  

Bruce Tallman is a spiritual director and religious educator of adults. btallman@rogers.com

 

LIBERATION THROUGH MINDFULNESS

All ‘holons’ (living systems)

have four fundamental capacities:

self-preservation/self-adaptation/

self-transcendence/and self-dissolution.

The 100 billion people who have come and gone

have always been caught up in ‘I’/‘We’/and ’It’ –

and they have always created ‘Its’ –

institutions/governments/religions

to control them and tell them what to do.

 

Persons with an insecure

or particularly avoidant ‘attachment style’

are much more prone to dramatic religious conversion –

out of a deep need for security

they follow religious authorities without question

and become fundamentalists in every religion.

 

However, when people go to retreat centers

often the monks teach them mindfulness

and that everything can be done mindfully

whether praying/walking/eating/working.

This new level of consciousness

liberates those with a fundamentalist bent.

 

Still, shadow projections can prevail

in every human conflict. The need to be

right/get your way/dominate/control others

can cause the breakup of relationships –

friendships/marriages/families.

 

But children and parents at least

help each other by standing together

through hardships at every stage:

infancy to old age –

through every manner of challenge

until death parts them

but even then, wise spouses

bravely accept and esteem widowhood

as a continuation of their marital vocation –

even death can be overcome with mindfulness.

 

MALE SPIRITUALITY

 

One of the best-kept secrets of our time:

although many men don’t care

a whit/a hoot/or a fig about spirituality

many other men deeply value their spiritual side.

 

By himself a man is not capable of success

when it comes to battling the assaults of evil

and so, many men today feel

they are in chains/powerless.

 

The need for boys to have heroes who slay dragons

symbolizes the male struggle

to gain consciousness and adulthood

rather than lapsing back into the bliss of unconsciousness

and being dominated forever by the mother.

Males must break with their mothers

and identify with their (hopefully mature) fathers

or they become mummy-boys not men

they never grow into adulthood

whereas girls can identify with their mother forever –

there is no need for a radical break.

 

Part of boys becoming conscious and adults

is learning mindful speech –

a man’s talk can bring true love

or kill the souls of girlfriends and wives.

 

Boys also need to learn to live in the NOW

for the present moment is our perfect teacher

who is always with us. In meditation men learn

how to tap into their present experience as it is –

insightful or not/scary or not –

they learn to face reality with courage.

 

The famous preacher Jonathan Edwards wrote

“It is the Spirit/Sophia/Wisdom working in men

that makes them see the beauty in the present moment/

the unity of all things/

makes them tender-hearted toward others/

and gives them a well-ordered and disciplined life.”

 

DIVINE FEMININE/SACRED MASCULINE

 

Henri Nouwen was one-of-a-kind:

simple yet not simplistic/

deep in sentiment yet not sentimental/

self-revealing yet not exhibitionistic/

deeply personal yet universal/

sensitive to human weakness yet challenging.

 

Meister Eckhart was another great Christian expositor

who integrated heart/mind/feminine/masculine

and distinguished between ‘book learning’ and ‘life learning’ –

often an author’s life does not match their writing

but Eckhart walked his talk

and both his writing and his life

disclose God’s Truth to us.

 

Christians need to integrate their main value of love

particularly in marriage, a beautiful institution

that often gets overwhelmed

by ego/divorce/money/self-centeredness/lust/workaholism

and a culture that worships hedonism –

the pursuit of pleasure at all costs –

love without commitment or accountability –

calling it ‘free love’ or ‘polyamory.’

 

Everyone, but particularly married couples

need training in non-violence – a tactic of love

that seeks the salvation/redemption of one’s enemy/opponent

not their humiliation/defeat/destruction.

 

Everything, all personal relationships and cultural institutions

require a healthy balance of yin/yang/feminine/masculine –

after all, what good is a return to the Divine Feminine

if men refuse her because there is no return

to the Sacred Masculine?

 

But Henri Nouwen and Meister Eckhart are lamps

who can light our pathway to integration

and True Love – the marriage of the Feminine and Masculine.

THE SOURCE OF VIOLENCE AND PLEASURE

According to Teilhard de Chardin

religion itself is the fruit of evolution

and has spread across the globe by peace and violence

because the world has been converging

on Christ throughout its history

as its personal center of fulfillment.

 

Christian faith takes hold when people look at the Cross

and can no longer deny their chains of sin/guilt/death

and when complete individuation/autonomy/irresponsibility

for others fails to fulfill them.

 

Beyond not being their brother or sister’s keeper

aggression, like a drug for an addict

gives temporary relief but then

the nightmare and hatred continue to grow inside you –

violence is picking up burning coals with your bare hands

and throwing them at your enemy.

Whether you hit them or not, you are guaranteed

to burn yourself.

 

The biggest source of violence from religious people

is a colossal modern problem:

the pressure cooker of science has kept a lid on faith

so people feel pressured to give up their beliefs

to be part of the modern/postmodern world

and some rebel with violence.

But some gifts of religious people

to the modern/postmodern world involve seeing:

sin/darkness is an inescapable part of us

there can be joy in imperfection

and Jesus built community not hierarchy

circles not pyramids.

 

Our sins come out of our God-given desires

which are healthy in themselves

but God is the only real fulfillment of those desires –

godless luxury wants over-abundance to fill its soul-hole

but God is

an inexhaustible treasure of incorruptible pleasure:

“At your right hand there are pleasures forever”

– Psalm 16:11

FALLING (SUPER-SPIRITUAL) STARS

Many people have a multi-faith identity:

Catholic/Protestant; Buddhist/Jewish;

Baptist/Episcopalian; Christian/Hindu.

 

People are called in many different ways

but if you refuse God’s call

you turn the adventure/your true life

into meaningless boredom/a wasteland/

death.

 

Our only true greatness lies in

the humility of living faithfully.

The purer our faith, the closer we come to God.

The one who desires to exalt herself/himself

with extraordinary sexual or mystical experiences

becomes less/not more in the eyes of God.

 

If you can abandon all desire 

for the fruits of your actions/results

you can perform freely/without attachment

your duty – to love.

 

One’s duty may be to be a good spouse –

the intimate partnership of married life and love

has been established by the Creator

and is defined/qualified/bounded

by the Creator’s laws/thou-shalt-nots –

THOU SHALT NOT: lie/steal/covet thy neighbour’s

wife/husband/commit adultery.

 

Like Ravi Zacharias, Jean Vanier was a super-saint –

his work with the developmentally delayed

in L’Arche/the Ark became world-wide

group homes for those rejected by society

and his book Becoming Human

helped us discover our common humanity

the journey from loneliness to belonging

and to a love that includes all –

people of multiple faiths and no faith

people able/differently abled/disabled –

Vanier was a saint until the MeTooMovement

caught him with his pants down

with multiple women. Another spiritual superstar

had fallen – to everyone’s utter dismay.

RETURNING TO RADICAL AMAZEMENT

The sexual/social/self-preservation drives

are the raw material of who we are as humans

and so cannot be killed off

although ascetics try their hardest.

 

According to Rohr/Rolheiser/Fox

these drives are all good and just need to be

harnessed/channeled/integrated not killed off

so they give energy to our spiritual endeavours

and serve us not destroy us – they are good

not evil monsters/dragons/demons.

 

According to Immanuel Kant as you move morally

from being biocentric (sex and survival) to egocentric

to ethnocentric to worldcentric (universal compassion)

you also discover your higher/truer/deeper self.

 

If you expand your heart and mind infinitely

you come to God’s Infinite Love, the “Ultimate Thou”

and to your self as the “Ultimate I”

culminating in the “Ultimate I-Thou Relationship.”

 

But as we take on jobs/get married/join religions

everyone pressures us to do

in order for us to live up to their ideals

and as we shove more and more stuff

into our shadow-bag

by midlife we are a mere slice

of the 360-degree-self we started with.

 

We become fraught with “sins of omission”

including: not living lives of justice/

not being transformed/being ‘born again’

only once instead of many times/

leaving creativity/divinization/original blessing/

the cosmos out of our theology.

 

Radical Amazement by Judy Cannato

invites us back into contemplative awe/awareness

of black holes/supernovas/the wonders of the universe

 which are the key to self-transformation

and transformation of the world.

 

DIVESTING DOMINANT PARADIGMS

Gospel love means divesting oneself for God

of all that is not God – all earthly attachments –

particularly to the self, but even to the Church.

 

Conservative Christians believe the Church

is the Kingdom of God in the world.

Liberal Christians believe the Queendom/Kingdom of God

is to be built outside the Church in the World.

However, one needs humility and detachment to see

that both are transient. The Church and the World are not God.

If one arrogantly makes the Church or the World eternal

one ends in idolatry. Like everything, the Church and the World

had a beginning and so will have an end.

 

Theology is an attempt to integrate God/Church/World

without reducing one to the others.

When theologians stop asking questions

and start making dogmatic statements

the spiritual search ends.

 

Artists can break through the captivity

of our dominant paradigm – idolatry

by exposing the dysfunction/pain/terror

covered up and denied.

Then healing may begin.

 

A similar dominant paradigm is insularism –

self-protection, like idolatry, takes many forms:

individualism (me first)

tribalism (my family or tribe first)

nationalism (my country before other countries/the planet)

historicism (ignoring human history – 1000s of years

or the history of the universe – billions of years).

Insularism loves sexism/racism/ageism/ablism –

people with disabilities are often terribly lonely

and show us our own loneliness

and how we all have a deep need to break out of insularism

and find community/friends/love.

 

A Christian woman and man, who thru the marriage covenant

of conjugal love are one flesh, render mutual service

to one another through this intimate union

and show us how the Church and the World ought to be –

united in Christ and reaching out to help everyone.

THE PURPOSE OF ALL THINGS

The only purpose of God in creating the universe

was that it be a communion of souls in love.

Christ is the center/goal/perfection/paradigm of communion

so the meaning of Christ extends to

all people/all civilizations/all planets/all universes.

 

The only purpose of all spiritual practice

is to help you become an awakened human being –

a loving/contemplative sage full of God here and now –

which is the true nature of who you already are anyway –

so the end of the journey is its beginning.

 

Discovering your True Self can be a great relief –

you no longer have to protect/project/promote

an ideal self-image – your False Self.

Your True Self was always there and always will be

so you can relax and be yourself – flaws and all.

 

Awareness that life is flawed is the beginning of wisdom

and the beginning of anxiety is when a flawed being

becomes aware of its future non-being.

 

Today, the “Way of the Cross” involves

becoming aware of our flaws/limitations/sins

abandoning perfectionism/pursuing wholeness/

dying to our ego and finding our True Self

which may be exquisitely painful

but it focuses on growth not transient happiness.

 

Today we are blessed with tools like the Enneagram

which helps us understand

the depths of our darkness

and paradoxically allows us to grasp

the heights of our True Self

the divine image and likeness of God within

which longs to go without

and join others in forming

a communion of souls in love.