TRUE RELIGION

True religion involves basing our beliefs

on our own direct experience of reality

not on concepts someone else taught us –

after a while those concepts no longer work

and plunge us into darkness.

 

Religions steeped in creeds and doctrines alone

offer people a magic-mythic view of reality:

Abraham asked Allah to show him

how Allah raises from the dead.

Allah said “Slaughter four birds

place their pieces on the hills

in the four directions

then call them

and they will fly to you.”

 

The constant movement towards greater consciousness –

the history of evolution on Planet Earth

from matter to life to thought to spirit – continues

and leads believers beyond magic and myth/

and gives us a rational/spiritual explanation

for the development of the universe.

 

Ramon Panikkar, the Catholic/Hindu scholar

is a worthy guide to the New Axial Era

when he proclaims that our first task

is to discover the Cosmic Christ within us

then also in others

and then in Creation itself.

True religion is to be seized by the Love

at the heart of life/the heart of Creation

and to find ways to let that Love evolve

into a global wholeness – a wholeness

of unity/compassion/justice/peacemaking.

 

FRESH AND GREAT REVELATIONS

 

 St. Gregory of Nyassa wrote that the contemplative life

cannot be lived in secular society

but St. Basil claimed it is possible while you work

to pray with your mouth/heart/mind.

 

At the monastery, Thomas Merton learned:

– how to pray while working as a laborer

– how to be a member of the human race

– that every other human being is no more crazy

and ridiculous than he claimed to be – than we all are.

 

Merton also learned and contemplated:

– fear is the awareness of one’s own finitude

– the possibility of one’s own nonbeing

– that anxiety is natural for mere mortals.

All these were great revelations to him.

 

Today extreme theological traditionalists

try to overcome anxiety by ignoring the past two centuries

while extreme theological progressives

subordinate Christianity to worldly philosophies.

The former flounder like fish-out-of-water in contemporary culture.

The latter flounder like fish-out-of-water in the church

and, despite their protests, are not Christian –

you have to draw the orthodox line somewhere.

 

The years when the religious right ordains

fundamentalist presidents always result in religious disaster –

alienating all young Americans

who hold completely different values

about women/homosexuality/poverty/climate change.

 

According to the great Jewish theologian Abraham Heschel

the problem for both extreme right and left is: no awe.

After all, radical amazement lies in all reality:

not only in amazing things I can see – like the Milky Way –

that filmy white night banner overhead – but also in the fact that:

– I can see

– I can reflect on my ability to see

– I have a self that can reflect on things

– that this self is part and parcel of all that was/is/will be.

 

All these were great revelations to Heschel

and revelations always light up our footsteps on the path to God.

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

TAKING THE HARD/EASY ROAD WITH CHRIST

Jesus was a layman with no formal training as a priest

he was at parties and in the streets

far more than at liturgy. Yet the early Church

created elaborate liturgies to worship a man

who never asked to be worshiped

only followed. Worship is easy, following is hard.

So, we took the easy road.

 

Circa 250 AD Christians took the road to the desert

to escape Decian persecution/corruption/decadence

of the Roman Empire. Like Moses/Elijah/Jesus

they were convinced that in the absolute silence of the desert

they could hear God speak again.

In the desert they learned for all time

that God is in the present moment, the NOW.

 

In our NOW, people in both individualist and collectivist societies

feel anxiety about death/non-being.

Capitalist/ego societies encourage individuals

to assert themselves against the threat of non-being

whereas communist/state societies allay anxiety

with massive military parades and rituals

signifying the collective will survive

individual non-being – being part of the collective

saves you from death.

 

But both the capitalist and communist credos

are heresy. In Jesus the Christ one evolves

from fragmentation and alienation

of the individual and the masses

to wholeness and integration

from nihilism and irony

to deep meaning and value

from scarcity to abundance

from self-centeredness to self-transcendence.

 

When capitalism and communism both fail to satisfy the soul

it humbly turns back to God and finds

“Your soul is who you are in God and who God is in you.

Nothing more, nothing less” – Richard Rohr

and taking the hard road is surprisingly easy in Christ

who said “Take my yoke upon you for my yoke is easy

and my burden is light” – Matthew 11:28-30

 

 

 

 

 

CHALLENGING OUR PARADIGMS

The new cosmology revealed by science

like the parables of Jesus

shatters our old paradigms

and challenges us to broader/more inclusive thinking.

 

Irenaeus had a cosmic Christology

largely lost because the Church Fathers

focused on practical/down-to-Earth matters

such as combating Arianism

which claimed Christ is not divine.

The Council of Nicea (325 AD) asserted that

Christ’s incarnation saves us and deifies us –

we become like Christ.

 

Theology has always been otherworldly –

about metaphysics – “What is the nature of God

and God’s Kingdom?” – things ultimately ineffable

instead of teaching us how to live the teachings of Jesus.

 

Teilhard de Chardin’s hyper-physics (union before being)

overthrew metaphysics focused on

stasis/unchangeability/sameness.

Union always searches for ‘moreness’ –

more being/consciousness/love –

it is never satisfied with the status quo.

 

But in the West, religion has done our work

for us: scholars and bishops have told us

what to know not how to know

and what to see not how to see.

The result? People who never had to think

and are unable to comprehend

great and holy things.

 

Still, a spirit of prayer pervaded the Second Vatican Council

and reading the documents of Vatican II

can be a form of ‘lectio divina.’

The Council encouraged all believers to put prayer first

urged people to pray while reading scripture

pray for the conversion of hearts

and begged all of us to follow the ways of

universal love/peace/justice –

it was a fresh take

on an old paradigm.

IDEAS, RELIGIOUS ATHEISTS AND SUFFERING

For Paul Tillich every aspect of culture –

a new law/painting/political movement

is charged with religious meaning

because it is part of the dynamic energy of God.

 

Every culture subsists in ideas –

Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris began as an idea

and Meister Eckhart knew what every true intellectual knows:

the importance of ideas for peoples’

freedom/courage/integrity

so, when he was shown Notre Dame he said

“I would trade it all for John Chrysostom’s manuscripts.”

 

However, there are narrow and broad ideas –

ideas can be limiting or fulfilling.

As Kierkegaard wrote: “the cultured despisers of religion”

“The New Atheists” such as Richard Dawkins, rightfully attack

immature fundamentalist claims of biblical literalism

but mature believers promote the idea

that knowledge born of faith, like poetry, music, theatre or any art

enables us to see reality more deeply than science can.

 

The Church may reject atheism, but does not reject atheists –

it takes them and their profound questions very seriously

and just like religion, atheism can be narrow or broad

limiting or fulfilling – Buddhism is essentially atheistic

or at least indifferent to the “God question.”

According to Theravada Buddhists, Buddha was an atheist

but manifested the highest humanity and helped multitudes –

his only concern was not God but eliminating suffering.

Anyone who eliminates suffering is a Buddhist.

Therefore, Jesus was a Buddhist. But Buddha was just human,

and when Jesus opened his heart at baptism in the Jordan River

the Holy Spirit descended on him like an eagle

and he manifested as not just human

but the Son of God called to redeem all suffering

through carrying his cross out of love for all humans.

Humans are God’s constant Cross.

 

Those who are truly guided see this

and when tried/visited with affliction

they say “Surely to God we belong and to God we return”

and in temptation/trials/suffering they take comfort

in being “hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3).

LIVING IN BABYLON

Major structural injustices in which we

live/move/have our being

create haves/have-nots

and are hugely immoral – but most religions

while preaching personal and interpersonal ethics

ignore systemic evil and most believers accept

massive injustice as “the way things are” never asking

“How can individuals be moral in an immoral culture?”

 

The typical response of Christians living in

our Babylonian culture, in exile, is:

try to be faithful husbands and wives

raise virtuous children who are

compassionate/contemplative/seek justice

and who kick at the darkness till it bleeds daylight.

 

Catholics adopt Protestant practices:

daily Bible reading/speaking in tongues

and Protestants adopt Catholic practices:

praying the Divine Office and trying out

Benedictine/Franciscan/Ignatian prayer styles

and perhaps this is the Holy Spirit

weaving the entire Church together

so we all may be one

or maybe this is just rearranging

the deck chairs on the Titanic

as long as the structural injustices persist.

 

Hopefully, the Contemplative Way

will save and transform us:

because sometimes contemplatives

as they are liberated from all addictions/attachments

gain psychic powers/siddhis such as

telepathy and clairvoyance – genuine contemplatives

always hide these super-powers

but maybe they could use them to fight injustice?

 

In any case, the ultimate secret of the spiritual life:

“ever-present divine awareness” is not hard to attain

for anyone and is impossible to avoid

according to Lao Tzu/Shankara/Paul/Augustine/

Plotinus/and Teresa of Avila because it is always there

and awareness of the divine is the only thing

that makes living in Babylon bearable.

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.

 

OVERCOMING OUR SHADOW AND OUR SUFFERING

Theologians try to make Christianity relevant

by showing theology follows scientific methods

or correlating it to some current philosophy

or urgent need: racism, nuclear war, climate change

but the problem behind all problems

is dualistic non-unitive thinking in the form of individualism.

 

Individualism, the triumph of the individual

the foundation of American culture, is ironically false freedom:

separation from others and therefore separation from God

who in Jesus exhorted us to “love others as our self”

and “love our enemies.”

 

America is ironically “Land of the free and home of the slave”

according to the artist formerly known as “Prince.”

Ironically too, America will only overcome its shadow history

by embracing it: “Taking up your cross today

means owning your own shadow

which is the essence of ethics/

integrity/spirituality/religion.” – Carl Jung

First recognize the log in your own eye

before trying to take out the speck in your neighbour’s eye.

Otherwise, you project your shadow onto others

and force them to carry your darkness.

 

We can use everything that happens in us

and that happens to us, to wake up:

Buddhism exhorts us to resolve the dualistic struggle

by embracing difficulties (our crosses)

and by meditating day and night.

“Seek in reading and you will find in meditating;

knock in verbal prayer and it will be opened to you

in contemplation” – Guigo the Carthusian.

 

But contemplation is always beyond us:

beyond art/philosophy/theology

even beyond discussion or explanation –

the language of God

is silence.

 

But the language of the blind and deaf Helen Keller is

“Life is full of suffering

and it is also full of the overcoming of suffering.”