When you experience the universe’s immeasurable zest for life, longing to create, ineffable beauty, and listen to her story, you inevitably fall in love with her – a love that demands caring action.
Bede Griffiths (1906-1993), a Benedictine monk, founded Shantivanam Ashram (Forest of Peace Ashram) as he thought western Christianity was too masculine since it was built on Greek and Roman Empire models of existence. He thought it needed to discover the intuitive, contemplative, feminine spirituality of India and China: Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, and Confucianism. Western youth who visited Shantivanam then took contemplation back to the west in the 1960s. This “eastern invasion” was a spiritual counterpart to the “British invasion” (rock music) and was the beginning of people becoming “spiritual but not religious” – if you could experience God directly thru meditation, why did you need organized religion?
The Catholic Inquisition was just trying to protect the Church from heresy, tried people by rational means, and punished no one – they left that to the state authorities. Stalinist and Nazi terrorism used irrational means to kill more people without trial in a few years than the Inquisition did in four hundred years. In general, secular culture sees the sins of the Church but is blind to its own sins.
Teilhard de Chardin’s insight into love-energy as the core energy of evolution – evolution always moves towards creating creatures with a greater capacity for love (from invertebrates to vertebrates to mammals to humans) – this gives a new perspective on the nature of cosmic reality. If everything is internally related by love, nothing is autonomous or independent. For any creature, to “be” is to “be-with” or to “inter-be.” We are all “interbeings.” Everything depends on everything else. For you to exist, you need clouds and rain and seeds and soil and farmers. Whatever we are doing to the Earth we are doing to ourselves. This awareness has to be our new foundation: the Earth is us and we are the Earth.
Any student of comparative mythology knows that, throughout the ancient world, there are common themes of death and resurrection and overcoming our mortality with immortality. Osiris and Mithra and Adonis are supposed to have achieved this. However, in Jesus the Christ, the myths became reality. God entered history and changed it forever.
In God’s plan, the Cosmic Christ, who becomes incarnate as a human being, has universal primacy and universal meaning in human history. He becomes the arrowhead that points us towards our next stage of evolution: to become divinized human beings. Of course, we can only do this if we get our egos out of the way and let God’s Spirit fill us to the brim.
The only way to understand the power of the message of Jesus is by imitating him and actually living the life of a disciple.
The problem for most of us in the spiritual life is that we want to be a saint but we also want to experience all the sensations sinners have. If we become too angelic we can be no earthly good. And if we become too focused on the body alone we can become lower than the animals. It is always difficult to keep spirit and body integrated.
The marriage of eastern and western religion may be necessary not only for the Church but also for the survival of civilization itself. Eastern religion emphasizes contemplation and western religion emphasizes social justice. Together they would keep the transcendence and immanence of God alive. Contemplation counters civilization’s obsession with consumerism and social justice counters it’s obsession with individualism.
Teilhard de Chardin was a Christian mystic who believed that love and energy are the foundation of the cosmos. This “love-energy” is the source of the universe’s intelligibility and therefore the basis of knowledge. This leads philosophy out of the impasse of making matter the basis of all empirical knowledge. Philosophers have traditionally made love secondary to knowledge – you have to first know something before you can love it. But for lovers of God like Teilhard, love is the source and goal of all knowledge.
Christian martyrs were willing to die for their faith because they believed “all is one” – everything, including life and death, is under the care of God. Now we have arrived at a similar state by the reverse process: we no longer believe there is a God, all is passing away, and therefore all is meaningless. Without God, all is not one, it is zero. The martyr was willing to die for God, but would the secular non-believer be willing to die for zero? This is important when you are speaking truth to power and fighting injustice.
Almost everything wrong with the world has to do with the way the “It” of institutions can be misaligned, out of control, and disconnect with the “I” and the “We.” The personal is destroyed by the impersonal when corporations, governments, and religious institutions become out of touch with the people they are meant to serve, and only serve themselves. The result is exploitation of others for money or sex, and rape of the planet’s resources on which we all depend. Unitive thinking, the idea that all is one, keeps the “It” of hierarchies connected to the common good, the “We.”
The cornerstone of spirituality is that God, in a plan of sheer goodness, created humans to share in God’s own blessed life. Love is therefore the principal energy in the universe, and the direction of evolution is towards greater wholeness and consciousness, toward greater love.
Contemplation of God is not ecstasy, trance, enthusiasm, or mystic frenzy. These things are not the work of the “deep self.” They are the flooding into consciousness of the dionysian emotions of the “id” from the subconscious. Spiritual practice is also not about accomplishing, winning, or losing. It is about stopping struggling and relaxing with reality, accepting reality as it is, not making it the enemy.
Henri Nouwen is the Kierkegaard of our generation because like Kierkegaard he has taught us Christian existentialism: how to pray while not knowing how to pray, to rest while being restless, to be at peace while being tempted, to feel safe while still being anxious, to be surrounded by light while still in darkness, to love while still doubting.
The modern worldview is that because our universe is so old and so vast, humans are totally insignificant. A more helpful and meaningful approach is that because of our intelligence and creativity, which it took the universe so long to produce – 13.7 billion years – we can say again, as people did before astrophysics, that humans are not only significant but central to the entire universe.
Georges Lemaitre, a Belgian physicist and priest, first postulated that, as in Genesis, the first book of the Bible, there must have been a beginning to the universe. Then George Isamow, an American-Russian physicist, postulated the Big Bang Theory, the current view among scientists. Since scientists have proven that everything is expanding outward, if you go back in time far enough, it must have all begun from a single point. Science has to be materially based, it can’t start with spirit, and therefore Isamow further theorized that the universe came from a tiny particle. However, this idea that all the matter of the universe as we now know it was somehow packed into an infinitely small particle seems absurd and is an untestable hypothesis. As such it is a myth. I am not anti-science, in fact I think science is an incredible tool that reveals even more of God’s glory. But I also believe it is important to understand that science is based on this myth. It is just as logical, in fact I believe more logical, to say that the whole universe came from an Almighty Creator.
Ignatius of Loyola invented the prayer methodof inserting yourself imaginatively right into scenes from the Bible. For example, you are in a boat with the disciples in a raging sea. You feel the rocking of the boat, the spray of the waves, and then you see someone walking on the water. You feel the fear of the disciples who didn’t recognize it was Jesus and thought they were seeing a ghost. You feel amazement and relief when Jesus calms the wind and sea and gets into the boat with them. Many people have found that this method of imaginative contemplation leads them beyond “head-knowledge” to “heart-knowledge” of God and emotionally transforms them through a direct experience of God.
In the Jewish Book of Wisdom it says that Wisdom was there in the beginning, co-creating everything with God. Wisdom is an early intuition of the Cosmic Christ or the Holy Spirit. In the Christian scriptures Christ is seen as the wisdom and power of God. By applying themselves to philosophy, history, science and the arts, people are enlightenedby that Wisdom or the Cosmic Christ who is all around us and was there from the beginning.
Christian praxis (practice) is meant to spread the kingdom of love, the reign of God, by transforming social structures and laws that oppress people. The classic example would be the Jim Crow laws in the United States that kept everything segregated even though slavery had officially ended. Blacks got the worst schools, medical care, etc. The great Protestant theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr, wrote that “Justice is the proper distribution of love throughout society. Only love can transform us while uniting us to everything. Love is the opposite of segregation.
In 1998, two independent teams of scientists discovered “dark energy,” an anti-gravitational force that is causing the universe to accelerate its expansion. 70% of the universe is dark energy, 25% is dark matter, only 5% of the universe is visible. Science keeps revealing how mysterious God is. Einstein said that it is not that one thing is a miracle, everything is a miracle!
Every spiritual path begins with a founder who experiences a deep spiritual conversion. Then his followers turn this I-THOU relationship between the founder and God into an I-IT relationship by developing beliefs, creeds, rituals, and institutions. And the gap grows between the founder’s experience and his disciples’ lives as the founder fades away in historical time. We need to constantly try to recapture the founder’s original experience.
D. H. Lawrence, mostly known for his erotic novels, was also a spiritual man who wrote that our deepest religious urge is to come into direct contact with the deep elemental life of the cosmos and to derive energy and life from it. He believed that erotic energy underlies everything in the universe, and that God is not only “agape” (suffering love) but also “eros” (the power of attraction) which expresses itself most fully in human sexuality. When the masculine energy of the universe meets the feminine energy, fire happens.
In his “Discourse on Mindful Breathing,” the Buddha taught “Breathing in, I recognize my feeling. Breathing out, I calm my feeling.” Christian monks teach similar spiritual practices. Medical science has now proven them both right: when you inhale and then slowly let your breath out, the breathing out activates your parasympathetic nervous system, which has a calming effect on your whole body. Science is gradually catching up with and proving wisdom taught by ancient religion.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s notion of “cosmic personalization” means that the entire cosmos is headed towards wholeness, complexification, consciousness, andlove.
In 1961 at a General Assembly of the World Council of Churches, James Sittler, a Lutheran theologian, reminded the gathering that, according to Colossians 1:15-17, the Cosmic Christ is the foundation of all things and all things are united in the Cosmic Christ. If this is true, Christians have nothing to fearfrom other religions, philosophy and modern sciencesince all these things are “in Christ” whether they acknowledge it or not. In fact, the values of materialistic scientists and philosophers such as the search for truth,could be a preparation for the acceptance of the gospel.
Since all institutions are relative and provisional, including churches, synagogues, mosques and temples, we must put our hope in the living God who alone can fulfill history. We must hope in God, not any religious institution.
The reason I am not an atheist: that the universe exists at all, that it obeys laws, that out of those laws come galaxies, stars and planets, that on one planet life and consciousness has evolved (and probably on many others), are all one wonder after another. It requires more gullibility to believe this all just happened by accident than to believe there is a Supreme Omnipotent Intelligence behind it all. Faith in God is not irrational at all.
Contemplation does not free you from conflict, anguish and doubt. Rather it creates serious questions about the whole status quo of everyday injustices we constantly see all around us and accept as if they were unquestionable dogmas. True contemplation leads one to social justice which is the proper distribution of love throughout society.
The Body of Christ is not bound to any one race, nation, tradition, culture or theology but can learn from them all new ways of expressing the truth of the message of Jesus the Christ. Churches can enrich, and be enriched by, many different cultures.