LEARNING TO TRULY SEE

Science sprang from the heart of the Christian west

not from Greek philosophy or eastern religion –

Judaism always maintained the world was orderly and rational

and patristic writers like Augustine

encouraged study of the natural world.

Since science started, many priests have made

significant scientific discoveries in biology/botany/cosmology.

 

This is because God is fundamentally relational in nature

and interacts with the Creation

as subject to subject

not subject to object.

 

Without God, humans remain a puzzle to themselves

particularly when life’s major events prompt self-questioning like

“Where did I come from?”/ “why am I here?”/ “where am I going?”

Only God can constitute a complete answer.

 

Bede Griffiths, a British priest and Benedictine monk

lived in ashrams he founded across South India

trying to bridge East and West

and integrate Hinduism and Christianity

thru prayer/dialogue/a shared life.

He was deeply influenced by Hindu ascetic practices

but never gave up on the centrality of Christ and the Church.

 

Any major or minor religion can be transformed

by the realization that ‘faith’

is about how we see not what we see

the religious process not the content is where Spirit abides –

so the fruits of the Spirit – joy/peace/love/wisdom

can be found in every sect/denomination/religion

worth its salt.

 

The blind may feel that if they could see

they would be in paradise.

But we who have good eyes are so used to the process of seeing

we take it for granted

and do not realize we are already in paradise –

we need to learn how to truly see.

INTERRELIGIOUS DIALOGUE CREATES HUMANITY

It is impossible to prove or disprove

the denial or assertion of religious beliefs.

Religious belief is a choice

but religious symbols and practices

have given people meaning and strength

to cope with troubles down through the ages:

“O God our help in ages past

our hope for years to come

our shelter from the stormy blast

and our eternal home.”

This hymn provides comfort

when humans are more and more de-centered:

in the universe by Copernicus

in life by evolutionary biology

in our inner core by the subconscious.

In Newtonian physics, physical reality

followed rigid causal pathways

but in Chaos Theory, physical reality

is flexible, open to change and new

spontaneously emerging properties.

Things are out of our control and in God’s control.

Spontaneous revival happened in Hinduism:

decline in the 1800s gave birth in the 1900s

to great spiritual teachers:

Aurobindo/Gandhi/Tagore/

Yogananda who claimed unity

with Buddha/Jesus/Mohammed 

and that all religions are one

since they all seek the same goal: God.

Inter-religiosity may be written off

as postmodern/New Age/goofiness

but the fact is that all of religion’s

key dimensions of

belief/behavior/belonging

are being dramatically transformed

by contact with other major world religions.

Vatican II called for recognition

that all humans are interconnected.

Interreligious dialogue creates

the Beloved Community, humanity.

TRANSFORMATION VERSUS VIOLENCE

According to Bernard Lonergan

the new foundation for knowledge is subjectivity.

Only subjectively transformed people

can see things objectively

without all their biases

muddying the water.

Inner work – knowing/healing/harmonizing

our inner life – is the essence of spirituality

and influences all our perceptions/

desires/thoughts/actions.

The False Self is ensnared in craziness –

the lies and constant striving of the world –

‘samsara’ in Hinduism. The True Self knows

it is always here: “I am a child of God” –

nothing left to strive for.

But if you refuse the call of the Divine

the Hound of Heaven pursues you until you either

cling to your False Self in hell

or you let go and let your small self

your ego, annihilate in God.

To get ego out of the way

only one thing is necessary:

stop judging which endlessly divides everything

into your likes and dislikes.

Then you discover fundamental richness –

the holiness of ‘being-itself’ – that is always here

and belongs to everyone like sunshine –

the sun shines on both saint and sinner

but saints see holiness and sinners judge.

Religious fanatics are super-judges:

to overcome doubt they surrender their freedom

to some absolute ideology or religion

then become anxious when confronted

with people who believe differently

and violently attack them as ‘infidels’ –

‘unfaithful ones’ – oblivious to the fact

that their violence makes them unfaithful

to the God of Compassion

they profess to believe in.

THE FOURTH GREAT AWAKENING

Christianity is in its Fourth Great Awakening:

dying in Europe and North America

but exploding in Africa/Latin America/Asia

the rebirth of worldwide Pentecostalism

evangelicalism/pilgrimages/the Emergent Church

Vatican II, interest in mysticism and Eastern religions,

rediscovering ancient ways of prayer and meditation.

“We are discovering God is everything good

in everything. God is not naught –

God is before naught, before nothingness.”

– Meister Eckhart

Life is inherently ordered toward the ultimate victory

of goodness, not the ultimate disaster

predicted by the Second Law of Thermodynamics:

everything gradually dissipating into nothingness.

Science predicts disaster, religion predicts

resurrection and heaven.

No intellectual could detect the problem

of the hyper-growth of rational science

and the downplay of the arts and morals

because intellectuals had left spirituality

and religion behind

because they believed it was all myth.

But myth became history

and lived among us as Jesus the Christ.

In any case, the problem

is not science and technology

but the religious values we project onto them –

we expect them to save us/immortalize us

but that is the job of religion.

“Religion” means “religio”

same root as “ligament” –

healthy religion joins things together again.

But if we are at war with ourselves

because of unhealthy religion

we will soon be at war with others.

Spiritual exercises, according to Ignatius of Loyola,

are any method that rids us 

of all our disordered affections

and opens our soul to God.

Because all humans have been damaged by sin

it is only by God’s grace that,

liberated from all our disorderly passions,

we can freely choose God and the good.

Humans’ life and spiritual affirmation

are inseparable because we are only human

to the extent we shape our world and our self

according to holy meanings and values –

“We don’t think our way into a new way of living,

we live our way into a new way of thinking.”

– Richard Rohr

On the other hand

within each person an awareness exists

that is vast/silent/restful/resourceful –

a ‘riverbed of mercy’

that does not rush to judgement

nor get caught up in narrow ‘right and wrong.’

To grow in Jesus the Christ

one must doubt and reject everything else.

But often this testing is too intolerable

and people flee into comfortable traditions/

outward gestures/conventions.

The Vedic message of Vivekananda in 1893

to the Parliament of World Religions:

“The divinization of the human person

is far more important than

doctrines/rituals/books/churches.”

This appealed to those weary of religions’

legalism/dogmatism/authoritarianism.

But organized religion that is healthy

promotes community not just divinized individuals.

Divinized communities, Beloved Communities

can do so much more than divinized individuals.

The Fourth Great Awakening

promises divinization of both individuals

and Beloved Communities.

THE GIFT OF CHILD-LIKE FAITH

According to Joseph Campbell

supernatural guides can take many forms:

– in fairy tales: a hermit/elf/shepherd/wizard

– in mythology: a Baboon god

– in classical literature: Virgil and Beatrice

in Dante’s Divine Comedy.

Scientists have been our guides for centuries

but Isaac Newton’s mechanistic universe

eventually had no need or place for God

and no definition or place for humans.

We used to be supernaturally defined  

as the image of God.

In the new quantum science and quantum theology

God is not a passive/detached/external ruler –

God is a passionate/relational/internal Presence

embodied in the process of creative evolution.

“God’s providence/compassion/mercy

were there right from the moment of my birth –

for you gave my mother breasts and milk

to feed me, you gave me the desire

for this milk and gave my mother

the desire to share it.” – Augustine

In contemplation we are like a child

sucking on our mother’s breasts – all our faculties:

memory/reason/imagination are suspended

only our will, the will to drink sweet nectar remains.

In the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius

the foundational theme is: our will

and all our faculties of memory/reason/imagination

are gifts from God to  be given back to God

and used at God’s discretion.

All we need is the grace to love God above all.

Faith is a gift from God too

since it gives us new eyes –

so you see through God’s eyes.

Faith is self-fulfilling prophecy –

it creates the good world it sees.

Whether we can see Jesus or Buddha or not

depends on our awareness –

a man rushed to see Buddha

and ignored a woman in dire need.

When he got to the monastery

he was incapable of seeing the Buddha

who was in the woman he passed by –

the Good Samaritan knows that

as you do unto the least you do unto God.

Hindus can call on Jesus with faith and devotion –

Mahatma Gandhi wept when he saw the Pieta –

the sculpture of Mary holding her dead son –

and in his tiny room in New Delhi

he had only one picture: Jesus

the Universal Christ who is everywhere.

God unconditionally loves everyone:

after the Resurrection Christ’s love

did not become exclusive or conditional –

he gave his Shalom peace and his breath

to his disciples who had betrayed him.

The community of faith, the Beloved Community

is a community of sinners –

good and evil run through all hearts.

We must acknowledge our sin

since the more we think we are righteous

the less we see our shadow

and the more we project our shadow onto others

causing untold suffering.

Rather than asking “How can I find happiness?”

we could ask “How can I sit with suffering,

yours and mine, and not try to make it go away?

How can I let the pain/loss/dishonor open me up?”

Once you have opened up and experienced

nondual reality, you can return to dualistic reasoning

but in a freer way as you realize

there are greater truths than reason:

“Oh God, I am so glad you revealed your plan

not to the learned and wise

but to the simple and childlike.”

– Jesus (Matthew 11:25).

THE LIMITS OF REASON

In religion, only non-dual seers are the experts

the only ones who can hold contrary/opposites together.

One non-dual seer was Augustine

who perceived that God is

merciful yet just

ancient yet new

hidden yet present.

There is an ambiance of

light/peace/wisdom

around great sages –

even when they are not present

their life and words show us the way.

Similar to Augustine

the author of the Cloud of Unknowing

was not anti-intellectual

but believed reason is limited:

God cannot be known by thought –

only by love.

Reason by itself alone would give us

God as a loveless clock-maker

who winds up the universe like a toy

and lets it run on its own till it runs out

in which case all revelation/ scripture/prophecy

are irrelevant.

The ‘dialectic of progress’ is ongoing

gains and losses – one era sees and solves

the problems of the previous era

but then has its own problems

but there is a net gain

and therefore a direction to evolution.

God is the direction.

If rational people equate holiness

with perfection – for this is what reason dictates –

these ‘perfect people’ would not see

their shadow, and project it onto others.

The more shadow is repressed

the more it grows, becomes autonomous

and dangerous.

If you haven’t worked through

your personal complexes then repressed conflict

between say, sex and religion, prevents you

from getting to the transcendental level.

We need to feel the fear

and make it our companion, not our enemy.

Beyond the shadow

Vedanta Hinduism warns:

If you think your Higher Self is God

and you are not your body

you won’t get out of the way

of a charging elephant –

you will be crushed.

It is important to know your place.

In Islam, beneath Allah

are three created intelligences:

angels made of light

jinn (spirits) made of fire

humans made of dust.

Many jinn have accepted the True Faith

and are good. The bad jinn

work with the fallen angels

particularly Iblis, chief of the fallen angels.

In countering the chief of the fallen angels, Satan

Jesus tried to move everyone to the good

to wake us up

out of our hypnotic cultural trance/collective sleepwalking

by countercultural actions/teachings/parables –

tools for turning the status quo upside down.

Jesus was often abrasive with hypocrites –

his crucifixion was not without cause

nor was it just personal –

it holds global/cosmic implications

which we usually overlook

just as we overlook our present global/cosmic disaster.

The crucifixion of Christ and of the planet

always need serious theological reflection:

the mission of Christianity and all religions now must be

to save the world

from climate change.

CONTEMPLATION/CONVERSION/LIBERATION

Hindus and Muslims revering Jesus

should wake-up theologians –

people outside the institutional church

speaking contemplatively about the gospels

should quell the fear

of those who are different from us

that has fuelled racism into

universal homicidal paranoia.

“The contemplative work of love

by itself will eventually heal you

of all the roots of sin.” – Cloud of Unknowing

As we grow in divine intimacy through contemplation

our heart is liberated from sin and temptation.

“Moral conversion is purification

of your real motives so you seek the

true/objective/common good

with no ego-attachment.

Religious conversion means being possessed

by an otherworldly love for all things –

attending church/believing creeds/reading scripture

are all good, but not the essence

of genuine religious conversion.” – Bernard Lonergan

Men convert less easily than women

because of their toxic view of masculinity –

spirituality is for wimps.

The truth is you do not create

or work your way up to your True Self –

you don’t climb up to it

you fall into it

by the grace of Infinite Mercy.

Spiritual men thus have nothing to brag about

since we humans have only finite freedom –

we are free to make decisions

but limited by existential circumstances

within which we must work out our destiny.

Individualists who believe your Higher Self

makes you totally responsible for everything

that happens to you through your choices –

these “rugged ones” have no awareness

of systemic sin and evil

in state and religion.

State and religion are the two arms of God

and should not be confused –

religion is not meant to be the master or servant

of the state, but its conscience.

Thank God we live in a secular state

where freedom of thought is permitted

even though the state is giving way

to the whole planet through ecological oneness

and ecology is leading the way to heaven

which is paradise on Earth:

earthly goods used only for the attainment

of heavenly goods

for that is their purpose and our destiny.

Spirit underlies the rational denial of mythic gods

because reason has more depth than myth –

reason affirms Spirit’s greater potential shown in

gay/feminist/black/indigenous/ecological movements

that dare to speak truth to

straight/masculine/white/political power.

Many churches do not condemn atheism

but call for respectful dialogue

and only ask atheists to have an open mind

and honor the rights of believers –

and believers to have an open mind

and respect atheists.

Contemplation helps us see our oneness –

our complicity with atheists in evil

and our complicity with atheists in good.

Contemplation converts and liberates us from

our collective/systemic sin

and advances

our collective/systemic good.

THE INTIMACY OF GOD

Atheists believe we cannot make

any absolute statements about God

so the word ‘God’ is meaningless

and science can explain everything

so God is unnecessary.

Modernity separated the big three:

art, morals, and science

but its big mistake

was leaving out the big fourth:

religion, which draws the big three together –

there was no cohesion

so science dominated art and morals

and became the new religion of intellectuals.

But science and technology have no room

for the human person –

by kicking humans out of world center

into a vast impersonal universe

they kicked God out too –

they not only displaced God

they displaced humans

as God’s image.

What satisfies the soul is not knowing all

scientific knowledge

but doing the purpose

for which we were created: to love God.

The spiritual exercises of Ignatius of Loyola

are thus far more important

than any science textbook.

Catholic theology has always been pro-science

and insisted that faith and reason

are not opposites or enemies –

if you cannot give reasons for your faith

you become extremely devout

but an irrational/dangerous fundamentalist

who loves God

and blows people to Kingdom-Come.

Christians should be pro-science and pro-evolution

since evolution constantly drives toward

spiritual transcendence –

higher/more inclusive/more conscious orders

from atoms to senses to neocortex.

The Hindu Dance of Creation is all around:

clouds streaming, trees swaying, sunlight sparkling

on water and snow.

The Incarnate God shows God’s face everywhere –

God’s passionate embodiment demands

whole new ways of relating to bodies:

healing/sexual tenderness/compassionate justice.

The masculine in us tends toward

agency/rules/individualism/visions.

The feminine in us tends toward

communion/connection/relationships/touch.

Each person needs their whole self

and sexual relations between women and men need

the energies/polarities/excitement

of opposites becoming One.

The truth is: certain desires and pleasures

are willed by God – to not accept pleasure

is to not accept our humanity

and to arrogantly oppose God’s will.

Buddhists, on the other hand

preach detachment from pleasure and pain –

their key is not doctrines

about God/self/no-self

but nonattachment to illusion –

seeing the nature of reality

living according to reality

not words or concepts.

For Celts, reality is not

immediately visible/quantifiable by science

but the invisible world of

symbol/sacrament/myth.

To Celts, you are already holy

through the free gift of the Holy Spirit

the Divine Indwelling.

Authentic religion is about subtraction

letting go of the False Self

not creating a new Holy Self

not addition – with religion less is more –

letting go of the ego

and letting the Flow

carry you.

Surrender to the Great Mystery

is the key that unlocks

all world religions.

ONE COSMIC FAMILY

In Heidegger’s concept of “Being”

God is no concept

no transcendent Creator-God

but Activity in the World

Self-Giving Presence.

All mystics agree

no magical/mythical Being 

totally transcends the world

but Infinite Consciousness 

lives in the world

in community, in peoples’

joys and sorrows.

Augustine sees

the wicked try to flee 

God

who is everywhere –

God the One

who never abandons the wicked

in their sin and sorrow.

Infinite Consciousness

is Being

“I Am” in Church

Beloved Community

born of Spirit, born of humans

Sacrament of Divine Liberation.

Although the anti-Paul 

in Timothy I and II 

wrote women into silence 

in Church

St. Thecla, second century celibate-ascetic 

Church-Leader

was more popular than the Virgin. 

Black-and-White thinking

separating soul (good) from body (bad)

made men uncomfortable

with women’s bodies and sexuality

but feminist theologians see

Wisdom as Co-Creator 

working in female (and male) bodies

creating right relationships.

Womanist theologians see

God and God’s desires

in daily intimacy, daily communion

with God’s Beloved People

the Everlasting Rock of the spiritual life.

Christians and Buddhists

mindlessly practicing rituals 

find little joy 

because human meaning 

is evolution becoming aware of itself,

Infinite Consciousness 

becoming mindful.

Like Hindu and Taoist mystics

scientists now open their eyes

and see the universe for the first time

as a unified web.

Like a spider’s web 

shimmering in the sun after rain

God catches scientists 

in the web of life.

No longer pure observers

scientists now see everything

not as objects or idols

but as icons

of Infinite Consciousness

Brother Sun, Sister Moon 

and all things 

dancing in 

One Cosmic Family.

INTERFAITH PANDEMIC LESSONS

INTERFAITH LESSONS FROM A PANDEMIC

    In Falling Upward Richard Rohr talks about the “spirituality of subtraction,” the value of letting go. The first half of life is about gaining: an education, job, home, marriage, and children. The second half is about subtraction: the kids move out, we downsize our housing, retire, start to lose our health, friends or spouses die, etc. 

    In a spirituality of subtraction, we learn four main spiritual values: humility, gratitude, simplicity/poverty and solidarity/community. A number of spiritual leaders from various traditions have noted that a crisis can speed up this process. 

    Humility. The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, stated in a talk in our city a year ago, that we all tend to be “cultural snobs,” that is, we think our culture is superior to all others. There may have been famines, wars and plagues throughout history, but this couldn’t possibly happen to us because we are so scientifically superior. 

    The point was to not get too self-assured. My priest in Winnipeg, Fr. Firmin Michiels, similarly told the congregation “Don’t pray for success, pray for strength when everything falls apart.” This is a frequent theme in every religion. “When people say ‘peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them” (I Thessalonians 5:3). COVID-19 has subtracted the illusion of our cultural-scientific omnipotence.

    Gratitude. Omar Ricci, an imam at the Islamic Center of Southern California, gave a talk titled “Thank God for the coronavirus.” Not that God caused the virus, but we should thank God for this reminder we are not in control and always depend on God. Thank God for this reminder to be grateful for all things, particularly things we take for granted like groceries and good health. Thank God for reminding us life is fragile and “we had best appreciate the miracle of life God has given us.”

    A rabbi at Chabad Lubavitch, a Hasidic community in Bozeman, Montana, noted that “Jews have always said that for every breath we take, we should thank God.” In light of the respiratory problems caused by COVID-19, “it’s become very real.”

    The Buddhist attitude of gratitude towards any crisis has been summed up in four words by the well-known monk Thich Nhat Hanh “No mud, no lotus.”

    Simplicity/Poverty. In Hinduism, the goal at the end of life is to become a “sannyasin,” a holy man or woman who renounces all the trappings of society and chooses to be reduced to nothing but his or her relationship with God. 

    All this stripping away is mirrored in Christianity in people who take religious vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Jesus himself emptied and “humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8).

    The spirituality of subtraction is about emptying the ego of self-centered pride so that God can fill you. In general, a good day for the ego (a day of gain) is a bad day for the soul, and a bad day for the ego (loss) is a good day for the soul. Subtraction is meant by God to edge the ego out, reversing Wayne Dyer’s definition of “ego:” “edging God out.”

    Solidarity/Community. Churches are experiencing what they have always given intellectual assent to – that the church is not buildings but the “ecclesia” – the community. They are reaching out online far beyond their normal congregations. Adam Ericksen, a United Church of Christ minister in Milwaukie, Oregon has noted that “the role of the church in this moment is to make sure no one falls through the cracks.”

    Beyond churches, mosques and synagogues, God’s work is going on everywhere, in every single person who makes the decision to love their neighbor as themselves: health care and grocery workers and everyone sacrificing themselves in inconvenient self-isolation in order to keep others healthy.

    This time of subtraction will hopefully continue to be a time of great spiritual growth.

Bruce Tallman is a London spiritual director, marriage preparation specialist and religious educator of adults. brucetallman.com