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Let Us Approach Him
experiencing GOD in the Newness of Life
LET US APPROACH HIM
Experiencing God in the Newness of Life
The PC Version
Copyright © 2012 by Matthew Skulicz.
All rights reserved.
Citation from John Eudes Bamberger copyright © John Eudes Bamberger. Used with permission.
William Carlos Williams, “The Red Wheelbarrow” from The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams, Vol. 1, 1909-1939, Christopher MacGowan, ed., copyright ©1938, New Directions Publishing Corp.
Scripture texts identified in this work as “NAB” are taken from the New American Bible. The Old Testament of the New American Bible © 1970 by the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD), Washington , D.C.; Revised New Testament of the New American Bible Copyright © 1986 CCD; Revised Psalms of the New American Bible Copyright © 1991 CCD. All rights reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.
Scripture texts identified in this work as “NRSV” are taken from the New Revised Standard Version Bible copyright © 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American conventions.
English translation of the Liturgy of the Hours: Psalm 95 Copyright © 1970, 1973, 1975, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. All rights reserved. In this work, unidentified Psalm Texts except Psalm 95, and texts identified as “Grail,” © The Grail (England) 1963 and published by Collins, London, 1963.
TO THE HONOR OF THE LIVING GOD
There is only one God
whose name is Truth
--from the Mool Mantra, Sikh Religion
There is one thing I ask of the Lord,
for this I long,
to live in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to savor the sweetness of the Lord.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Toward God.
Psalm 95 text; What is Here and What is Not
Chapter 2 From Self-Awareness to God-Awareness.
The Self: Awareness and Will; Characteristics of Divinity; Salvation as Experiencing God
Chapter 3 Present in the Silence.
Entering the Silence; Steps to Experiencing the Newness of Life; Surrender
Chapter 4 The Womb of God.
Existing in the Divine Consciousness
Chapter 5 The Word.
Physical and Moral Order in the Created Universe; The Final End of Everything
Chapter 6 Chaos
Emotions; the Archetypal Source; Sin; Free Choice; Opening to God
Chapter 7 Free at Last.
Vulnerability; Eradicating Distractions; Beyond the Newness of Life; Intimacy with God
Chapter 8 The LORD! The LORD!.
Seeing Who We Really Are; The Shepherd; The Realm of the Spirit of God
Chapter 9 Getting the Way Straight.
Stubbornness; Revert to What Is; Peace
Chapter 10 Divinity and Religion.
Experiencing God and the Purpose of Religion; Experience as Truth; Faith and Belief
NOTES TO THE TEXT
Dear Friend, you and I are seekers after God. It seems true that in some way or another, every person yearns for God. But there are some in every place and time who recognize their desire to come to know God, and set out on that path. It is for these seekers—for you, and for your brothers and sisters, and mine, in this project—that I write.
Seekers after God arise in every religion and belief-set. The fundamental purpose of religion appears to be to provide a way for individuals to approach God. There are other purposes as well, of course. Religion can be a foundation for social cohesion in homogeneous societies or sub-groups. And grimly, the pursuit of power also seems to be enmeshed in religion. I think here not only of the Crusader popes of the Middle Ages—and the Islamic jihadists of our time—and their pursuit of political power, but also of the spiritualists and others seeking spiritual power. Be that as it may, it is certainly true that all religions, including my Roman Catholic religion in its spiritual practice, provide their adherents with more or less effective ways to approach God.
So I offer you here the way toward God that I have found, arising from the spiritual life of my Roman Catholic religion and from my contact with the approaches to God in other religions. I am striving to experience God ever more fully in my daily spiritual endeavors, and I offer you the attitudes and the practical exercises that I have found to be effective. I hope that these will be useful to you, regardless of your religious background. My intent here is not to promote one religion or another, but to offer a way that can be used by anyone genuinely seeking to approach God.
Perhaps as you read on, you will find that you have come closer to God than I have, or that you have found more effective practices than I have. In that case, you should be writing this, and I should be learning from you! But if there is anything here that is helpful to you as you seek to approach God, then I thank God for the opportunity to offer it to you.
May God be praised in everything!
I am blessed with many people in my life who have guided me, in their individual ways, as I seek God, and who have reviewed and by their suggestions, improved what is offered in these pages. I am thankful to them all—first, to Joyce, my wife; to Fr. James Roleke, S.J., my ever-patient spiritual director; to Fr. Peter Drilling, Rector of Christ the King Seminary, for his insightful suggestions; to Murray Weinstein, my co-seeker, by way of Eastern spirituality; to Tyler Dudley, my wise teacher; to Ann Pirrera, philosopher and reliable friend; and to my brothers in the Lord, Frank Durran and Ray Drechsel.
A BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE
For the past two decades, I have had two primary spiritual interests. First, I strive daily to be drawn more fully into the Life and Truth of the Source of Everything That Is. And second, as I speak with people of different religious and spiritual backgrounds, I am always trying to find non-divisive ways, if you will, of conversing about the spiritual life—ways that do not threaten and that do not prompt defensive postures. And so, although I am a Permanent Deacon in the Roman Catholic Church, I do not write here in the name of the Catholic Church, although I do not believe that anything written here offends Catholic dogma or the ordinary mystical tradition of the Catholic Church. My purpose here is not to preach Catholicism or any religion, nor to attempt to bring my readers to accept the religious beliefs that I hold. I write here simply as a seeker after God, who continues to be guided and blessed by his religious tradition and by what I can glean from other traditions. I write as one seeker among many from all the various religions and belief-sets—the holy paths to God, which God has provided to those who will follow them to him.
Let us approach him with praise and thanksgiving. (Psalm 95:3)
As many religions have, the Roman Catholic community has a set form of daily prayer and meditation. It is called the Liturgy of the Hours. The Liturgy of the Hours is a collection of prayers for each of the five “hours” of each day. The prayers consist of selections from the Jewish Scriptures, as well as selections from the Christian Scriptures and other revered Christian writings.
The first prayer of each day in the Liturgy of the Hours, the so-called “Invitatory Psalm,” is a poem from the Jewish Scriptures, Psalm 95. This poem is a rich source for meditation on the presence of God and a great help to us as we seek to approach God. It will be our guide in this little book.
The text of Psalm 95 follows. (The numbers to the left of the text are verse numbers.)
1 Come, let us sing to the Lord
and shout with joy to the Rock who saves us.
2 Let us approach him with praise and thanksgiving
and sing joyful songs to the Lord.
3 The Lord is God, the mighty God,
the great king over all the gods.
4 He holds in his hands the depths of the earth
and the highest mountains as well.
5 He made the sea, it belongs to him,
the dry land, too, for it was formed by his hands.
6 Come, then, let us bow down and worship,
bending the knee before the Lord, our maker.
7 For he is our God and we are his people,
the flock he shepherds.
Today, listen to the voice of the Lord:
8 Do not grow stubborn, as your fathers did
in the wilderness,
9 when at Meribah and Massah they challenged me
and provoked me,
although they had seen all of my works.
10 Forty years I endured that generation.
I said, “They are a people whose hearts go astray
and they do not know my ways.”
11 So I swore in my anger,
“They shall not enter into my rest.”
* * * * *
In the chapters that follow, let us probe these words, line by line and stanza by stanza, to go where they lead us—toward God.
What You Will Find Here, and What You Won’t
What you won’t find here are proofs or demonstrations for the existence of God. As seekers after God, our basic premise is that God is. Nor will you find extensive abstract argument. Our purpose here and in our lives wholly is to enter into the presence of God more fully, to experience God more deeply, and to recognize where we are and how we got there when we do. And so, we will engage here in an experiential process of discovery. As our starting point we will examine ourselves—our experience of ourselves—and then undertake a series of practical exercises which will open us to increasingly deeper realizations of our existence within Divinity, who is all and is the source of all.
This little book, then, invites you to begin a solitary process of self-exploration and self-discipline. This process may—and hopefully, will—open interior areas that you have not examined before and experiences of Divine grace that you have not previously known. The process will not be quick, nor easy. In many places, the writing is dense and the ideas may be unfamiliar. So I ask you to undertake this work with care and determination, ready to shed light within yourself on what is hidden, and moved always by your desire to experience Divinity more intimately.
It is because the work is difficult that I have divided the chapters into bite-size pieces. My intention is that you work on each titled section until you have interiorized its content. I ask that you practice each exercise until you have achieved the stated goal of the exercise. Go slowly, and permit yourself and your perceptions to change as you approach God.
The work is solitary work. Every change that occurs will occur within you as an individual. So, you may wish to undertake this work by yourself. However, although the work is solitary and interior, you are encouraged to bring this book and its process to your prayer group or faith-sharing group or study group or meditation group. Working on the process proposed here as a group will open the door to the sharing of experiences and of methods for accomplishing the tasks. Your group will also be able to provide its individual members with encouragement and support.
Divinity and the Scriptures
We will often use the term “Divinity” rather than “God” for the one whom we seek. The term “God” can be charged with unhelpful meanings and images. The term “Divinity” is more neutral.
Moreover, when referring to Divinity or God, we will usually use the conventional pronoun “he,” as do both the Jewish and the Christian Scriptures, although we recognize that Divinity is genderless and that other pronouns, also imperfect, could be used. The Scriptures use the masculine pronoun, of course, not for its factual accuracy but for its connotative value. The Divinity which the Scriptures portray is generally characterized by fatherly or kingly qualities: strength, wisdom, mercy, control, and protective care.
This reflection leads to a very important warning. When we try to perceive who or what Divinity is, we are trying to view Divinity through the “dark glass” of our human perceptions and human experience. Divinity, however, is infinitely more than we are and is completely other than we are. Essentially, there is only one direct and explicit statement that we can make about God: God is. Beyond that, everything we attempt to say about God is metaphor, as are, for example, the scriptural portrayals of God mentioned above, which compare Divinity with human kings and fathers.
Comparisons of any kind are always limited—and of limited meaning and value—although they are the best we can do with our impoverished understanding and our inadequate language.
A word as well about the use of the term “Scriptures.” As I wrote above in the “First Words,” the spiritual discipline that I offer you here is set against the backdrop of my Roman Catholic upbringing. And so, I will occasionally make reference to passages from the “Scriptures,” by which I mean the Catholic Bible. I refer to these passages sometimes because the passage beautifully expresses the theme at hand, and sometimes as a foundation of a line of thinking—or even as evidence of the validity of an idea. I take the liberty to do this because in my understanding, the Scriptures contained in the Bible (both the Jewish Scriptures of the First Covenant, and the Christian Scriptures of the Second Covenant) are records or expressions of the spiritual experience of the writers. I understand the scripture writers to have had the experience of union with God, which we also are seeking here. And so, their writings reflect the truths of God which they themselves have experienced. These can be useful to us in pointing the way toward God.
If I had been raised in another tradition—as a Sikh or Taoist, for example—I would have been familiar enough with the scriptures of these religions to use them instead, as indicators of the way toward God.
Now, with the limitations of our understanding and our language in mind, and guided by the labors of those who have gone before us on the path toward God, let us begin this pleasant work of entering into deeper experience of Divinity, to which our hearts and our lives are always drawn. Let us set out to experience what Jesus announced from the beginning of his ministry, that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matthew 4:17, 10:7, etc.; NAB)—that is, that the sovereign God is right here, around us, in us, through us, drawing us to turn toward him and deeply enter into him. Let us accept this grace, and begin.
From Self-Awareness To God-Awareness
Come, let us sing to the Lord
and shout with joy to the Rock who saves us.
Let us approach him with praise and thanksgiving
and sing joyful songs to the Lord. (vv. 1-2)
Our whole purpose in this undertaking of seeking after God is to come into the presence of God and experience the joy to be found there. This joy is expressed in the verses above in terms of group song.
Imagine yourself singing as part of a group of people—perhaps at a birthday party, perhaps the national anthem at a game, perhaps a church hymn, perhaps a late-night song “in a midnight choir.” In all these cases, the individual singer moves out of his solitary self and merges with the larger group, to sing together. Whether the focus of the song is God or Sweet Adeline, what is important here is to recognize that the singers each emerge from the self and enter a larger presence—in this case, the group of singers.
Pause for a moment, and reflect on your experience of this.
Within the Self
We have all had this experience of emergence at one time or another. It is notable because it is not the general condition of our lives. Most of the time we live within ourselves, regardless of whether we are introverts or extroverts. We each live within the enclosure we call our “self.” The experience of the self is to be “in here.” The rest of the world is “out there.”
“In here” I experience my personal self—the feelings and emotions that I feel, the thoughts that I think, the desires I have, the decisions I make. This enclosure of the self is also the residence of the “ego voice,” that internal voice which verbalizes our thoughts and our worries. From our ego voice come the words that accompany our emotions. That ego voice is the specific location of what we commonly identify as our “self.”
Stop now, and listen to your own ego voice. That’s easy enough to do—generally, the ego voice is going all the time.
The Elastic Self
The extensiveness of the self “in here” can change with the occasion. When we “concentrate,” our self becomes very small and focused—as when we might sew on a button or tighten those small screws in our eyeglasses. When someone hurts our feelings, our self quickly contracts and shields itself—the ordinary bubble-like barrier between “in here” and “out there” becomes a thick, rubbery shell. On the other hand, when we feel in control or when we feel joyful, our self expands. For example, when we’re singing joyfully in a group, we join ourselves with the other selves in the group of singers, and we experience the “emergence” we noted above.
Getting to the Fundamentals
There is another important feature of our experience of ourselves that we don’t pay much attention to—and that is attention itself. We have been using our attention in this chapter to focus on various other aspects of our self, such as our ego voice, our inner environment in contrast with the world beyond ourselves, and so on.
So, what is attention? Trying to answer this question leads us finally to the foundational element of our selves, of our persons. That element is consciousness or awareness. We all experience awareness. Rather, we are simply aware.
We cannot observe our awareness in the same way we can look at other aspects of the self, such as our ego voice, because it is our awareness itself which does the looking. When we are aware, we are “taking in” or experiencing the events that come to our consciousness. Awareness is how we register our experience. Being aware of something means to experience it.
So awareness is the fundamental characteristic or component of our being. We know we exist because we are simply aware.
Back to the prior question: What is attention? Attention is the ability to turn and focus our awareness on a certain experience. Sometimes, attending to an experience is spontaneous. Imagine, for example, that you are sitting on a couch, reading a book. Your environment is quiet. Suddenly, the telephone on the table beside you rings loudly, startling you. In that moment, the occurrence of the loud sound immediately draws your awareness away from your book to the telephone.
On such occasions as this, an experience occurs or arises in our consciousness which is so immediately present to us that we cannot control our response to it. We can control neither the experience itself—the ringing sound comes into existence unexpectedly and without action on our part—nor can we control our attention, which snaps to consciousness of the sound instantly.
Sometimes, however, we decide to attend to an experience. We say that we “pay attention” to something. In those cases—sewing on that button, for example—we decide to direct our consciousness to the sewing. Of all the experiences occurring in our awareness (the siren on the street outside, the background traffic noises, the sound of the refrigerator motor, the squeak of the chair, the thump of our heart, the blinking of our eyes, . . .) we choose to turn our awareness to the button and attend to the sewing, ignoring or filtering out all those other experiences.
When we decide in this way to direct our consciousness to an activity, we form an intention within ourselves. That is, a decision to pay attention to a certain object or activity arises within us, and we comply with that intention by turning and focusing our consciousness on the intended object or activity. This forming of intentions is called will.
It is an open question whether and to what extent we can control this forming of intentions, that is, how “free” our will is. When we examine within ourselves the origins or sources of the individual intentions that arise within us—that is, when we try to see why we decide as we do in certain situations—we discover that our intentions arise from an interplay of forces deep within us which may or may not be clearly identifiable. It may appear to us that we form intentions—or, as we say, “make decisions”—on the basis of rational calculations of benefits versus costs, etc., and of uncompelled, “free” selection among alternatives. But this analysis of will is superficial. In reality, the motives and feelings and memories and desires and irrational impulses which give rise to our decisions to choose in a certain way—to attend to a certain course of action—are obscured from our interior view. And so, our decision-making process appears to be in large part out of our conscious control.
The whole history of ourselves—as well as forces that extend beyond our individual selves—are at play in our decision to sew on that button.
The Two Basic Components of the Self
While paying due respect to the depths to which our decision-making process extends in ourselves, we will continue to assume here that at least at those times of intentional decision-making, we can control that process. Until we return to this issue in Chapter 6, we will operate on the assumption that in some way, at least under some circumstances, we choose freely—that our will is free.
So, our examination of attention leads us to a second important component of our self—the will. When I decide to direct my attention to something, it is my will which does both the deciding and the directing. We can say that the will directs my awareness to the object it chooses. Or again that the will aims or focuses my awareness on the chosen object. Or again that my will draws my awareness to the chosen object.
Is will a “fundamental” component of the self, like awareness? That is for you to decide, if you wish. The test of a fundamental component is that we cannot look at it, that we cannot objectify it and see it as an “object” of awareness. We cannot objectify awareness itself, as we said above. So awareness is fundamental. The trick about will is that we can objectify it—we can watch it operating within us—but in order to do so, we must first will to do so. We can’t look at our “decider” until we first decide to look at it!
So, we have recognized awareness and will as two crucially important, perhaps fundamental, components of our experience of ourselves.
A Thousand Points of Consciousness
We might ask now, Where does a person’s consciousness come from? What is the source of consciousness?
We have already discerned that consciousness is a fundamental component of our lives as human beings. When we turn our attention to our own awareness as it exists from moment to moment, we might perceive that our awareness arises from within our self and extends out of our self “in here” into the world “out there.” We might understand our awareness to be something like the light which originates within a light bulb. The light emanates from within the bulb and passes through the glass of the bulb out into the room beyond the bulb. In a similar way, our awareness appears to originate within our self and to extend outward from our self, passing through the barrier that separates the self “in here” from the world “out there.”
And so, when we enter a gathering of people, as for example in a busy restaurant, we might observe the people there from the point of view we have been describing: each person, going about their business or relaxing in conversation, can be seen as an individual source of awareness, focusing his or her attention on whatever they are engaged in.
But the reality is a bit more complex than this. The fact is that we human beings share consciousness. There are times in our ordinary day-to-day lives—perhaps many times each day—when we enter shared consciousness with one or more other people.
Let’s go back to that busy restaurant. In such a setting, it is not uncommon to observe two people conversing with one another. Perhaps they are voicing their differing opinions on a political issue of the day. Perhaps they are exchanging amusing stories about their young children. Perhaps they are discussing an item of merchandise on sale at a local store.
In each situation, the participants in the conversations have turned their attention to a common focal point: the political issue, the humor of children’s behavior, the item on sale. In each situation, the participants have both opened their awareness to the same object of consciousness. One or both of them may be “learning.” The people discussing the sale, for instance, may be exchanging information previously unknown to one or both of them. The people in political discussion may be experiencing new ideas that they had never experienced before. In any case, the participants in each conversation have joined their companion in being conscious of a set of experiences that is larger or more complex or more interesting than either participant had experienced before the conversation began.
If we were to ask each participant about his or her perception of the source of their awareness during their conversation, the person would no doubt claim that their consciousness arose from within themselves—that the light of consciousness shone from within them—that they were the center or locus of their own awareness.
There is no doubt that in some way this is true. Awareness is surely channeled through the individual self, whether it has its origin there or not. So the question of the source of our awareness remains. For, if we discern that awareness passes through us, we cannot conclude from that that awareness originates within us.
You Think This is Funny?
Let’s consider another situation. As we look around our busy restaurant, we see a group of six people sitting together at a table. One of the people in the group is telling a story, and the other five are hunched over the table, straining to hear the story amid the clatter of dishes. All five of the listeners have turned their attention—each has opened his or her consciousness—to the imaginative content of the speaker’s story. At a certain point, all five burst into laughter at the same moment.
Let’s look at what has taken place here. The five listeners have each placed their attention “in the hands of” the story-teller. The story-teller has created with his words an imaginary world in which certain events happen to the characters in the story. All five of the listeners are sharing the same imaginary experience. That is, they are all sharing awareness of the same story at the same time. When the punch line comes—because they are all conscious of the same circumstances of the story—they all simultaneously have the same emotional reaction.
In the terms we used at the start of this chapter, each of the listeners to the story emerged from the isolated interior world of his or her individual self into a shared consciousness with the other listeners—a consciousness that is somehow “larger” than that of any of the individuals who were listening to the story, and—if the story was any good—the contents of the larger consciousness could not have been predicted by the listeners. Like the group of singers we began this chapter with, these listeners also experience emergence from the isolated self into a more extensive shared experience.
A Sea of Consciousness?
We return once more to surveying the situation in our busy restaurant, with this observation of the table of six still fresh in our minds. We look about and see so many people sharing consciousness with each other. Each person appears to be experiencing a consciousness “larger” than the individual consciousness they experience when they are alone. (Indeed, sharing consciousness with another person is liberating and refreshing. That’s why we do it.)
In this restaurant scene, then, we can intuit that consciousness actually pervades the whole setting—that the whole scene is immersed in a sea of consciousness—the whole place is alight with the intelligent shine of consciousness. Each person participates in a general, pervasive consciousness which fills the place like air.
Why So Many Points of Consciousness?
If it’s true that everyone in the restaurant—and therefore, everyone in the world—is immersed in a sea of consciousness, why don’t we all think the same thought at the same time, or have the same sense perception simultaneously? It’s clear from watching the various people in the restaurant that this is not the case at all. All the people are thinking and acting more or less differently. In other words, they are individuals, each with his or her own unique mental structure and modes of behavior.
The fact is that the one condition does not exclude the other. Human beings can—and we in fact do—share in the same pervasive universal consciousness, AND at the same time, we each use or experience or participate in that sea of consciousness in our own unique way.
The key to understanding how we can be individuals sharing in the same universal consciousness lies in our unique selves. Surely, the foundation of our self is consciousness, as we noted above. But the self is made up of consciousness and much more besides: our feelings and emotions, our urges and desires and fears, our memories, our thoughts and understandings. Our self is composed of all these interior phenomena. And so, as we share in the sea of consciousness, as we “drink it in” or move about through it, our self acts as a “lens,” as it were, filtering our conscious perceptions, sifting through the wealth of stimuli that awareness presents to us. Our self shapes our awareness to ourselves, especially when the ego voice is continually narrating to us an interpretation of what we’re experiencing in consciousness.
At the center of this filtering process is our will. Our will offers stimuli to our conscious attention when the stimuli are high priority to us, or our will filters the stimuli out, assigning them lower priority. It is ultimately our will which acts as the interior lens, focusing our consciousness on the sense impressions or mental stimuli which our consciousness then recognizes and tries to interpret.
Our will, then, is at the center of our self. It gives us the sense of being “here, now,” as it goes about its business of evaluating, prioritizing, and presenting to consciousness the stimuli it encounters in the present moment, from one moment to the next. In this way, our will provides us with a sense of location in space and time, and thus, with our individual physical “point of view.” In addition, our will makes the decisions about accepting the sense stimuli or mental stimuli that we receive, or filtering them out of consciousness. These actions of our will make us as individuals uniquely conscious of what we’re conscious of. Our will makes us who we are as individuals.
* * * * * * * * *
Now that we have identified the key components of the self, we can use this analysis as the starting point of our meditation. So now let us turn our attention to the opening four lines of our poem, Psalm 95, and allow the poem to lead us.
Let Us Sing To The LORD
Our intention in our spiritual pursuit is to approach the LORD. Why is “the LORD” capitalized in our excerpt from Psalm 95 which opened this chapter? Our English translation of this Hebrew psalm respects the Jewish convention about uttering the name of God. In the original Hebrew, the word translated into English as “the LORD” is the tetragrammaton, YHWH. YHWH is the sacred name by which God names himself for Moses in the Book of Exodus. Pious Jews do not utter this word. Although the tetragrammaton appears in the written text, when Jews pray the text, they pronounce the word Adonai as a substitute for the sacred name. Adonai means “the Lord,” “the Master.” Our translation here, “the LORD,” is typeset in capitals to indicate that it represents the sacred name.
Christians and other non-Jews often disregard this Jewish convention and translate the sacred name variously as “Yahweh” or “Jehovah.”
So this first stanza of the poem calls the praying community to sing to—and to approach—Divinity, called by this personal name that Divinity uses of himself for us. This personal name suggests that God is personal and conscious. However, at this point in the poem, it is not entirely clear that the God to which the psalmist refers is recognizably personal or conscious, as we human beings might understand these attributes. It is only in the final verses of the psalm (verses 7b-11) that the personal consciousness of Divinity is made evident. God speaks, and he communicates with human beings. God recognizes and evaluates the motives of human beings. And God is responsive to human behavior toward him. In possessing judgment and in planning his responses, God is characterized as conscious. God attends to human behavior, interprets human actions, and foresees his response. (As an aside here, these actions also depict God as possessing will.)
In addition, in addressing himself in language to human beings, and particularly, in God’s use of the pronoun I, God is characterized as personal.
So, the writer of our psalm discerns that Divinity is conscious and personal, and depicts God in these ways. We too recognize God as having these characteristics, although seemingly in ways beyond the scope of our human experience. We recognize the pervasive, universal consciousness which pervades everything in our experience and in which we all share to be the Divine Consciousness—the heavens-wide Consciousness of God. And second, our ability as human persons to experience and to participate in this Divine Consciousness and in the beauties that flow from it prompts us to respond to this Consciousness and its beauty as we do to one another, with our feelings, with love and pleasure. These are the responses that we make to other persons who elicit them. And so, we conclude that we respond to the Divine Consciousness and to Divinity’s apparent treatment of us as to a person, in the way that we reserve for persons. We respond to a God who is somehow personal, though in a way that is inscrutable and beyond our human ken.
In the current verses of the psalm, we are called to approach this personal, conscious God. That, indeed, is our desire and the goal of our seeking.
* * * * * * *
Now, the revealed personal name of God, YHWH, is interpreted in Exodus 3:14 and translated as “I am who am” (NAB.) God is the one who exists. All existence, all being, every creature that is, originates in God and flows from God.
God is not “a being.” God is not one being among many. God is “being” in itself. The being—the existence—of every existing creature is God. And so, the whole universe of creatures, from ants to galaxies, lies within the existence which God is. They and we and everything are filled with the existing God, the God who is existence.
Pause for a moment now and grasp fully this crucial understanding. God is “being” itself. God is the existence of all things.
God is the one who exists. To say this is to say there is just one source of existence. God is the (only) One who is. The existence of all things proceeds from the One God. Nothing exists other than from God.
Moreover, as we discerned above, God is conscious. Divinity, then, is Conscious Being.
Who Am I Again?
At this point we can ask: What is the relationship between the consciousness of God and my personal consciousness? We have already recognized that a universal “sea” of consciousness pervades us and our environment. We humans participate in it and benefit from it. This pervasive consciousness is the ultimate source of our individual consciousness. We see now that this sea of consciousness is the universe-wide Divine Consciousness. Since God is the source of everything that exists, including the “sea” of consciousness, our personal consciousness arises in and flows from the consciousness of God.
Consciousness arises in the God in whom we exist and have our being. This consciousness flows out from God and is channeled through each of us in a unique way out into the world around us.
In addition, as we also noted above, Divinity wills. Just as our consciousness arises in the Divine Consciousness, so also our personal will originates in the will of God, who is the source of everything that exists. We are able to choose and decide because God has will. God chooses and decides.
However, as we will see shortly, what we choose and decide does not always flow from God nor match what God would choose for us.
Since our intention is to approach God, how do we do this? Simply put: We approach God—we experience God—to the extent that our personal awareness, isolated within our personal self, frees itself and merges with God’s awareness, and similarly, our will merges with God’s will.
This is in truth a matter of self-perception and self-definition. There is nothing trapping our personal awareness within ourselves except ourselves. Before we come to know this, we operate as though our awareness and our will were truly isolated within us. We see ourselves in this way, and because we trap our faculties in this way, this isolation of awareness and will is actually true of us. When we come to understand that we can be free and then set about to open the self which we had previously held closed, we actually become free. Our isolation and entrapment—and our openness and freedom—are exclusively matters of perception and self-definition.
And so, this freeing of our awareness and will is a work that we can accomplish. By our efforts (in the context of God’s grace) we can open ourselves and merge our awareness and will with the Divine Awareness and the Divine Will.
This merging of “mind and heart” with God appears to be the goal of all religious practice and spiritual discipline. Entering into this intense, all-enveloping relationship with God seems to be the goal of every seeker, regardless of the religion or spiritual path the seeker uses to get there. Coming into the presence of God, participating consciously in Divine Awareness, merging into intimate relationship with God—this is the substance and the essential meaning of the term salvation.
God is enduring Being. God is the “being” of all the things that are. The “existence” which characterizes each thing that is, is unchanging—each thing or person is, and continues to be—even though the composition or characteristics of the thing change over time. The “being” or “existence” of every object is an enduring fact. For material objects, this is true at least until the object decomposes completely, deteriorates into something else (such as ash or soil), and “ceases to exist.” At that point, the thing itself no longer has “being,” but the soil or ash that the thing deteriorates into comes into existence and continues to exist.
Here is the essential point: We can seek to simply and consciously participate in this existence of things. We can quietly recognize the simple being of ourselves and of what exists around us. When we do so, we recognize God in the act of giving existence to us and what exists around us. That is, we enter salvation.
This is the meaning of the phrase “the Rock who saves us” in our current excerpt from Psalm 95. God is enduring Being—that is the Rock. Our recognition of this—our simple conscious participation in the being of God—is our salvation.
When we share in God’s being who God is, we share in the intimate relationship with God which we call salvation.
Let’s approach this from another viewpoint. As we said above, the Divine Awareness pervades all creation. We intuit that God’s consciousness infuses all things around us, and the space between all things. Just as the air we breathe fills us and the spaces around us, in a similar way, God’s awareness silently floods everything that is. This Divine Awareness is on-going and unchanging.
We can recognize this on-going, silent awareness and join with it. When we do, we enter the fundamental relationship with God—our awareness merges into God’s awareness. This joining is salvation. Again, this is the meaning of “the Rock who saves us.”
One final reflection: We cannot achieve this experience of God by willing it. This relationship with God called salvation has its source in God. It is God who invites us into relationship with him. God calls us to salvation.
Salvation, then, is a free gift from God. We cannot earn it, merit it, or achieve it in any way. Salvation is simply God loving us and inviting us to love him in return.
However, God does not enter into this intimate relationship with us without our desiring and intending that relationship. We must be seekers after God. And when we seek, God (in God’s own time) allows himself to be found.
What Prevents Us From Approaching God?
What prevents us from approaching God is us. The Jewish psalmist writes:
In guilt I was born;
A sinner was I conceived. (Psalm 51:5)
Our natural state—our “default” state, as the computerists say—is to remain “in here,” to isolate ourselves in our interior environment, rather than to open ourselves to this salvific relationship with Divinity.
Our default state is sin. Closed to God.
This state of closure is so natural to us that we do not see the danger in it. We remain in it as we encounter the events of our life. We “keep our guard up.” And so, we come to rely on our own personal resources to deal with our life-situations. We ignore the Divine in our moment-by-moment experiences. We develop self-centered ways of responding to circumstances. However, as the poet suggests in Psalm 51:5, cited above, our own resources are limited and inadequate, and worse, poorly controlled. Living within ourselves, we are apt—by default—to serve ourselves, to fall victim to our own emotions, to become enslaved to addictive forces which seem to be—and are—stronger than ourselves: lust, greed, envy, arrogance, anger, power-seeking, and so on.
These temptations lure us to themselves and away from union with the Divine. When they arise in us, they “swamp” us, they submerge us in their power, they overwhelm us—all these images express the experience of being caught helpless in a tidal flow—an undertow—of feeling or emotion. We either yield to this tidal flow of feeling and let it carry us away with it into a dark place of brooding or anguish—or if we remember during it to try to control ourselves, we thrash about within it, trying to fight the beast, trying to get to the surface to breathe.
Perhaps in the fight we call upon God for strength, but it is always in the context of recognizing that the beast is more powerful than we are. We are already enthralled.
* * * * * * * * * *
Even when we believe our personal resources to be adequate to meet our life-circumstances, danger still arises. For as we go on dealing with our situations from within ourselves, we spontaneously react to life’s assaults on us by building up “defenses,” protective “layers,” as it were, of resistance to the assaults of the world “out there.” Over time, this protective “skin” between our inner selves and the outer world grows thicker and tougher. “Out there” comes to be seen as populated by enemies and dangers, while “in here” becomes a dark, defensive place, crammed with our collection of hurts, insults, angers, and aggressions. The thickening skin in between is a barrier to union with the Divine.
The Story of My Self
When we examine this enclosure of the self, in which we so naturally and ordinarily live our lives, we find that at its center is the ego voice. The ego voice is a natural phenomenon, and it has a legitimate place and function. It is the faculty we use to give God praise and thanksgiving in prayer and song and chant. It articulates our thoughts and gives voice to our feelings and emotions. It is an essential tool in understanding our experiences and in penetrating isolation to communicate with others. But it is almost always misused, over-used.
Essentially, the ego voice is a story-teller. In most people it operates non-stop, continuously telling me the story of myself and the story of the world around me, as I experience it. The ego voice tells me the story of who I am (“I look good in this,” “I don’t like liver and onions,” “I know more than he does about this”) and how to respond to life-situations. (Emotions are how I react to life-events. The ego voice plans out the story of how I will intentionally respond to life-events.)
In other words, the ego voice explains my experience to me. It narrates to me the story of my encounters with my life-circumstances—with those experiences which please me, and with the assaults which my life-situation makes upon me, as discussed in the section just above. The ego voice identifies my enemies, broods over what they have done to me, and incubates my responses, my revenge.
Your ego voice is at this very moment telling you the story of the words on this page.
And the ego voice worries: it frets repetitively about a threatening circumstance—telling the story again and again—and cycling through its fearful outcomes.
Stop, listen within, and hear your ego voice working.
* * * * * * *
Because this voice continuously tells us the story of who we are and what is or will be happening around us, we believe this voice and the story it tells to be “myself.” We spontaneously identify ourselves with the ego voice to such an extent that if someone were to suggest to us that we should stop that inner voice—that we should kill it—we would scoff, and reject that foolishness, for fear that if we ever did strangle that inner voice, we would cease to exist.
But that is exactly what we must do. We must suspend the ego voice, cause it to cease, because God is found in the interior silence beyond that chattering voice.
The Trappist hermit, John Eudes Bamberger, on the basis of his many years of prayer in solitude, teaches us that we who seek God must enter the interior silence:
The truth is that we can find lasting satisfaction only in the service of that Person who alone can fill the measure of our radical solitude, and who is accessible only in silence.
Consider Psalm 36, which begins (in the Grail translation): “Sin speaks to the sinner in the depths of his heart.” In that poem, the misdeeds of the person who is separated from God all occur in the ego voice: “Sin speaks to the sinner,” “he so flatters himself in his mind,” “in his mouth are mischief and deceit,” “he plots the defeat of goodness.” Though the motives for sin lie elsewhere—in the emotions, perhaps; finally in the will—the ego voice is the incubator for the misdeeds.
On the other hand, according to the same psalm, the actions of the just person, who accepts and unites himself with God’s loving care, are portrayed as wordless. Those who are just “find refuge in the shelter of your wings. They feast on the riches of your house; they drink from the stream of your delights,” “in your light we see light.” In the psalm, the fruits of salvation are enjoyed in a direct, active relationship with God, conducted in spiritual silence.
Present in the Silence
The Lord is God, the mighty God,
the great king over all the gods. (v.3)
We need to begin this chapter with some historical background for this verse. At the time this psalm was written, the Israelites believed that God had assigned each nation its own deity and had specifically chosen Israel as God’s own nation—that is, Divinity chose to be the God of Israel. This is clear in the following passage:
When the Most High assigned the nations their heritage,
when he parceled out the descendants of Adam,
He set up the boundaries of the peoples
after the number of the sons of God;
while the LORD’s own portion was Jacob,
His hereditary share was Israel. (Deuteronomy 32:8-9; NAB)
The Israelites believed that since YHWH is the creator of all the world, he was supremely powerful and held these other deities in his sway. Hence, YHWH was the “great king over all the gods.”
The God we seek is, of course, this God. We needn’t attend further here to these other beings.
Where is Our God? (See Psalm 42:4.)
Jesus, the great teacher who reveals God to us, tells us that “God is spirit” (John 4:24; NRSV). This spirit of God—who is Being itself—pervades all things that are. It penetrates every object. It fills all the space between objects. Every person is immersed in it. The spirit of God is simply everywhere.
Jesus tells us as much when he says, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matthew 4:17, etc.; NAB) The place where God rules as king—the place where his spirit fills all, the place where one can enter and approach and experience the God of all—is right here! Within your reach! The saving relationship with the living God is immediately open to you. God is willing—he has already arrived, as it were. It is only for us to turn our hearts and open our eyes, to come into the kingdom of God.
An Action of Grace
It is, of course, God who is king, not we. It is not our decision which allows us entry into the kingdom of God. It is God’s decision. At some point in every person’s life, that person is called to approach Divinity. God calls each of us into salvation, into the experience of him. He calls us to consciously and intentionally participate in his loving heart. It is God who gives us the ability to do this.
It is for us, then, to work actively to prepare ourselves to receive the grace of entry into the kingdom of God. Let us continue to do so right now.
The story goes that a reporter was interviewing Mother Theresa of Calcutta. In the course of the interview, he asked her what she said to God when she prayed. Mother Theresa answered, “I don’t say anything. I listen to God.” The reporter asked, “And when you listen, what does God say to you?” Mother Theresa replied, “God says nothing. He listens as well.”
The lesson here is that the most profound relationship with God is conducted in the silence of the heart. It is in interior silence that one approaches God.
How can we come into this silence when the ego voice is yakking away all the time? We silence the ego voice by ceasing to identify ourselves with it. I shut my ego voice up by seeing that it is not me. I am something other than it.
The Cure for the Common Ego Voice
At this moment, I am holding in my right hand the pen I am writing with. I stop and look at the pen. I ask, Where am I in my relationship with this pen? Is this pen me? The answer, of course, is No. This answer is true not because I can put the pen away and it would no longer be associated with my body. That’s not the reason. The pen is not me for a different reason. The pen is not me because I am what is looking at the pen. I am the observer. The pen is the object I am observing.
Try this yourself. Pick up an object and observe it. Notice—feel—who is doing the observing and what is being observed. Put the object down and look at it. Look at a different object. No matter what you look at, the source of the looking is always the same. It is you. You are where the observing is occurring or coming from.
So, then, in reality, what you and I each call “I” or “myself” is the awareness that observes other things that are not “I.”
The actual seat or center of the self is this awareness.
Next, I put the pen down. I notice now that my right hand is empty. I look at my hand and ask, “Is this hand me?” It’s true that I can control it. It’s true that it’s attached to the rest of my body, which contains my eyes, through which I am observing my hand. But is this hand me?
The answer, of course, is No for the same reason as above. My hand is the object I am observing. The hand is not “I.” Rather, the awareness or consciousness or attention with which I am observing the hand—that is “I.”
I can imagine that in some accident, the hand could be severed from my arm. Nonetheless, I would stay “I” even without the hand. It’s true that I would not be able to do what I can do now, having the hand. But “I” would still continue to exist, because I am simply the awareness that, so to speak, issues from me.
I am simply this awareness, even though when I look within, I cannot identify any source of this awareness. It is simply there, filling me, flowing from me to observe what is around me.
Next, listen to your heart beating. You might want to put your fingers on your chest over your heart to “listen-feel” the beating. Simply listen to it. (There’s a comfort in that rhythmic sound that we don’t often pay enough attention to.)
Notice again that the internal sound of rhythmic beating is not you, although it is coming from deep within your body. Rather, you are the “I” that is observing—listening to—the sound.
Finally, turn your attention within and observe your ego voice talking away. Listen to it. What is it saying? Notice yourself listening to it. Notice that within you there are two processes occurring: first, your ego voice is chattering away, and second, at the same time your awareness is observing—listening to—that voice.
So, now you are observing the sound of your ego voice. Now you can ask the same question we have been asking all along: Is the thing I am observing me? Is this ego voice me? The answer, of course, is No. Since I can observe the ego voice, it is not me. I am what is observing the ego voice. I am the awareness that is paying attention to that ego voice chattering away.
Like a Child, Resting in its Mother’s Arms (See Psalm 131:2.)
In these exercises, you have come to recognize your “self” as the awareness that observes the events occurring around you and within you.
In particular, you have observed your ego voice at work within you, and you have recognized that that ego voice is not you. So, if you were to let it stop in you for a while, you would not be damaged because that ego voice is not you. The authentic you—that awareness which observes your interior and exterior environment—would remain intact. Silencing your ego voice would do no harm to you. More importantly, silencing your ego voice will open you to experience the Divine.
So let us proceed. Use one of the following ways to sideline your ego voice. In either of the ways, remember to be gentle with yourself. What you are attempting to do is subtle. Let things happen calmly and at their own pace within you. The process requires focus and relaxation, and may take some time to achieve the goal. Remember that all this is an action of God’s grace. Be patient. Follow the instructions as best you can, as the way of preparing yourself, and then wait for the grace.
1. STOP THE VOICE. Sit and observe the ego voice within you. Intend to “exert a bit of pressure” on it, so that it stops. Be patient. Wait for it to begin to weaken and eventually stop.
2. IGNORE THE VOICE. Sit and observe the ego voice within you. At the same time, try to observe areas of silence—perhaps bits of silence—“around” the ego voice, in its environment. Perhaps you will find bits of silence in the ego voice itself, between the words or sentences, in pauses. Allow yourself to go into those areas of silence. At first, they may be small and evaporate quickly. But larger areas of silence will come. Enter those. You will experience the ego voice fade in intensity as you pay attention to the silence. The ego voice will continue to talk, but as you attend to the silence more and more, the ego voice will decrease in dominance and retire to the background.
Newness of Life
When your ego voice ceases to dominate your consciousness, your essential awareness continues. In the absence of the domination of the ego voice, you experience a more intense awareness of the environment around you. In the silence, colors are more vivid, objects silently proclaim themselves as existing—they become so much more themselves. It is as though some barrier between you and your environment has dissolved. It is as though you are no longer simply observing what is around you. Rather, you are participating in the existence of what is around you.
Everything is fresh and vivid in the silence. Joined with the Divine Consciousness, you are experiencing what the ancient Christian writer, Paul of Tarsus, calls “newness of life” (Romans 6:4; NAB, NRSV).
This experience of the Newness of Life occurs in the present moment. Divinity, and we, and all creation exist simply in the present moment. For us, the past is an artifact of the ego voice, which assembles memories into a linear story, and the future is a story which the ego voice tells us and decorates for us with imaginings.
The present moment—the on-going Eternal Now—contains all that exists. It is all that exists.
It is in the silence of the present moment, populated by a creation so clear and vivid, that we experience Divinity.
Silence your ego voice and go to the Newness of Life often. It is a grace. Receive it and use it, with thanksgiving and joy.
Go into an enclosed space (a room, a car, …) and sit down and relax. Look around and notice the details of where you are. Notice your relationship with the space you are sitting in. Is the room “out there”? Do you experience the room as though you are looking out at it from “in here,” from inside yourself? Are you looking at the details of the room as objects “out there,” different from yourself or beyond yourself?
If your answer to these questions is Yes, then you are in your ego self. You are perceiving your environment from “in here” and looking through the invisible barrier that separates you from the world “out there.”
In order to join with the Divine, you must forego this self-containment and pass out of it into the company of the other beings or objects existing with you in your present environment. This entails a fresh realization of where you are. This fresh realization will come with a dedicated intention to join the Divine, and with your patient practice. This realization may dawn slowly on you, or it may flash upon your awareness momentarily and afterward return only sporadically in spite of your frequent attempts to regain it.
So, to move out of “in here” into “out there,” practice the following remedies often and patiently.
The first remedy: As you sit in the enclosed space you have chosen, in your feelings extend yourself out to the ceiling or roof above you. Become aware of the space—the air—which fills the room beneath the ceiling. Slowly let that space, that air, become important. Slowly look around at the other objects in the room. Recognize that you are simply one of the objects existing in that space of air that fills the room. When you do this, you are extending your attention outward into the space that fills the room, and you become that space. When this happens, the ceiling, the walls, the objects in the room, the space of air itself, take on a bold existence of their own. Notice that your ego voice has stopped. You have come into the presence of God in the Eternal Now. You are experiencing the fresh and clear Newness of Life.
Another remedy: Sit down. Pick up a small object (say, a bud vase with a flower in it—or without the flower—it doesn’t matter). Place the object in front of you, at arm’s length from you. Look at it. No need to describe it to yourself. No need to name it. No need to use words at all. Simply watch it existing. Simply stay with it as it exists. Let it become important to you. Love it. Extend yourself to it. Pass through the blur between you and it. Let it clarify itself before you. Consider that in its simplicity, it loves you. It is declaring itself to you wordlessly. It boldly stands before you, simply existing, its colors and details pronouncing themselves so clearly.
Come into the simple presence of that object. Appreciate the object in its existing. Receive its simple declaration of its own vivid existence. You and it share the space between the two of you.
You have come into the presence of the God who fills everything with existence. You are in the on-going present moment. Held in the beauty of the object you have engaged, you have come into the reality of things. Everything is simple and quiet and true. Notice that your ego voice has ceased.
This is the experience of being, as it is depicted in Psalm 19:2-5 (NRSV).
The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech,
and night to night declares knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words;
their voice is not heard;
Yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
The poet tries to capture the wordless articulateness of all created objects, as they declare their own existence. This existence manifests the glory of God. It is as though their very existence “sings” the praise of God.
This experience of the intensity of existing things is also articulated by many of the poets of our time, as for example by William Carlos Williams (“The Red Wheelbarrow”):
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
The meaning of the first four words? The grace simply to see the beauty of ordinary objects existing, declaring themselves as they are, is a fundamental value of human life. It is our approach to God.
Joy in the Loveliness of God (See Psalm 84:1,4.)
In the silence of the on-going present moment, filled with existing things in their clarity and beauty and vividness, we encounter Divinity. When the hurly-burly of our minds pauses and we enter the peaceful stillness, we recognize that the membrane that held us in, that separates “in here” from “out there,” has dissolved, and our awareness has flowed out of “in here” into “out there.” Our awareness has flowed into a larger awareness that permeates everything around us. That larger awareness encompasses all the objects around us. It fills the air. And it receives our awareness as we flow into it. That larger awareness is the spirit of God, filling all things with existence, recognizing everything—silent, still, unchanging.
When we surrender our ego voice, our ego self, to God and become simple and pure, conscious just of the present moment as it continuously comes to be—Divinity shares with us the awareness of his presence and the beautiful joy he takes in his creation. Again, the Psalmist sings: “O taste and see that the LORD is good” (Psalm 34:8; NRSV).
Living thus in the presence of Divinity in the present moment is the Kingdom of God to which we are called. When we approach God in this way, we enter his “house,” we come into intimate awareness of him and into familial comfort in his presence. And in doing so, we unite our hearts in joy with those others who have done likewise. With the Psalmist we sing: “I rejoiced when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD.’” (Psalm 122:1; NAB), and “They are happy, who dwell in your house, for ever singing your praise” (Psalm 84:4).
The Moment of Decision
When we approach the Lord, it is not play. He gives us the gift of Newness of Life as an invitation—an invitation to dedicate ourselves to him. As long as we live entirely in the ego self, we are prisoners of it, enslaved to its whims and compulsions. When we objectify our egos and pass beyond them into the silence in which we experience the presence of God, we come to recognize that there are two ways of life which offer themselves to us: my way—the way of the ego; and the way of Divinity—living in surrender to God as God causes all things and all events to come into being. Put simply, we have a choice—and we must decide: I am boss, or God is boss.
The life of surrender to God is a life of discernment—a life of perceiving where God is leading us—what Divinity is offering us next—and of accepting that, cooperating with it. It is a life of doing the next right thing.
At some point in time as we seek to approach God, we encounter this decision, and eventually we must finally decide for God if we are to continue on into a life in God.
For me, the decision was offered as I waited in my car at a red light on a summer afternoon. The moment arose: “Will I surrender to the way of God?” I recognized that this was a singular moment of life-decision. My heart turned and went toward God.
I have never regretted that moment.
The Womb of God
He holds in his hands the depths of the earth. (v. 4a)
This verse of Psalm 95 and the next seem simple enough. The poet has just proclaimed that YHWH is “the mighty God, the great king over all the gods.” Now, not surprisingly, he says in effect that YHWH has power and control over everything in creation. He does this by citing contrasting extremes—the depths of the earth and the highest mountains; the oceans and the desert lands. Truly so. But these verses are also especially rich in themselves and open us to the nature of Divinity and our relationship with Divinity.
So, let us probe the four statements in these verses in the next four chapters. And in this chapter, let us reflect on this first of the four statements: “You hold in your hands the depths of the earth.” The phrase, “the depths of the earth,” prompts us to recall the same phrase in Psalm 139. Psalm 139 praises the wisdom of God in creating the wonders of the human person. Verses 13-15 sing:
You formed my inmost being;
you knit me in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, so wonderfully you made me;
wonderful are your works!
My very self you knew;
my bones were not hidden from you,
When I was being made in secret,
fashioned as in the depths of the earth. (NAB)
The note in the New American Bible on this final verse says: “The depths of the earth: figurative language for the womb, stressing the hidden and mysterious operations that occur there.”
The phrase “the depths of the earth” in Psalm 95, then, leads us to reflect on the creative power of Divinity. We have already affirmed that the spirit of God abides permanently in all things—the Divine Consciousness pervades all that exists. Now our current verse asserts that the Divine Consciousness is the womb of all things. It is the Divine Consciousness that brings all things to exist, that sustains all things in existence from moment to moment.
The Divine Consciousness not only pervades the universe; the universe exists within the Divine Consciousness and is sustained in existence within it.
Divinity brings into existence within its Divine Consciousness everything that is.
Nothing exists outside of God. Everything exists within God, within the consciousness of God.
A Popular Misconception
The opening book of the Jewish Scriptures, Book of Genesis, begins, “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters.” When we read this, we might mistakenly think that the material world which God created exists “someplace other” than God. The popular notion that God is “in heaven”—a place different from “on earth” where we live, and the place to which we go when we “leave this world”—reflects this idea that the world is someplace other than where God is. (Refer, for example, to Robert Browning’s “God’s in his heaven—/All’s right with the world.” Pippa Passes, 1841.)
Our popular notion is that God exists elsewhere from our earth but observes it and intervenes in it when he cares to. The writer of Psalm 18 speaks from the same viewpoint:
In my distress I called out: LORD!
I cried out to my God.
From his temple he heard my voice;
my cry reached his ears. . . .
He parted the heavens and came down,
a dark cloud under his feet. . . .
He reached down from on high and seized me;
drew me out of the deep waters. . . .
He set me free in the open;
he rescued me because he loves me. (vv. 7, 10, 17, 20; NAB)
The Misconception Corrected
Our experience contradicts this misconception. Our experience of the presence of God in the things that exist convinces us that Divinity is intimately involved in existence itself. We intuit, then, that what exists, exists within the spirit of God. Or alternatively, we recognize the presence of God in what is, and we approach him there.
Either way, it is not the case the God is “up there” and the world is “over here,” and that God watches what’s going on “over here” and reaches his hand into our existence when necessary.
What is the case is that all things come into existence—and are maintained in existence—within God. The world exists simply within the loving heart of God. The universe has no independent existence. We and all things exist exclusively within the loving heart of God.
God is the source of all existence, and everything that exists, exists within God.
A weak, but perhaps suggestive, analogy in our human experience is our imagination. Imagine a single piece of cooked asparagus lying on a white dinner plate. For as long as you continue to will that image to remain in your imagination, the asparagus and the plate can both be said to “exist” there.
In some analogous way, Divinity creates the world within the Divine Consciousness. In the case of Divinity, there is no separation between will and self, as there is with us. The just and loving God always wills what is just and loving, because justice and love are the nature of God. God never has to decide what the right thing to do is. The most just and loving alternative always arises within the Divine Will, and the Divine Will always presents that alternative to the Divine Consciousness, that is, the Divine Will always prompts that the most appropriate person or object or event or circumstance comes into being. Instantaneously, when the Divine Consciousness becomes aware of what is being prompted by the Divine Will, that person or object or event or circumstance comes into being. It comes into being in the consciousness of God. When that occurs, we say that it was “created” by God. And because of the on-going love that Divinity has for all it creates, the person or object or event or circumstance continues to be sustained in being in the Divine Consciousness through the course of time, for a greater or lesser duration.
The Book of Genesis expresses this truth as creation by a word: “Then God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light” (1:3; NAB. Emphasis added.)
This passage declares that God brings the world into being within himself in a way analogous to the way in which we bring words or images into being in our minds.
So, the reason we can approach God and recognize the spirit of God pervading all things that exist is that we and all things exist within the spirit of God.
The Gift of Solidity
Jesus teaches that “God is spirit” (John 4:24; NRSV). Now, since spirit is immaterial and incorporeal—that is, since spirit contains no matter—then how can the material world, the world of rock-hard things, exist wholly within the spirit of God?
The answer, of course, is that matter is not in reality “rock-hard.” The experience of solidity in the material world is a gift to us from God. God gives us this gift because we humans learn and experience by means of our senses. And so that our senses may be grounded in what they need to operate effectively, Divinity gives us this gift of solidity, in order to manifest himself to us in his glory and to call us to recognize him in the Newness of Life.
We are, in fact, insubstantial things, living in the generous illusion of solidity. We are in essence—in truth—beings made entirely of the energy of God’s loving spirit. This energy is the energy of God’s will. God wills each of us to exist. In the energy of that act of God’s will, we exist.
We exist as the result of God’s on-going will that we exist.
All solidity melts away: I am simply your willing that I be.
The Prophet Einstein
Our science testifies to this truth about the reality of the material world. Early in the Twentieth Century, the physicist Albert Einstein concluded that there is a direct relationship between matter and energy—that matter is directly convertible into energy. He expressed this relationship in his famous equation, e = mc2. This equation says specifically that a little bit of matter or “mass” (m) is equivalent to a great deal of energy (e). The ratio of energy to matter is expressed by the term c2, which is the very large number, 9 x 1016. In other words, 1 unit of matter is equivalent to 90,000,000,000,000,000 units of energy.
Let us put the magnitude of these numbers aside and attend to the great insight here. The insight is this: All matter is fundamentally energy.
What we take to be solid objects are in their essence simply energy.
As our scientists today continue to strive to observe smaller and smaller components of our physical universe—sub-atomic particles—they find that at the horizon of their ability to observe, these tiny entities slip back and forth between being particles (matter) and being waves (energy). At the limits of our ability to observe, matter and energy co-mingle. We might conclude that on this boundary, we are observing created matter arising from the energy of the spirit of God.
One Becomes Many
God is one, whole, pure, conscious, personal, and spiritual. Within this God arises all that is. God is one and whole, and needs nothing else. But in his love—in his desire and willingness to share himself—he wills a universe into being. This universe is comprised entirely of the creative energy of his loving will, manifested as the multiplicity of created beings. One becomes many. Rather, within one, many arise.
Love expresses itself. Love completes itself. Many arise within the One.
The Present Moment
It is in the present moment—in the on-going now which sustains the Newness of Life—that we experience God. There is nothing other than the present moment. The past is gone—and is only poorly reconstructed by our memories and our ego voices. The future only comes to be in the present moment.
It is only in the present moment that God acts. It is only in the present moment that creation occurs. It is only in the on-going present moment that we and all things continue in existence.
When we enter the present moment wordlessly, we experience the Divine in the act of creation. Our awareness, since it is joined with the Divine Awareness, consciously shares in the coming-to-be, the on-going existence, of the world around us.
There is a deep and peaceful ethic—a moral impulse—that comes from this sharing in the act of creation. We might call it the ethic of collaboration. The word derives from the Latin con ‘with’ and laborare ‘to labor, to work.’ It means “to labor or work side-by-side with a partner.”
In the present moment, as we join our consciousness with the Divine Consciousness, we are also able to join our will with his will. In surrendering our will to his, we can seek to discern the direction in which at that moment he is moving creation to go, and to throw in our lot with that direction, even to facilitate the will of God coming to pass in the world around us.
Collaboration in bringing about the will of God in the world around us is called human holiness. We don’t know the nature of God, and so we don’t know what Divine holiness is, except that we use the term to indicate those attributes which make God God, according to our ability to perceive him—in other words, qualities such as glory, might, justice, paternal love. When we say that “God is holy” (see Psalm 99; Isaiah 6:1-3; Revelation 4:2-8),we mean that God is everything that God is—far beyond our ability to grasp what that specifically means.
Under these circumstances, human holiness means collaborating with the God whom we cannot know or envision, but whom we trust and whose nature we seek to imitate by doing his work with him. Human holiness, then, is sharing in the nature of God—being God-like—by conforming our hearts and our actions to his will and effecting his will in the world around us.
Walking Humbly with God (See Micah 6:8.)
We can rejoice that we are simply the energy of God’s will. What a freedom there is in that!
I am gossamer. I am simply God’s willing that I be. There is no cause for conceit nor for inflated pride in myself. I am just what God makes me, and my allegiance is to him.
Everything I might want to attach myself to in this material world is essentially made of this most insubstantial stuff as well. There is no reason for greed of any sort: lust, love of money, grasping for power, superiority. All love of solid things—such as objects, wealth, admirers—is foolish because all solidity melts away.
Reflect on this. Internalize the insubstantiality of yourself. Then examine your grasp on things. Recognize what it is you have attached yourself to.
All are One
We are, all of us in creation, of every nation and religion, indeed of every genus and species, bound inextricably to each other. We are bound morally to one another not because we wish to be, not because it is a good idea in social philosophy or practical economics, not even because God desires us to be bound to one another.
We are bound to one another because in fact, we are all held in existence together within the same Divine Consciousness.
The creative power of God—the power which makes us—is the power which binds us. The unity of all creation is not a pious wish nor a goal nor a moral dictate. The unity of all creation is a fact.
And the highest mountains as well. (v. 4b)
The creative force from which the universe arises—“the depths of the earth”—is characterized by tremendous power—the nuclear furnace of creation—but not by clarity. The clear vision of God is suggested in the image of the “highest mountains.”
Perhaps you know the grandeur of standing on a mountain vista point and looking out over the expanse of land below. When we are on the mountainside, we gain a perspective that we do not have when we move about in the valley below. In the valley, we cannot see “the lay of the land.” We cannot see the relationships between the various geographical and man-made features of the valley we are in. But from the mountain vista point, all these features and their relationships to one another—the orderliness of things—come into plain view.
So it is with the universe which arises within Divinity. The created universe is not chaotic nor unorganized nor arbitrary. Events are not uncaused nor ineffectual. Our experience is that there is clear order and even predictability in the universe. And those events which we say “occur randomly” at any level of observation are not unordered or uncaused. Our term “random” simply means “operating at a level of complexity too great for our understanding” or “operating according to organizing principles which we have not yet discovered.”
The created universe is ordered from two perspectives. First, the universe clearly manifests orderliness in its conduct or operation. The “laws” of mathematics, science, and the social sciences make this convincingly clear. And second, as we Christians—and those of other religions—believe, the created universe is also ordered in its end or destination or final purpose.
We humans find comfort in this essential organization of the universe. Chaos frightens us. Predictability comforts us. We feel at home in the world because it is organized.
Imagine what living would be like if the world were completely unpredictable. What paranoia! What terror!
One outcome of universal unpredictability is that words would lose their meanings. What would the words “street” and “sidewalk” mean if at any moment as you walked on a sidewalk, a lane of cars might come speeding directly at you from front or rear? What would the words “mom” or “my friend” mean if at any moment the peace you feel from these people might turn into raging attack?
Language is the primordial way by which we characterize, and give definition to, the orderliness of the universe. Words embody the comforting predictability which we need in our experience.—Dad says softly, “It’s okay. It was only a dream,” to his child who awakens frightened, and the child settles peacefully back into sleep. Mom says, “You’ll feel better in the morning,” as she soothes the place where her child, falling out of bed in his sleep, bumped his head.
Even the words we use to express the unpredictable and terrifying experiences we might endure, words such as “car crash,” “murder rampage,” “violent rape,” “child abduction,” “battle wounds,” lend a certain order to the chaotic experiences they denote. The words give names to the experiences; this defines the experiences and gives them limits, starting and ending points. And the words also isolate those experiences from the normalcy of ordinary daily life.
The word used to express the concept of the “fundamental orderliness of the universe” in the Christian Scriptures is the Greek word λόγος (logos)—the root of our word logical. The word logos—usually translated as “word”— expresses the basic idea of organization and orderliness. And so, in our context in this chapter, logos expresses an orderly and harmonious relationship among the constituents of the universe.
The word logos also gives us insight into the nature of this universal orderliness. Logos means both “word” and “the interior thought expressed by the word.” This universal orderliness results from—and reflects—the interior orderliness of Divinity, the Creator of the universe. The orderliness of the universe—in its moral as well as its physical structure—is not some arbitrary imposition of rules or laws on an otherwise factious and unpredictable material existence. Rather, the thorough orderliness which characterizes the created universe arises within the same spirit of God which gives rise to the material objects of creation themselves.
The physical and moral laws of the universe reflect the Divine nature in its orderliness and in the precision with which it acts.
Divine law—both physical and moral—imbues all things. It is for us—creatures possessing both intellect (the faculty which seeks understanding), and will (the ability to make independent, personal decisions)—to discover this Divine orderliness, the “law,” to accept it and to conform ourselves to it.
The Source of the Logos
John, a disciple of Jesus’, begins his gospel account as follows:
In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God. (John 1:1; NAB, NRSV)
This text suggests that from the first moment of time, this universal harmony, beauty, and orderliness which we have been discussing permeated all created things. This logos, this “word,” this “law,” this “organizing principle” is God. It arises in the heart of God. And as it establishes all creation as a harmonious whole, it makes creation a self-declaration of the nature of God, of the loving goodness of God. When we enter the silence of the eternal present moment and experience the Newness of Life, we witness Divinity proclaiming itself in this way. God has undertaken the immense project of creation, and every bit of it declares his truth and beauty. The Divine Consciousness, joined with the Divine Will, brings this declaration of himself into being and meditates on it. When we enter the Newness of Life, we join God in this meditation.
The Word was with God
It is the nature of human thoughts—and of their expression as words—that they are both “of” us and separate from us. For example, these ideas that I am writing now arise from the impenetrable depths of my mind and express the reality that I live. These thoughts are me. But when I seek within to identify the source of the ideas, and of the words that express them, I cannot locate it. The words seem to arise in a place which I cannot access, or else they seem to come to be from nowhere. Nonetheless, the understanding that these words try to express is “my” understanding of the reality that I observe and live. If someone else were to undertake the same project as I have done here, that person would write different words, capturing perhaps different understandings.
So the thoughts and words here are “mine.” And yet they also have an existence independent of me. Obviously, the words on this page and the ideas they express are not me. I am not the page. Nor am I the voice within you which is reciting these words to you as you read them and forming understandings within you from them.
More subtly, these words and thoughts are different from me even before I write them. Even as a word first articulates itself in my awareness, it is different from me. It is an object that presents itself to my consciousness. I can observe it, evaluate it, choose it or dismiss it. – All this within the depths of my awareness, to which no other creature has access. Since I can observe the word and objectify it, it is not me. I am what observes it.
So, we can conclude that words arise within us and embody our personal thoughts. In this sense, they are us. They arise within our unique individuality. At the same time, our words, from the moment they arise in us, have an independent existence. They are separate from who we are essentially—separate from our consciousness. They are a product of who we are. They can leave our personal boundaries and enter the outer world of communication and exchange of ideas. They can influence other people. So our words are simultaneously us and other than us.
When we turn these considerations to the interpretation of the first verse of John’s gospel (cited above), we conclude that the principle of orderliness in the created universe, called logos, a “Word,” both arises in the creative spirit of God and is different from it. The “Word” of God is, on the analogy of our words, simultaneously God and other than the creative spirit of God from whom it arises.
We recognize, then, that we must view the one, whole consciousness of God from two distinct perspectives. We must recognize, on the one hand, the powerful, benevolent creative spirit of God. And on the other hand, we must recognize the overarching spirit of orderliness, beauty, and benevolent harmony, arising from the spirit and nature of the Father, and wholly consistent with it, and reflecting it, but separate from the spirit of the Father. This spirit of orderliness, this logos, we will call the Word of God.
The Word of God arises directly from the divinity of God as the structuring principle of creation. God is the creative power; the Word of God is the plan according to which the creative power shapes what it brings into being. As Aristotle might have it: from God comes the substance of all things; the Word of God is the form of all things.
Divinity brings about the existence of all things, and the Word of God is their shape and form.
God has the idea. The idea is the Word, from whom the created person or object or event or circumstance receives formal structure and also integration into the universe of created beings.
When we enter the silent consciousness of the Divine and experience the Newness of Life, we encounter Divinity in both these aspects. As I participate in the Divine Consciousness, I am acutely aware of the bold existence of the created things around me—the creative power of God—and also of their clarity of form, their vivid beauty, and their sweet harmoniousness—the integrating power of the Word of God.
The wholeness of God is apparent whenever we enter the Newness of Life, in the integrity and harmonious organization of the creation in which we participate there.
The End of Everything
God is the creative energy. The Word is the plan, the organizing energy. Now, there are two “dimensions” to the plan for each existing thing: the plan as blueprint, and the plan as process. The Word invests each existing thing with its individual form and internal structure or organization. This accomplishes the formal plan for the creature, according to its blueprint, as it were. The Word also invests each existing thing with its goal or end-point—its final destination, as the creature changes through time. This, of course, is the process-aspect of the plan for the creature.
And so, the Word is the force or organizing principle which guides and directs not only each individual creature but also the whole created universe toward its final goal or end.
What that final end-point is we will consider in a moment.
The Gift of Time
Each of us lives in time—we are born at one point in time and we die at another—and we change through the course of time—we age, we mature, we grow toward God. Each of us, and indeed the created universe as a whole, has an end-point, a destination, toward which we move—and which we finally achieve—as time goes on.
As for our physical universe, astrophysicists tell us that one of two destinies awaits it: either our universe will continue to expand until the forces holding everything together lose their effectiveness, and all things disintegrate; or at some point our universe will reach the apex of its expansion and then begin to collapse in on itself, hurtling inward toward self-annihilation.
Moreover, time is relentless. We cannot change its onward movement. We cannot slow it or quicken it. We can change how we measure it and quantify it, but we cannot alter its progress.
We are creatures immersed in time, as we are immersed in the spatial dimensions. Even our experience of the on-going present moment has a sense of duration to it.
But God is not bound by time. God exists in an Eternal Present Moment in which all things occur simultaneously. In God’s eyes, I am born, I live all the events of my life, I die, I enter the eternal life—all in the same eternal moment. The poet attempts to capture this vision of the Eternal Present Moment in Psalm 90:
Before the mountains were born
or the earth or the world brought forth,
you are God, without beginning or end….
To your eyes a thousand years
are like yesterday, come and gone. (2,4)
The present-tense verb are in the third line attempts to portray the “present-ness” of God, in the context of the passage of time on earth in the rest of the excerpt.
To glimpse this Eternal Present Moment, reflect on this analogy: Consider yourself and your past experiences. None of these past experiences is occurring in this moment of time. Yet, they all exist within you. Many of them you can readily call back to memory. All of them in some way are still alive and active in you, forming you as the person you are at this moment. Someplace in the depths of your being, all of your previous experiences are in some sense on-going within you, shaping your present conscious self.
In some similar way, in God’s eternal moment, all the creatures and events of creation are held in existence simultaneously in the loving heart of God.
Time, then, is not a necessity in the universe, from God’s apparent perspective. Rather, time is a gift to us. We are slow-witted, linear thinkers, who can rarely focus on more than one thing at a time. So God gives us the gift of time, intending that we eventually decide to accomplish his intention for us and then approach him, finally surrendering ourselves to him and joining our awareness with his.
We know what the world of time is, and the joys and sorrows and fears it holds. About the other world, God’s Eternal Present Moment, Paul of Tarsus writes, “This person [Paul himself] . . . was caught up into Paradise and heard ineffable things, which no one may utter” (2 Corinthians 12:3-4; NAB), and “What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1Corinthians 2:9; NAB).
The End of Everything, Again
As the Logos, the form and plan of all creation, the Word of God, then, is that element of Divinity which provides the internal structure and the final end of everything that the creative power of God is bringing into existence in the on-going present moment.
And what is the final end of the creatures which comprise the universe? The final end of every being is the same: union with the Divine. For us humans, this means for each of us the union of our consciousness with the Divine Consciousness, and of our individual will with the Divine Will.
There is nothing mysterious in this. God, in his love, creates all things within his heart of love to be recipients of his love. It is clear in this, then, that his intention must be that each of his creatures enters into this loving union with him.
The final end of creation, then, is that all of us are gathered together in the harmonious union of the Love of God—living completely in God as God fills us all with his inexhaustible love.
The Plan in Short
How will this universal unity in love be achieved? The short answer is this: Divinity will draw all things into harmonious union with himself. In the grace of God, all things will achieve the Divine plan for creation, namely, that in the On-Going Eternal Present Moment, all things will exist in harmonious union with Divinity and thus, with all other things as well.
It is the Word of God which will bring this about in the context of Divine Love. As the Logos, the plan for all creation and for each creature, the Word of God instills in every creature a yearning or instinct for peace and harmony. The creatures of the universe, in spite of all that stands in their way, including their own desires and compulsions, tend toward the realization of this plan, propelled by the Love of God. In the on-going process of creation through time, in spite of all, this plan for universal harmony in love will come to be accomplished. (It is already accomplished in God’s Eternal Present Moment! In the Eternal Present Moment, not only is the beginning of the plan for creation held in existence, but also its progressive working out or coming to be, and its final accomplishment as well. All of this simultaneously exists together, in an unfathomable way, in the Eternal Present Moment.)
In the foregoing, we have sketched the outlines of the process of fulfilling God’s plan for creation. We can ask now how this process will be accomplished in detail. For the answer, I offer the Christian explanation, which I hold as my own.
(If you do not care to consider this explanation, you are invited to skip down two sections, to the section entitled “Simply: Universal Salvation.” There we continue with our more general discussion, from the viewpoint of Divinity considered as one conscious, personal God.)
In the Christian understanding, what we have been calling “God” and the “Word of God” are recognized to be two separate personal realizations of the one, whole, conscious and personal God. The Christian tradition recognizes two distinct manifestations or modes of expression or “persons” in the One God: the powerful, benevolent creative spirit of God is called the Father; and the overarching spirit of orderliness, beauty, and benevolent harmony, which arises from the spirit and nature of the Father, but which is separate from the person of the Father is called the Son.
The Creator is the Father. The creative Word which arises within the Father as the plan for each creature and thus for all creation is the Son.
It is the foundation of Christian faith that the Son, in union with the will of the Father, “en-creatured” himself as a human being in our world’s space and time. It is not that the Son “appeared” or “manifested himself” as a human among humans. Rather, in the love of Divinity for us, the Son became a human being. This enflesh-ment was neither temporary nor illusory. It is a complete and permanent union of Divinity with our human nature.
The Son, who exists in the Eternal Present Moment, entered historical time as a human being: Jesus of Nazareth.
The Son, “humaning” himself as a living creature, was born into time as the Christ, the one who came from God anointed to do an extraordinary work. In his teaching, he revealed to us the will of God for us—our final end—and the means to achieve it. Within a short time, he was executed by crucifixion as a threat to the civil authority. And after death, by his own power he re-invigorated himself, he re-assumed life, he “rose from the dead” and returned to his followers alive and corporeal, fully human in body and mind, but with capabilities in the physical world beyond ordinary human ability. Finally, in this resurrected, transcendent body, he removed himself from the temporal, earthly dimensions and fully re-entered the Eternal Present Moment in a new form of existence: as the God/man, Divinity merged permanently with human nature. This is the one who revealed to us the final end of all things.
The Plan for the Universe
In his teaching, Jesus made clear the Divine Will for the final end of all things: union of all things in God through him, through the Son. It is appropriate that all things should be brought to their final end—union with the Divine—by the Son, who is the source of the final end of each creature—union with the Divine.
The plan for all creation is universal harmony and union with God. The Son is the Logos. The Son is the plan. And so, the Son is the way to universal harmony with God. The Son is the gathering together of all creation in union with Divine Love. The Son, then, is that toward which all creation strives.
Jesus, the human “en-fleshment” of the Son, taught this message in these words:
I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6; NRSV)
and in prayer to the Father,
I ask … that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us. (John 17:21; NRSV)
At the end of time, the Son, the Logos, the plan who reaches his fulfillment when all creation is gathered together in love, will hand over to the Father the whole creation, united in loving harmony. The Son will thus hand over to the Father the Son himself, fully accomplished, complete and whole.
Paul of Tarsus elaborates Jesus’ teaching on the final end of all things and explains in the following three passages how the final end will be achieved:
Then comes the end, when he [the Son] hands over the kingdom to his God and Father . . . . For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death . . . . When everything is subjected to him [the Son], then the Son himself will [also] be subjected to the One who subjected everything to him, so that God may be all in all. (1Corinthians 15:24-26, 28; NAB)
God has given us the wisdom to understand fully the mystery, the plan he was pleased to decree in Christ—a plan to be carried out in Christ, in the fullness of time, to bring all things into one in Christ, in the heavens and on the earth. (Ephesians 1:8-10; NAB 1970)
For in Christ all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, . . . all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. . . . For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:16-17, 19-20, NRSV)
Christ, the Son, at the end of history, will bring all things to their final end—union with and in the Divine—by gathering all things to himself and then surrendering them and himself to the Father. This is the plan for the universe. God’s ultimate intention in his project of creation is universal unity in the heart of Divinity. God’s purpose in everything is love.
Simply: Universal Salvation
Whether or not you accept the Christian explanation of the process of bringing about universal salvation, the main points of the plan for creation stand on their own. The goal and end-point of the project of creation is universal salvation, that is, harmony among all creatures and loving union of all with Divinity, the source of love. The urge and tendency toward this goal is an integral constituent of the being of each creature. That is, all creatures—and particularly, all human beings—tend by their nature toward harmonious union with Divinity. This tendency is “hard-wired” into them by the Word of God, which is the plan for universal salvation and the source of this tendency toward salvation in each creature. When this plan for creation is accomplished, all creatures will exist in loving union with God in God’s Eternal Present Moment.
No Need to be Afraid
Since God’s intention is that we and all things enter into union with him in love, God will supply us with everything that is needed to fulfill this intention.
Since we are simply God’s willing in his love that we exist, and since we can open our awareness into his and merge our will with his, we can trust that he will guide us in love toward perfect union with him in everything we do, in each situation we encounter. There is no need for fear, then. There is no need for fear, even of death. All that is necessary is trust in God—dedication of ourselves to his way, united with God and open to what is actually existing and to the direction in which events are heading.
Do you trust God in this way? Under what circumstances do you pull back into yourself and seize control?
He made the sea; it belongs to him. (v. 5a)
Our immersion in the Divine Consciousness and our surrender to the Divine Will for our lives moment-to-moment would be peaceful and straightforward were it not for the intrusion of a profound and implacable chaos. Our current verse depicts this chaos using the image of the sea.
In the Jewish Scriptures, the sea embodies chaos. This is evident immediately in the beginning of the biblical account of the creation of the world. Genesis 1:2 states that “Darkness covered the abyss.” (NAB) The “abyss” is the primordial ocean—formless and unregulated—which was thought to exist before creation and on which it was thought that God imposed the order of creation.
Later on, in the account of God’s release of the Israelites from slavery to the Egyptians in the Book of Exodus, God tames the sea so that Israel can pass through it unharmed, and then allows it to return to its natural chaotic state, to swallow up Pharaoh’s army in death and destruction (Exodus 14).
In the tale of Jonah, God uses the chaos of a storm-tossed sea to move the reluctant prophet Jonah along toward his God-ordained destiny of bringing the people of Assyria to salvation in God.
In the Christian gospels, storms on the Sea of Galilee give Jesus the opportunity to assert his power in the presence of his followers. In one episode, he calms the violent sea with a word (Mark 4:35-41), reminiscent of God’s taming the primordial abyss with the words of creation, in Genesis 1. In another episode, Jesus walks on the water of the stormy sea (John 6:16-21, Matthew 14:22-33) as a sign of his power to save in the midst of the overwhelming danger that such chaos threatens.
We reflect, then, that in each of these stories, the sea is chaos, but also, as our current verse from Psalm 95 declares, this chaos too is a creature of God, useful in accomplishing his purpose.
When we examine our personal human condition, the way we are, we identify several types of chaos which we might explore in the context of our approach toward God.
The Chaotic Emotions
One chaotic condition that frequently besets us is the chaos of our emotions, particularly the negative emotions. These arise from an uncharted place deep within us and fill us with their spirit or force. When we release ourselves into these emotions, we are as though caught in the swells of a heavy surf, tossed and twisted effortlessly by the swirling waters, helpless to maintain balance or find peace.
Certainly, the distress of these chaotic emotions must be calmed so that we might enter the Divine peacefulness. But we cannot calm our frenzied feelings by conquering them or by compelling them to become still. Such enforced stillness is not peace.
Genuine peace does not arise from our emotions at all. And so, wrestling our emotions into suppressed quietude will not achieve peace. Peace is deeper than emotion. Peace precedes emotion. Peace is the backdrop against which our emotions play out, or the field on which they play out. And so, we must come to peace by another route—the route of learning to open ourselves to Divinity, without regard to these emotions.
Nonetheless, reflecting on our chaotic emotions is useful in the present context, not for what it might tell us about the emotions themselves, but because it brings our attention to that from which the emotions arise: that formless, indistinct entity in the depths of our being—the chaos itself. Observing that bland, shapeless chaos within us, we see that not only are our emotions brought into being from this interior abyss, but so too are our desires, our urges, our remembrances, and when we sleep or daydream, our dream images.
One useful approach to examining this chaotic abyss which gives rise to these restive components of our existence as humans is Jung’s work on the archetypes. Psychologist Karl Jung proposed insightfully that our dreams and much of our waking lives are the manifestation of one or another of a set of primitive forces, generally not recognized consciously, which deeply influence our actions. These archetypal forces are ultimately components of a “collective unconscious” which each individual human participates in and shares with all other humans.
We will reflect further on this approach to the interior chaos toward the end of this chapter. But before we do so, I would like to focus our examination on another aspect of the chaos in interior human life: the chaos of sin.
The Chaos of Sin
God wills us into being with the loving intention that we ultimately join him, unite with him and thus with one another, in a harmonious, peace-filled union. In addition, God provides us with everything we need to approach him and grow into this state of union. Since this is so, anything which we might do to impede this progress or to withdraw from our participation in God’s will stalls the process of universal unification and damages our own ability to participate productively in it. This kind of impediment to the process of growing into union with God—whether the impediment is held internally in our hearts, or expressed externally in our actions—is sin.
Sin is the act of choosing to ignore the graceful flow of life toward God and to choose instead the self-serving or self-gratifying way. We duck inside ourselves, limit our view, and choose our way in spite of God’s way.
Sin is always destructive—to ourselves, to the well-being of others, to the growth of goodness in the world. Sin creates chaos in ourselves and in the world.
The Internal Sea
Sin—this turning away from union with God and with one another—is clearly apparent in our world in the injustice, the deception, the dissention, the contentiousness, the downright cruelty that permeate our interactions with one another. When we look within ourselves to locate the source of this sin—and indeed, of all our actions—we encounter a deep mire, an indefinite, wordless place out of which our actions seem to arise. This place is a welter of tugs and pulls and forces over which we have no control—which, rather, appear to control us. Our memories of our prior experiences, our bodily urges, our emotions and fears, our perception of what’s good for us and what we expect we will enjoy or dislike, our social competitiveness and other social forces, our “moral principles” as we have declared these to ourselves—all of these and more comprise the dark, wave-slapping ocean of forces within, which drive how we act.
Much of who we are and of how we act in the world is an unconscious reaction to these forces. From this sea of forces arise impulses to act. We say that the resulting actions are “impulsive.” We are hardly aware of doing them, and when our attention is called to them, we have no way of adequately explaining them. Then our ego voice may jump in to construct some story to explain them after the fact.
At other times, these impulses result in actions which are routine and habitual. These routines and habits build themselves up within us over time as our lived experience interacts with these interior forces. This process of habit-building produces “who we are” and how we tend to negotiate the events of our lives. This process goes on continually from our earliest days, as we encounter experiences, react, and form or adjust patterns of behavior unconsciously or at the edge of our consciousness.
Most of our actions, then, are unpremeditated reactions to the events of the moment, as these events are bathed in the tidal chaos of this interior sea. Our consciousness seems to float atop this process, observing the events of our experience and our reactions to them—with our ego voice all the while narrating them to us, explaining them, justifying them.
The Moment of Choice
Sometimes, however, in the midst of this flow of living—especially when we have entered the silent consciousness of the Divine, the Newness of Life—we seem to perceive with clarity a “right” way to act. We become conscious of a clear direction in which to go. Perhaps we hear or feel it arising within. Perhaps someone or some event in our environment articulates it to our awareness in one way or another.
This kind of thought seems to be substantially different from our routine behaviors. It arises clearly in consciousness in anticipation of the action it directs us to perform. And it seems to have the shape of the Divine Will. The way of acting to which it directs us contributes to or leads toward union with the Divine and with one another.
In the instant of this directive impulse, we perceive that we have a choice. We might comply with this impulse and go in the direction we feel we are being led. Or we might put the impulse aside and go in another direction—often to continue doing what we were doing before the impulse arose in us.
When we try to explain what this moment of choice is, we enter a sticky area of conflicting interpretations. For, how we understand this experience of choice is indeed a matter of belief.
The Illusion of Will
Some say that this experience of choice, like all the other experiences in our lives, is simply the Divine creation playing itself out. In this view, human choice is an illusion. For when we look inside ourselves for what motivates us to comply with the directive impulse or not, we find that these motives arise from the same obscure chaos which gives birth to all our other actions. “Moral action,” then, is believed to be like all our other behaviors. It is simply another aspect of Divinity manifesting itself in creation.
In this interpretation, humans are free of all moral responsibility. We simply do what God creates us to do at any given moment. There is no will other than the Divine Will. We seekers after God, then, free of moral responsibility, are free simply to enter peacefully the Divine Consciousness and witness Divinity manifesting itself in creation, including through our action.
But we can probe this “illusion of choice” further. If choice is illusory, like solidity and like time, then it may be a generous gift to us, as are solidity and time. If that is the case, what is the goodness found in the experience of choice? To this question, some of those who hold that will is illusory say: Whenever you experience the illusion of choice, generously choose to do what is good for others rather than for yourself.
The Will Free
In contrast to those who hold that moral choice is illusory, the Judeo-Christian belief is that real moral responsibility exists in the moment of choice. In the Judeo-Christian understanding, God has endowed us with the ability to choose to do what is right—that is, God has given us free will, just as God’s will is free. We, then, have the ability to assent to the will of God at the moment of choice or to refuse it.
This freedom to cooperate with the will of God or to refuse it is, in fact, the sole source of our human independence. In the Judeo-Christian belief, we humans are not simply moved about by the Creator as he chooses. Rather, each of us moves himself or herself as we choose. This is the single spiritual power we possess as humans—the power to embrace God’s will or to rebuff it—the power to choose holiness or to sin.
God, in his freedom of will, always exercises the freedom to do good. God always chooses to act with integrity—to act in a way that is consistently good and loving and that sustains the overall progress of creation toward union with the Divine. That is, God always chooses to act in accord with his nature.
We humans, on the other hand, find chaos at the center of our self. When we face moments of conscious moral decision, we often find integrity difficult to recognize, no less to achieve. We may be confused by the onslaught of interior impulses that vie for our attention. Or we may be distracted by, or given over to, our emotions. Or we may neglect our access to integration with the Divine Consciousness. And so, we often surrender our freedom to choose the good and instead accept enslavement to one or another element of the chaos. We permit ourselves to be enslaved to emotions, to fear, to greed or other selfish desires, to ignoring the needs of others, and so on. When we permit ourselves to yield our freedom from bondage to these forces within us, we choose badly—selfishly—asserting our independence—choosing sin.
The Freedom to Choose the Good
What happens at this moment of choice? Recall that the moment of choice has three characteristics: it anticipates action on our part, it clearly directs us toward a certain action, and the action toward which it directs us unites us with God and one another. This is to say that what arises in us at the moment of choice is distinctly different in these three ways from our usual motives and impulses. It’s true that, as with the other impulses that arise in us, we cannot locate the source of this directive impulse. Nonetheless, since this directive impulse is of a different character from our usual impulses—and since it directs us outward toward God—we are bold to call this impulse the voice of God within us, or less boldly, the voice of conscience or the moral impulse.
Whatever we name it, we recognize it as a significant moment—a moment of grace. The moment of choice is the intersection of God’s will and our freedom to choose. It is the moment in which God urges us in a certain direction but does not compel us. It is the moment of the only power we actually have: the power to accept the grace to embrace Divinity, or to refuse that grace—to sin.
Participation in Creation
God has blessed us human beings with the dignity of this free will—the ability to choose to conform ourselves to his will in each on-going moment, or not. In this ability is a gift: We are more than simply observers of the manifestation of the Divine in creation. We are participants in creation. When we comply with the Divine Will and act in accordance with it, we advance the Divine intention of unity with God and with one another. On the other hand, when we choose not to comply with the Divine intention, then God permits creation to turn in the direction which we have chosen—toward selfishness, dissention, pain, destruction. The Divine Will incorporates into the flow of events our choice not to comply with God’s prior intention, and creation goes on from there.
Do you pay attention to the effects of your actions—and especially to the effects of the actions you choose in moments of choice? Do you observe how your actions affect the people around you? Do you observe how your actions affect the emotional environment which you participate in—either toward peace and harmony, or toward injustice and division?
The Choice to Love
Divinity is benevolent in his care of his creation. John, a disciple of Jesus’, proclaims: “God is love” (1 John 4:8; NAB, NRSV). The love that pervades creation arises in Divinity.
Divinity creates us to be able to reflect and return that love. We could not surrender ourselves to God without the ability to choose freely to love.
And, on the other hand, we could not deny God and live for ourselves—in a word, we could not sin—without the ability to choose freely not to love.
God, Why Did You Do This To Me?
Divinity maintains all creation in existence. But that does not mean that Divinity motivates or causes everything that happens in creation. Much of what we call evil springs not from the Divine Will but from the free will of human beings.
A visualization: God maintains the knife blade, smooth and sharp, in existence. God holds the victim also in existence—in love. God holds the muscles of the attacker’s hand and arm in existence and causes them to tense and relax as the hand grips the knife handle and plunges it into the victim. God maintains the blood vessels in existence as they are penetrated and their contents spill forth. God maintains the pain nerves in existence as they are bruised and release the neuro-chemicals upward to the brain.
God does all this. What God does not do is decide to thrust the knife forward nor desire that the knife do its damage. That, we do.
The River Will
If you have ever floated down a river in an inner tube, you will easily understand what follows.
The Divine Will is like a river, which carries me along with it, as though I am afloat on it. When I look down at the water around me, it is still and unmoving. Were that my only view, I would see no movement nor direction at all. But I can also look at the tree-lined river bank and discern that I am in motion, that this quiet river is propelling me in the direction in which it is flowing. How peaceful to comply with the flow! To relax and enjoy the view, the passage through bright sunlight, to come around bends and into the shadow of hills, the air and water cooling dramatically.
The journey is peaceful as long as I desire to comply with the river, to surrender to it, and to go where it takes me, aware that ahead may be boulders in the stream, low tree branches, rapids, even cataracts.
The journey becomes difficult when I decide that I want to go where the river is not leading me—when I attempt to turn upstream, or when I feel an urgency to get to shore. Then I have to exert myself, to paddle with great expense of energy and with considerable difficulty to strive toward my desire, my goal.
This contrary movement is sin. It is costly and difficult. And when I get what I want—say, landing on the bank—I am confronted with the consequences. I must now clamber through the river-side bushes that scratch and tear my skin, to arrive on solid ground. But then I am afoot, and far from any destination.
Your Stony Hearts
Sin has a constricting effect on the consciousness of the one who sins. One who sins retreats from openness, withdraws within, “closes himself off,” as we say. The metaphor of closure describes a real condition of the awareness. When I choose to indulge myself in sin, I become defensive. I react negatively when others notice my self-centeredness. The world around me becomes my enemy. In my consciousness, I erect a barrier between myself “in here” and the world, perceived to be hostile, “out there.”
As I continue to defend my self-centeredness, this barrier between me and the world grows stronger. It becomes an increasingly thicker skin or shell, as it were.
The Scriptures describe this toughened consciousness as “hard-heartedness.” The Jewish prophet Ezekiel portrays God as promising to give the people of Israel “a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you natural hearts” (Ezekiel 36:26 NAB). Other English versions translate the term “natural hearts” here as “heart[s] of flesh” (NRSV). In other words, the softness and vulnerability of the heart dedicated to God is contrasted with the heart hardened and, as it were, turned to stone by sin.
This “skin” or “hide,” this “wall of stone” grows quietly and incrementally over time. It “thickens” as we respond to the sin in our lives—both the sin we indulge ourselves in, and the sin inflicted on us by others. Living from day to day in this selfish and defensive way, we are unaware of the isolating effect which this barrier, this hardness of heart, has on us.
The Storm-Surge Within
This self-protective “skin” or “wall” houses a darkened spirit. The thicker the barrier grows, the less “light” of wisdom and truth is able to penetrate it. The heart becomes a darkened swamp or a raging abyss, a confusion of dark emotions—fear, anger, sorrow, guilt, self-pity, loneliness, hatred, grief, denial, . . .—the causes of which, even with interior examination, are not apparent because they cannot come to “light.”
We live in the dark of our hearts, trying to comfort ourselves with further indulgences, more sin.
There is no way that we can free ourselves from this prison of dark life “in here.” But that is not to say there is no hope. Hope comes from beyond us. For, all the while, God repeatedly gives us the offer of grace, the offer of freedom from our enslavement—in quiet, subtle ways—until at the right moment, “light” breaks in and we choose to turn toward it. We become seekers, approaching God.
The call to us is God’s. It comes from his love in his own time. We cannot force it to come. It is for us simply to prepare ourselves for it, and to respond and accept it when it does come.
Accepting this grace of salvation from God means at first that we must confront—remember--re-experience in all their emotional intensity those painful events, actions, decisions—often from our youth—which are the causes of those dark emotions and troubled feelings welling up in our hearts. This is a long, difficult project—an unclothing of ourselves—a merciless scrubbing of our lives. It is to look with adult eyes and adult understanding at those painful episodes, remembered in the innocence and ignorance of youth—episodes which, in grief, we hold close to the center of ourselves, like lifeless infants.
This terrible project is best undertaken with a spiritual director and with a counselor who is sensitive to the spiritual journey. At play are intense self-honesty and difficult forgiveness. It is a process of shedding light upon the shadows filling the darkness of our hearts.
Unzipping the Body Bag
At some point in this process, it is necessary for us to cleanse ourselves of all the accumulated emotional gunk sloshing around in the darkness of our hearts. To do this, we must consciously open ourselves to the God we are seeking to approach.
Here is a visualization exercise. Stand up. Imagine that the “skin” or barrier that you have built up around yourself is one of those thick black body bags that corpses are put into. Feel your body bag covering you from top of head to bottom of feet, front and back and sides. Feel the dark, gunky fluid within the body bag.
Now, in your felt imagination, starting at the top, begin to unzip the body bag, down your chest, past your abdomen, down your legs. As you unzip and let the body bag fall away from you, that dark gunk pours out and drains away from you. Unzip right to your feet. Let it all flow out away from you.
You are free. You are standing in the light. The Consciousness of God is there, all around you. It always has been. In the silence, let your awareness join with the Divine.
Filling Our Open Mouths (See Psalm 81:11.)
When in the interior silence we stand in the light of the Newness of Life, we recognize the truth about ourselves, that I am simply God’s willing that I exist. We recognize our own insubstantiality and with that, we recognize the ease—the freedom—with which our awareness flows into the Divine Awareness. And as our awareness flows into the Divine, the Divine flows into us, filling us completely with “light” and “air.” Those spaces within ourselves which were once dismal and in shadows are now open and as it were, unbounded—and the light and air of the Consciousness of God easily flows in them.
God fills us with himself when we open our hearts to him.
Unzipping the body bag is the beginning, not the end, of the process of emptying ourselves, to accept the grace of God’s presence within us. The goal is to live completely empty of self, completely filled with the Divine Awareness, and to do so every waking minute. This means that the practice must be conscious self-emptying daily—or more often.
We discover in our inward examination each day that that barrier or “skin” re-forms every day. Depending on how often and how severely we revert to selfishness each day, the “skin” is there each morning—sometimes as thin as a soap bubble or as thick as an orange peel.—Images, of course.—But each day, I find it necessary to open that skin and peel it back, to remove that barrier between myself and the Divine. I find this skin generally to be transparent and light. But it is there—a barrier—nonetheless.
Another Visualization--Tearing Down the Fort
In the beginning, when I first undertook this daily emptying or cleansing, I found in myself a residual hard-heartedness, as it were. As I visualized opening and removing the thin transparent skin of the previous day’s self-indulgences, I found beneath it what I conceived to be a wall of stones built up around me. These stones I prayed for the grace to tear down, and over the course of days, I was able to envision tearing them apart, starting at my head and working down. My visualization was that I was living within the ruins of some old stone fort, the light and air penetrating those obscure shadowy regions more and more as the stones were torn away and discarded.
Even now in my daily practice, I often find those old walls re-constructed and again in need of tearing down.
And Another—The Grapefruit
Also useful is the visualization of the grapefruit. I imagine that I am covered in a thick skin, as a grapefruit is. In my felt imagination, I split that skin from top to bottom and open it back to reveal the tender fruit of my inner heart. I open it all the way back until it falls away behind me, and the light and air fill my being.
What’s Left of the Self
When the barriers are removed and we open ourselves and the light and air of the Consciousness of God fill us, we join with God, but we do not lose the sense of our personal self. We have experienced the purification of that dark internal region, filled with the ego voice, which we had previously identified as our self. But in the silence, as the confines of those spaces melt away and open to the “air of God,” as our awareness merges with the Divine Consciousness, we still recognize a personal self, and we still find it to be located in space and time.
When we look within at our awareness, we find that it occurs in the region near our head. And—interestingly—when we attempt in our visualization to tear down the walls that encase our body, we find that the one place we cannot tear apart is a “medallion,” as it were, located near our sternum. That “medallion” is the location of our will.
It is our will which locates us in time and space. Our will seems to be the point of origin of our personal selves. It is, after all, the only spiritual function over which we seem to have any control, even if only in those “moments of decision” which we discussed in Chapter 3. As our awareness merges with Divinity in the experience of the Newness of Life, our will remains—the “lens” through which we look about us in the creation we share with all the persons and objects in our environment, our viewpoint in the literal sense of that word.
These two functions—my awareness and my will—seem to comprise my personal self, my “spirit.” All the rest melts away and is filled with the light and air of the Divine. I am free to be with God.
For this, I give God thanks and praise.
The ocean in which I am, becomes a bright ocean of air, the ocean of the Divine Consciousness.
Chaos and Divinity
The verse from Psalm 95 that give rise to the thoughts in this chapter declares, “He made the sea; it belongs to him.” If the sea within us, the abyss at the depths of our consciousness, is the dark (or bland) place from which sin and fear and negative emotions arise, then how can it be associated with Divinity, who is the Source of Light and Love?
What we understand about Divinity is actually very little. We know that Divinity is. We know that Divinity is the Source of all other things that exist. We know that Divinity is spirit. We know that Divinity is conscious and personal. We know that Divinity is the outflowing of love, and that all creation is bathed in that love. And we know that Divinity graces us with access to, and participation in, the Divine Consciousness.
Beyond that, we understand nothing about Divinity. We know nothing else about the nature or characteristics of Divinity but these things. And even in these statements there is very little meaning. For we have only intuitions of the meaning of the terms we’re using. What is existence? What is spirit? What is love, especially Divine love? What is consciousness? We feel that we know what these things are, and so we can construct abstract definitions of them. But we really have no understanding of what they are. For example, for us there is only one alternative to the concepts of existence and consciousness, that is, non-existence and unconsciousness. But we don’t know whether that is the case for Divinity. There may be other states related to these that we have no knowledge of.
So, Divinity is incomprehensible to us. It’s true that we can experience Divinity. And from our experience of Divinity we can express our understandings of the characteristics of Divinity, such as we have done just above. And we can find our place in the loving heart of God. But like young children with their parents, we only know what we feel and what we receive from God. We do not know the depths or extensiveness of the Person of God.
The Human Enigma
Divinity, then, is essentially an enigma to us. And when we examine what we have discovered about ourselves as human beings, we find that we too are enigmas. The source of the inscrutable components of human nature is that abyss of chaos deep within us. It is the hidden, secret, mysterious part of our being, which we cannot penetrate. So we cannot model it effectively nor systematize it.
Nonetheless, the abyss is a part of us. We can turn our consciousness toward it and recognize it. Is it a fundamental component of ourselves, or is it an “object of consciousness”? In some ways, it seems not to be an object of consciousness. It is not clearly delineated, as are the other objects of consciousness we have considered. We can’t see its edges, as it were, and we can’t watch how it produces what it gives rise to.
On the other hand, we can turn our attention to it. When we do, what we perceive is an indistinct, featureless entity (for me, fog-grey or tan) from which arises the welter of urges, thoughts, memories, and emotions that profoundly influence our behavior. Some of the objects in this welter are individually identifiable; most are beneath our “radar.” So, we conclude that this indefinite entity is a source of the objects that arise in or from it.
Is this abysmal source a fundamental component of who we are, like consciousness, and perhaps will? Again, that’s for you to decide. The test, as usual, is whether we can objectify this abysmal source in our consciousness. The answer is not easy. We can surely observe some of the objects that arise in the chaotic source—the impulses and ideas and emotions. But when we try to peer into the murky waters that comprise the abyss itself—and out of which or in which these mental objects arise—we see nothing but cloudiness. We cannot objectify it. We simply see nothing. We enter Unknowing, as images and impulses and visual phenomena begin to bubble or to swirl around us.
Whatever the abyss is, it is the enigma at the core of ourselves.
The Name of the Enigma
This enigmatic chaos has been called by many names: the id, the animal nature, the collective unconscious, anima, evil, the devil, the darkness which complements (or does battle with) the light, the dream state, the netherworld, the spirit world, hell, the rope bridge, the wrath of God. Some of these interpretations, such as “id” and “animal nature,” center on the impact of the enigmatic chaos on the individual. Others are cosmological in scope, opening into whole worldviews of life and death and afterlife, or into panoramas of the spirit world beyond or other than the material universe.
It appears to me that the abysmal chaos, located where it is—in the area of the belly, and extending downward beneath the physical body into an unknown region below—is a connection between our individual persons and a larger entity, of which the image of the sea is an apt representation. Per the insight of Karl Jung, this abyss is a featureless and indefinitely extensive merging place and forming place of dream images, impulses, feelings, thoughts, of which we are all a part, just as inlets and rivers flow into the sea, and that the contents of this great murky entity ebb and flow into and out of each one of us individually.
Each one of us opens out, at the depths of our being, into this wide, deep, unknown, bland entity, comprised of the “opening out” of every other human being, and of we do not know what else.
This enigmatic chaos, then, makes us far richer and more complex and more inscrutable than we could possibly have been without it. The chaos is the point at which all our theorizing about ourselves dissolves into flow, like sandcastles washed by the rising tide.
Consequently, this chaos within us makes two productive contributions to us as we seek to open ourselves to the Divine Consciousness. First, its very existence within us convinces us that we can never decipher ourselves adequately. Given this inescapable Unknowing which clouds our every attempt to draw a whole picture of ourselves, we can easily conclude that such attempts to construct an adequate understanding of ourselves are futile—that to ourselves, we are enigmas, impossible to understand.
And second, since we cannot adequately understand ourselves, we ought not let our compulsion to do so distract us from the only genuinely productive pursuit—seeking union with God.
The ancient Greek philosopher, Plato, tells us that Socrates, his teacher, taught his students to “Know thyself.” Truly so. And this is what we ultimately learn about ourselves—that we cannot fully know ourselves, but that we can discover the wholeness of ourselves in merging our individual selves with the Divine Consciousness that fills us and all things completely. In this wholeness—this integration of creature with Creator—is the satisfying peace that we desire, the peace that surpasses understanding.
Where is God in This Chaos?
Can this grey chaos be Divinity, the Source of All That Exists? I cannot see how, since there can be only one source of existence, and existence does not arise, in our experience, from the enigmatic chaos. The chaos is a created thing, whether it exists solely in each individual or whether it is a universal entity that connects all of us together.
If we see it as a universal entity that flows among all humans, this immense entity is a creature, just as stellar supernovas are, just as this planet’s oceans are. As a creature, the chaos is integrated into the cosmic plan of Divinity, as we have suggested just above, and so it has its place in the universal harmony and peace that will come.
Then, what are those things that arise from the abysmal depths within us—the nightmares, the dervish-like shadow spirits, the emotions and untamed feelings, the visions, the cascades of golden light, the devils and the angels—what of all these things?
They are creatures as well. We can—and should—objectify them. And then we should use them when they lead us to enter more fully into the love of God. And we should ignore them or slough them off when they distract us and turn our eyes away from what should be our constant focus: What Is—the Divine Consciousness in which we are invited to share every moment, in every situation, even in every upwelling of the chaos within, which may cloud our vision momentarily but cannot compel us to take our attention from the Newness of Life nor to remove our hearts from the heart of the Divine.
Free at Last
The dry land too, for it was formed by his hands. (v. 5b)
The desert is serious business. It is inhospitable. It is no place of comfort. There is no pretense in it. It is direct. The desert is about survival. And it can be frightening.
When you drive the back roads in and around Death Valley in the California low desert, you pass near the shoulder of the road one small wooden sign after another from generations past—grave markers. On many of them are written the name of the dead person and beneath it, “died of the elements.”
The desert comes to signify the direct, no-nonsense place in which one’s spirit—one’s personal self of consciousness and will—abides. It is in a desert-like place—straightforward, open, unencumbered by personality or emotion or prescription—that the spirit opens and surrenders to the Divine. It is then that genuine freedom is found.
Alone in the literal desert, off the highway, driving the rutted dirt paths or hiking the empty flats or the dry hills, you have to be cautious, and you must have adequately provided for yourself. For the elements are on the attack. The heat, the burning sun, the danger of injury and of disorientation, the aridity, the very vastness of the place—all these call for care and attention.
Similarly, in the desert place which our spirit inhabits, there are pitfalls that we must avoid and dangers that we must attend to. When we enter the spiritual desert, we find ourselves to be as vulnerable as we are in the literal desert. Our purpose in all that we have done so far is to be able to open ourselves to the presence of the Divine and to join the Divine in peaceful stillness. But openness necessitates vulnerability. Our hearts cannot be open without being vulnerable to injury. So we must prepare ourselves, so that we are not overwhelmed when danger arises.
In the previous chapter, in which we set out the discipline for opening our spirit to the Divine, we discussed the chaotic abyss from which our thoughts, feelings, imaginings, and dreams arise. In the depths of the self is a light-less, imponderable source, out of which arises the ordinary contents of our day-to-day, and sleep-to-sleep, lives. Much of the time—when we feel “in control”—we manage what arises from these depths into our consciousness and our habitual behavior well enough to maintain an acceptable public face—our social “mask”—and even to convince ourselves that we’re “okay.”
However, when we risk opening our spirits and making ourselves vulnerable, we suspend our management of these threatening impulses arising from our depths. As they arise into our open awareness, they can evoke emotions that we would prefer to avoid: fear, anxiety, anger, sorrow, guilt, hatred, regret, grief, and so on.
Often, these uncomfortable impulses are the residue within ourselves of formative experiences which we endured earlier in life, often in childhood. These may have been episodes in which trauma was inflicted on us by others. They may have been episodes of loss. They may have been episodes in which we victimized others in some way. Or they may take the form of free-floating worries or fears about how we might sustain future injury.
Whatever the case, these impulses share two important characteristics. First, they act as lenses, if you will, through which we bring into focus and respond to our current experiences. We “read” and interpret our present experiences through the lenses of the formative events which occurred in our earlier lives, and which shaped them and continue to shape how we see the world and respond to it.
The second characteristic of these threatening impulses is that we have not consciously confronted or “resolved” their force in our lives. These “lenses” are obstructive. They cause us to connect our current life experiences to these painful memories—and to do this beneath the level of our conscious awareness, so that we do not recognize that we are filtering our current experiences in this way.
In addition, these connections with our past experiences trigger the painful emotions that we attach to these memories. So, our current experiences are accompanied by an ongoing substrate of negative emotions which we may not be aware of but which influences our current behavior. And even if we do perceive these emotions, we cannot explain or understand why they are at play.
Healing the Destructive Past
When in our spiritual openness these images or feelings arise in us, we are being given an opportunity to confront and resolve the issues from our past which are prompting these impulses. It is best in this situation to be open to what arises, to allow the incident to unfold in our memory-imagination, and in particular, to re-feel the feelings that are associated with the incident. It is not productive simply to observe the memories passively. Rather, we must engage them, re-live them, re-feel them, as painful as they are.
Once the painful episode has been re-lived in the light, we can deal with it in a healing way. We can understand it from an adult perspective, or perhaps from a variety of perspectives, some of which may include seeing our part in what we had blamed exclusively on others. Seeing the episode in this way untangles us from it. Then we can do what needs to be done in order to heal from the episode. We can accept the loss we have suffered—perhaps the loss of innocence, the loss of social place, the loss of self-respect, the loss of valuables, the loss of loved ones—or we can accept the harm we have inflicted on others. And then, we can forgive—forgive our assailant, forgive those who did not help us, forgive ourselves, forgive God.
When we bring these painful incidents into the light and deal with them honestly and appropriately, they quickly lose their power over us. For, what we have done is to have objectified them. We have recognized them simply as mental objects of which our consciousness is aware. And this is most important: If we cease clinging to them, if we no longer find meaning for our lives in them, then we are able to recognize that they, like every object of consciousness, are not us. We are not the painful memory we’re looking at. We are what does the looking.
When we come to that point, we will be free of these oppressive self-definitions and painful memories.
Fantasies and Fixations
Fantasies—pleasurable desires or threatening fears which take the form of imagined situations and actions—must be eradicated from our hearts because they distract us from participating in the truly valuable pleasure—the sweetness—of merging with the Divine Awareness.
As a general rule, we deal with fantasies by deflating them when they balloon into our awareness from the depths. We deflate them by releasing our grip on them, by puncturing our emotional dependence on them.
Fantasies come in many flavors. Two common fantasies are these: “This is what I’d like to do,” and “This is what I’m afraid will happen.”
The first fantasy type (“This is what I’d like to do”) is wish-fulfillment. It arises from dissatisfaction with the conditions of our lives. We yearn for our lives and our selves to be different. This dissatisfaction, and the imaginings it prompts, turn our attention toward non-existent situations and away from the actual present moment—the only moment in which Divinity abides and is to be found.
We effectively address these distracting wish-fulfillment fantasies by bringing them into the light of reality. We do this by playing them through from beginning to end in our imagination, while we oversee this process with our dispassionate, inquiring wisdom. Of course, there is no benefit in acting out the fantasy in the physical world, either by direct action or by substitutionary action, such as masturbation. Acting out our fantasies simply continues our indulgence in them and our dependence on them. Therefore, we confine our wish-fulfillment to our imaginations, but we allow ourselves to feel fully the feelings which are generated there.
At the same time, however, we observe our imaginings as objects of consciousness, coolly, dispassionately, inquisitively. We might reflect in the following way: “I see myself doing these things to this person, but what is this person really like as a human being? What does their breath smell like? What do they sound like when they have to stop at the dry cleaner after a difficult day at work?” In other words, what are the realities of their lives?—Or again, we might ask ourselves: “How would I feel afterward? Whom would I offend by doing this? How would my loved ones feel if they were to find out I had done this?” In other words, what are the consequences of the actions in this fantasy?
Wish-fulfillment fantasies (we see them exhaustingly in TV ads selling cars and beer and lingerie) have power because they excite us out of the dull present of our lives, whether their content is sexual, or materially indulgent, or homicidal. We strip them of their power to distract us from the actual present by placing our fantasy desires—which tend to be limited to single actions or processes, and isolated from the realities of our lives—into the real contexts of our daily experience and our knowledge of the world, as we have said just above. Then, having broken the emotional hold that they had on us, we can objectify them, by recognizing them as objects of our consciousness, as what we observe, not who we are.
Weary of Worry?
The second type of fantasy (“This is what I’m afraid will happen”) is worry. Worry springs from a realistic, common sense analysis of the situation which prompts the worry. The worrier recognizes the real vulnerability of the person to whom harm is feared will come, as well as the worrier’s actual inability or inadequacy to prevent that harm.
But in worrying, the worrier always takes on the sole responsibility for protecting the potential victim from harm. So the worrier’s inability to prevent the harm always generates fear. This fear builds upon itself as the worrier supposes that their being unable to prevent the harm means that no effective response to the situation is possible. And so, with no other recourse, the worrier’s imagination compulsively cycles again and again through the supposed situation. Fear is the only result. And this fear consumes the worrier.
What the worrier calls love or concern for the person in danger, however, is largely the worrier’s frustration or anger at being unable to control the situation. Since the real issue is the worrier’s inability to have control, it does not help for that person simply to “turn the situation over to God.” For, when one tries to do that, the burning fear/anger/frustration complex continues to boil in the emotional substrate beneath the words and the efforts of the heart.
The effective remedy here is for the worrier to recognize that relief from the worry comes only from an examination not of the worrier’s relationship with the endangered person, but rather, of the worrier’s relationship with the Divine. The worrier must deal with the question of who—in the worrier’s heart—should have the control: the worrier or Divinity. When the worrier comes to terms with their control issue and is willing to surrender to the Divine not only the endangered person’s destiny but also the worrier’s own destiny as well, then the worry-fantasy will fade and lose its power.
Fixation: I Can’t Let It Go
A fixation is the compulsive turning of our attention to behaviors or thoughts which we find to be addictive and from which we can tear ourselves away only with difficulty. Like fantasies, fixations also distract us from the sweetness of living in the Divine Consciousness.
Also, like fantasies, fixations come in a variety of forms. Three common fixations are unfulfilled expectation fixations, aggravation fixations, and compulsive work fixations.
Hope—the imagining of the good things that might happen in the future—is a useful function of the human heart. It permits us to set goals for ourselves, to select the values we will live by, and to avoid the pit of despair. However, hope also easily leads us to expect that what we hope for will be realized, either when we believe that Divinity will arrange events in order to bring these expectations to be, or when we believe that we must manage the interplay of forces in our life so as to bring about the realization of our expectations.
When the events in our life dash our hopes, a hopeful person simply moves on and hopes for another attainable thing. However, when our expectations are dashed, we can become bitter or angry or resentful. Then the old, dark engine of anxiety begins to grind within us. We close ourselves off to the world and wrap our attention around the hurt of our crumbled expectations. We begin to plot revenge, or to curse ourselves or others, or to grow angry with God, or simply to cycle the story to ourselves again and again in our hearts. In all of these reactions, we act out our frustration, “I wanted things to work out differently.”
Time goes on; the events of our lives continue to occur; but we are planted in the fruitless soil of our frustration, calling it to mind over and over again. This fixation removes us from the present moment and distracts us from our spiritual endeavors. As long as we are closed around our fixation, we cannot open our hearts or turn our attention to seeking the Divine.
The remedy for this fixation is not unlike the remedies for the other distractions we have been discussing. First, we must objectify the contents of our fixation. We must look at the story we have been repeatedly telling ourselves as an object of our consciousness. We can then watch it, as we might watch a movie, dispassionately, as it continuously unfolds in our awareness. As we watch, we recognize that we are not the contents of our unfulfilled expectations. These expectations are what we are looking at. We are other than that. We are the ones who are doing the watching.
Once we have objectified the fixation, then we can deal with it as we deal with other mental objects. In this case of unfulfilled expectations, we recognize that the reality—what is—is what really came to be, rather than what we expected would come to be. Whether we like it or not, what is is what is. There is no benefit in spending our energy on continuing to react to our displeasure over what is. Our reaction will not change what is. – Now we have a choice. We can either plot to change the current situation, or let be what is. If we choose to plot, we have chosen to engage the circumstances and attempt to manage creation. In this case, we have left off pursuit of Divinity, who is truly the Source of All That Is. On the other hand, if we choose to accept what is, to “let it go,” then we have freed ourselves from the grip of the fixation and we can continue our spiritual quest.
Aggravation Really Gets to Me
A variant of the unfulfilled expectation fixation is the aggravation fixation, “That really makes me upset.” In this case, we just want to be left alone. We want our environment to be undisturbed so that we can go about our activities in peace. However, some irritating action is occurring, which disturbs us and unsettles our peace of mind. Usually, another person is responsible for this irritating action. And so, we focus our frustration or our anger on that person—whether that person’s irritating behavior is momentary (a belch in a silent room) or trivial (a clicking of the pen during an examination) or damaging over the long term (gossip or slander about me).
The usual response to the momentary or trivial aggravations is to “try not to pay attention to it.” But we know of course that the more we “try” not to pay attention to something, the more central it becomes in our consciousness and thus the more aggravating it becomes.
More effective is to allow the annoyance to be absorbed into its larger context—the entire environment of what is. In other words, it is more productive to shift our attention from the aggravating occurrence itself to the whole ocean of existing things in our perceptual space. We broaden our attention from its narrow focus on the aggravating occurrence out into the Divine Consciousness. The aggravating occurrence still exists, but it loses its singular importance as we give ourselves over to the Divine Awareness.
With a person who is seeking to do us real, long-term damage, our response must be different. If we can immediately release our grip on our reputation and what the offending person is trying to do to it, so much the better. If we immediately let the offense go—and let the sting of it go—then we have freed ourselves from it. But if we cannot do that, then we must work at achieving freedom from our attachment to the offensive behavior. To do this, we must approach the offending person. And when we do so, we again have a choice—just as we did above when dealing with the unfulfilled expectations fixation. In the case of our aggravation fixation, when we approach the offending person, our choice is, on the one hand, to attempt to control the situation and the offending person’s behavior (with accusations, or anger, or threats of reprisal, and so on.) In this case, we are engaging in the battle. As a result, we have withdrawn our attention from our true desire—union with the Source of All That Is. We turn away from the Divine.
Or, on the other hand, we can approach the offending person as a constituent of the universal reality—of what is. In that case, we approach with an attitude of fellowship, open-minded, willing to listen, willing to explain without hostility the injury we perceive that we are sustaining (using the pronoun I, not you.) We objectify the damaging behavior, so that we can call it into consciousness as an object of consciousness and examine it dispassionately, together with the offending person, seeking resolution.
In this process, it is counterproductive to objectify the offending person. If we do so, we are liable to begin to analyze the person’s behavior and motives. Then, we risk offending the offender; we risk confrontation; we risk the fight. That is, we risk distracting ourselves from the peaceful love that flows from Divinity. It is better to work with the person, if that is possible. It is better to approach the person with the love which Divinity has for that person, and with the hope of offering reconciliation, for that approach maintains our fundamental focus on the Divine at the center of all things.
And if the offender refuses to cooperate in seeking resolution? Then our freedom from the burden of the offensive behavior can come about only from simple forgiveness on our part. Forgiveness is essentially an act of release on the part of the offended person. The victim releases himself or herself from the impact on themselves of the offending behavior. In order for the victim to free himself or herself from bondage to the offensive behavior, the victim must undergo three processes: mercy, acceptance, and offering.
First, the victim must experience mercy for the offender. The victim must open himself or herself to trying to understand why the offender committed the offense. The victim must humanize the offender, see the offender as weak, vulnerable, driven by common human desires—a broken human being, as we all are.
Then, the victim must accept the loss of the valuable thing that he or she lost to the offender. Whether it be the loss of reputation, innocence, physical well-being, material possessions, dignity—the victim must be willing to pay that price, to accept the loss of what he or she lost in the offense.
Finally, at least in his or her heart, the victim must be willing to extend the hand of brotherhood to the offender, the offer of peaceful resolution and return to harmony between the two of them.
When the victim passes through these three stages, the victim finds that he or she is free of the sorrow which the offending behavior caused. Whether or not the offender accepts resolution and the offer of re-integration, the victim is set free personally from the pain of the offense by the act of forgiveness.
Driven to Work
The third type of fixation (“This is what I have to do.”) is compulsive work. It arises from a sense of self-worthlessness and inadequacy. The person who engages in this type of fixation assumes that he or she is valuable only to the extent that they are doing something “productive” or useful in their social context. And so, they fill their days with activities by which they demonstrate their importance or value to themselves.
This sense of the productive self is accompanied by an on-going feeling of urgency: There is always so much more to do, so many more projects to begin and to complete. And so, when one enters the silent presence of God, the sense of urgency propels into the mind lists of things to be done or ways of doing them or brilliant solutions, which the driven person fears he will forget.
A practical response to this type of compulsion is to interrupt one’s contemplation of the Divine Presence to write down a note that will save the brilliant solution from oblivion, or if worse comes to worst, to leave off the contemplation altogether, to go and take the time to work out a solution to the problem and then to return to the presence of the Divine.
Such a response as this, however, gives what is usually undue importance to the issue at hand and strengthens the compulsions which prompt the fixation. Better is simply to recognize the work-fixation and its accompanying emotions of anxiety and urgency as objects of consciousness. Of course, humanity—in spite of its two-million-year history—may have to endure the forgetting of the brilliant solution, unless the Divine Provider for all that is makes the solution available to humankind in another way. But peace comes to the heart only when these compulsive projects are viewed from a proper perspective and the Divine Presence is unwaveringly chosen over them.
Our consideration of worrying above leads us directly to a discussion of another pitfall in the spiritual desert: managing our experience of the Divine. Our whole effort in the project we have undertaken in this little book has been to discipline ourselves to release our grip—our control of what we consider important in our human experience. We have learned to release our hold on what is not us in our experience of the world in order to discover those constituents of our experience of ourselves that are us. And we have learned to break apart the barriers we build around ourselves in order to open ourselves to what is and to recognize the presence of the Divine in all that is. That has allowed us to release our personal awareness into the great ocean of awareness into which our personal awareness flows and blends.
Now, in the spiritual desert, we must beware of trying to re-seize control. We may notice that certain gifts or benefits which are pleasing to us (such as the experience of the Newness of Life) arise in our consciousness while our hearts have been drawn into the Divine Presence. And we may come to associate these gifts with successfully engaging Divinity. We may even measure our progress in the spiritual life by whether on any given occasion we experience these pleasant benefits.
When it happens—as it inevitably must—that we attempt to open ourselves to the Divine but do not experience the pleasant benefits we expect to experience, we might become anxious and question our spiritual pursuits. Or we might see ourselves as failing in spiritual discipline. Or we may conclude that God has rejected us.
In response, we might attempt to seize control of the situation, to “force” the pleasant experience we desire, in order to convince ourselves—by pretending—that our spiritual pursuit has not failed us, nor we it.
The reality is, of course, that “everything is grace.” On some days we may feel closer to God and on others, farther away. Whatever condition we find ourselves in is the grace of the day. It may not be what would please us, but it is what is. We must simply accept what is, and offer what grace God gives us today back to him in gratitude and love. For the source of the grace of the day—thankfully—is the Source of All Things, who knows all and who loves all. There is nothing to fear nor to regret.
The vastness of the desert itself can be stunning—literally stunning. It can paralyze a person who finds himself in the midst of immense emptiness, miles from civilization, far from the familiarly human. Such a person can feel quite alien on an alien landscape, so rocky and dry, so harsh and uncompromising. He can begin to feel useless, overwhelmed, tiny, unattached. His isolation rushes upon him like a wind. And with it comes the realization—the inexorable knowledge—that there is no one to help, should he need help; that he is on his own, with only his own resources and wisdom and wit.
In such a situation, the natural response is to shrink and contract one’s scope of consciousness. The person defines a limited area which he understands to be “his.” He focuses his attention on “his place” and essentially ignores the great expanse of wilderness that extends out and away from his space.
The intent of the person in this situation is to create an environment for himself which is human-sized and manageable, in order to sidestep the fear that he will be enveloped by the vastness and lose his identity—his sense of himself—in it. It is the fear of personal annihilation.
There can be a similar sense of loss, and fear of personal annihilation when we open ourselves to the universe-wide scope of the Divine Consciousness. In the discipline we are pursuing in this little book, we are attempting to shed—like a snake its too-small skin—the constriction of our egos, and our bondage to them. Our goal is to pass beyond the personal self and merge our awareness with the Divine Awareness. But when we enter the Divine Awareness—or more precisely, when we recognize that our personal awareness is nothing other than the Divine Awareness peacefully, silently flowing through us, and around us, and floating us out into the great expanse of Divinity, we—like the hiker in the desert—can dread what might happen to our personal identity, and retract the purview of our awareness back into our personal selves. Often at such times, we do this by allowing ourselves to be distracted by some happening in our mental or physical environment.
In a word, we close the shutters of our hearts. We withdraw again into ourselves, into “our place,” protected by that rubbery shell of our egos which we first recognized in Chapter 2.
You can’t really know who you are until you spend sufficient time alone with yourself, observing yourself, getting to know yourself. There’s no mystery in this. This is the way we get to know anyone. But most of us don’t get to know ourselves in this way. We fill up our time with activities and distractions of all sorts.
And so, when we ask the questions, How is my life meaningful? and, What is valuable in my life?, we point to our activities as the sources of value in our lives. We point to the contributions we’ve made to our occupation or to our social organizations, or to the lives of our friends and loved ones. Or we point to our wealth or reputation among others.
Unless we know ourselves well, we don’t see our value arising from within ourselves. We don’t see clearly that who we are, rather than what we do, is the origin of what is valuable in our lives.
And, as we have come to realize in these pages, when we examine the reality of who we are, we find that we are nothing other than the result of Divinity’s choosing that we exist. We are nothing other than the Divine Consciousness holding us in being, flowing through us as through everything else, and sweeping us along in the swirling cosmic dance toward harmony and peace. We are nothing other than Divinity being what it is.
This passing beyond the boundaries of the self and beyond the limitations and denials and expectations which our own will imposes on us, into the free flow of the love of God—this is the true and lasting freedom.
The Cost of Freedom
True freedom, upon analysis, has two aspects: to be free from and to be free to. We strive to release our grip on those habits and behaviors which confine us, control us, and restrict our growth into spiritual freedom. That has been our intention so far in our project here in this little book. We have been constructing a daily discipline of interior exercises in which we attempt to free ourselves from those habits which imprison us in ourselves and enter the Divine Awareness, the source of spiritual freedom.
The daily discipline we have been constructing consists of these activities. First, we “unzip” and discard the “body bag” which encloses us in the residue of our past regrets. By doing this, we shed the skin of defensiveness which conceals our pure selves within this sludgy residue, and let this dark regret flow out and away from us.
Next, we silence our ego voices in order to enter the stillness which inhabits the space around them and within them.
In the interior silence, we open ourselves to perceive the presence of Divinity in our unencumbered awareness, or more precisely, we open ourselves in order to merge our awareness with the Divine Awareness. When this merging occurs, we receive the gift of experiencing our environment directly. This freedom to directly experience creation we have been calling the Newness of Life.
At every stage along the way of freeing our awareness from those things that would keep it enslaved, we had to release our grip on some component of our identity. We had to free ourselves from those things about ourselves which we use to define ourselves and put value on ourselves, whether it be our ego voices or the defensive posture we take toward our experience of the world, or the fantasies and fixations we adopt to give ourselves a private place to retreat to and “act out being ourselves.”
The lesson here is that in order to attain the freedom to take the next step in the quest for the Divine, we must be willing to give up what we have been using to establish our identities for ourselves or to landmark our growth or progress in the spiritual life.
Surely, detaching ourselves in this way is not a quick process. In every stage of our exploration, we have to work at, and practice, being able to release our grip on what we discover to be holding us back from attaining what we seek at that stage. This release takes time: first, time to recognize the component of the self which is restricting us; then time to learn how to extricate ourselves from the bonds which tie us to this component—and thereby to discover that aspect of freedom we are seeking to attain; and finally, time to practice this extricating process daily, in order that the freedom we have attained become a normal, habitual part of our spiritual life. Only then can we relax into the comfort and beauty of this freedom—which is to say, the new freedom we have been given by God in his love for us.
Giving Up the Good for the Better
So, we have articulated a process of spiritual growth here. In order to grow spiritually, that is, to grow more fully into union with the Divine Consciousness, we must constantly free ourselves from whatever interior attitude or habit or experience lures us into comfort or complacency, and thus holds us back from continuing to grow. Let us now apply that principle to the spiritual discipline we are undertaking here.
In the early stages of the spiritual journey that we have put ourselves on here, what was necessary for us to expose to the light of our awareness and to strive to pass through and beyond were the interior impediments to spiritual freedom: regret for our past bad choices, self-absorption and unfounded over-evaluation of our self, isolation from the genuine experience of our environment, ignorance of the experience of the Divine, and so on.
Now, it turns out that after we have dealt with these impediments, we encounter a more difficult part of the journey. Our journey had been leading us (by God’s grace) to the opportunity to experience Divinity itself, as well as the spiritual goodness which flows from the Divine. But as we go through the process described just above of getting comfortable with our newly-found gifts, with our new freedom, with our new prize, it is then that a pitfall appears. When we experience the loveliness of Divinity, it is tempting in our daily discipline to go to that experience, to treasure it (as it deserves), and to prefer to stay in it. If we do this—if we choose to claim the Newness of Life as our destination, as the place where we will stop and reside, then the experience of this good gift itself can impede us from advancing spiritually, from discovering the next, deeper beauty of Divinity.
This is why we come to the spiritual desert. It is not only to free ourselves from spiritual encumbrances. We come here also to enter the heart of the Divine, and in doing that, we must eventually let go even of the Divine gifts or insights that we have been given, in order to free ourselves to penetrate more deeply the limitless heart of God, to step toward the next gift or insight which Divinity offers us.
The Gift of Newness of Life
Let’s say this in a different way. When we are allowed to enter the Divine Consciousness, the great gift we receive is the experience of the Newness of Life. In this experience, we become directly aware of the objects that comprise our environment, without interpretation or naming or curiosity. We experience the simple existence of Divinity, as Divinity brings into on-going being the objects or elements that comprise our environment. Thus, the Newness of Life is the experience of Divinity as Divinity makes itself evident in the beauty of creation.
This experience of the Newness of Life is stunningly lovely, peaceful, direct, and intimate, involving the whole attention of the seeker who finds it.
It is a lovely gift, which we can settle into enjoying. But then, when we are called to move on, we must release our grip on the Newness of Life, and forego it, in order to pass beyond it and enter more deeply into the heart of God.
When we enter the Newness of Life, we experience Divinity as Divinity exists and manifests itself—expresses itself—in the existence and beauty of created things.
Now, to take the next step toward God, we must relinquish our hold on the experience of the Newness of Life. When we do this, we are preparing ourselves to enter the heart of God directly, to perceive and to join Divine Being as Divinity exists in itself. We leave off experiencing Divinity as Divinity manifests itself in what it creates, and in place of this, we experience Divinity as Divinity is in itself. And our response, as we enter and merge with the loving heart of God, is to love God in return.
Now, a crucial characteristic of genuine love is honesty and vulnerability to the loved one. Honesty means that we open ourselves to the loved one and thus reveal the truth of ourselves to our beloved, in the way we are, as much as in what we say.
Because we open ourselves so deeply and stand defenseless before our beloved, we make ourselves vulnerable to our loved one, offering no resistance, preventing nothing, and trusting that our loved one will return our love as purely as we are offering it.
What is true of love between human beings is equally true of the love between Divinity and us, the seekers after God.
Loving God with All Your Heart (cf. Deuteronomy 6:5)
The process for entering the loving heart of God relies on the disciplines we have already developed. Entering God’s loving heart is a process of coming to stand spiritually naked and vulnerable before the Divine, who always showers love on us as on all his creation.
The process of becoming vulnerable to God, and thus receptive to God’s love, takes place in our daily “opening of self” routine. When we “unzip the body bag” and let our regrets and our defenses flow away from us, we are able to stand naked before God, ready to accept his merciful love. We stand vulnerable before our God.
When we peel away the thick skin that covers our personal consciousness (located in the region around our head), and still our ego voice, and enter the interior silence, we find ourselves immersed in the Divine Consciousness, experiencing the Newness of Life. Everything in our perceptual field is “here” though not necessarily “near.” We enter our environment purely—and humbly—simply existing consciously in creation as the Divine chooses to create it, from present moment to present moment. We yield absolute control to Divinity and become completely vulnerable, completely trusting. We experience the Divine in the Newness of Life, as Divinity manifests itself in the purity and beauty of what it creates.
Beyond the Newness of Life
When we receive the grace to step beyond the Newness of Life into the next experience of God, we must allow the Newness of Life to slip away, and we then enter the heart of God directly, as we respond to the Divine Love by using its reflection in us—the love we have for Divinity.
We take this next step by extending our “opening of self” routine. We work our way from top to abysmal bottom, opening ourselves as we go. Since we have already opened the area around our head, the location of our consciousness, as we entered the Newness of Life, we next peel away the barrier—or dismantle the wall—that encloses our heart—our will. We let it come free, breaking the shackles of imposed shoulds; they fall away. Our will rises freely from its bondage to our ego—our self-centeredness, our demands and expectations on ourselves and on others, our greed, our fear. These recede beneath our spirit as we rise free and unstained above our ego-selves.
We notice that we can “look down upon” the remnants which we are leaving behind. We can look objectively on our body, our senses, the inscrutable, bland Source from which our thoughts and emotions arise. All this is not us, because we can look at it as an object of consciousness. All this drops away, and our spirit—our consciousness and our silent will—hovers above it.
When all these defenses, barriers, and entanglements fall away, we find ourselves pure and whole and vulnerable before God. We open our hearts in surrender to the God whose presence we recognize from the experience of the Newness of Life.
However, when we surrender our hearts to the Divine and stand naked and vulnerable before him, we find that our consciousness changes. We re-focus ourselves away from recognizing Divinity in its self-manifestation in the created things of our environment. We find our awareness focused on an empty place—a “middle space”— between ourselves as the seat or point-of-origin of our awareness, and the objects in our environment. It is as though we were attending to the space of air between us and the nearest objects. But it is not that. Our awareness is not of this physical space. Our awareness is of a place of feeling, a place of intimacy, a peaceful, whole, complete, and inviting place of comfort. We find that the physical world has withdrawn into a blurry background. Our hearts have become involved in this new place of harmony which we desire to stay in forever and never to leave.
We have come to rest in the Divine Consciousness itself. Our will is silent, complaint, receptive to whatever arises. We recognize that we are in the present moment, but in this “middle space,” our sense of locale is very weak. We are simply conscious of being within the Divine Consciousness. Our open heart has merged into the loving heart of God.
This is as far as I can take you.
The World, Semi-Transparent
The Spanish painter of the 20th Century, Salvador Dali, attempted to portray this present-world, and at the same time, other-worldly, experience of the Divine in his magnificent Last Supper. In this painting, Jesus is sitting in the middle place at table, with broken bread and a glass of wine before him. He is teaching, right hand raised in gesture. His eleven chosen disciples are kneeling at their places, heads bowed. Behind Jesus is a set of window openings, separated by architectural supports. In the windows behind Jesus is a landscape, looking out over a body of water with boats moored nearby and hills in the distance. In the window opening above, the naked chest and shoulders of Divinity are visible, hands opening out from his sides over the participants at table, in a gesture of mercy and protection.
However, the architectural supports behind Jesus contain areas that fade into semi-transparency, revealing the landscape components—clouds, hills, water. And above Jesus, the arms and torso of Divinity show through the architectural pillars. The effect of this is the merging of interior with exterior , and of the people in the room with Divinity above them. And then, a closer look at the Jesus-figure reveals that he too is semi-transparent, the background landscape appearing through his form.
The image is striking in its transcendence. An ordinary room in which ordinary men are eating an ordinary meal is transformed into unfamiliarity. The scene opens into a reverent, sanctified place where the material world is rendered insubstantial, and the mysterious recognition of the always-present God, Being in the midst of existing things, transports us into holiness.
Freedom is an acquired state. It does not come naturally or spontaneously to us. We spend much of our lives desiring to be free but not knowing how to achieve freedom or not understanding the path to freedom. Like Marley’s Ghost in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, we drag with us each moment the accumulated burden of our past errors and bad choices, of our fears and sorrows, of our empty and unfulfilled desires and expectations. We shackle ourselves to our ideas and opinions, our impoverished understandings, and to the effects of our thoughtless or heartless behavior.
Sometimes we mistake loss for freedom. We might say, “It’s gone. But I didn’t need it anyway. Now I’m free of it.” But genuine freedom is not loss; genuine freedom is surrender to What Is. We cannot be free as long as we live in mistaken understandings of how things really are, in naïveté or ignorance; or as long as we live in the need for things to turn out in conformity with our expectations or desires; or as long as we live in fear or dread of how things might turn out to be. True freedom comes only when we accept completely what actually is, whether it is joyful or painful, whether it is good or it is evil, whether it is what we desire or what we fear, whether we expect it or it takes us by surprise.
Genuine freedom is merging our personal self—our awareness and our will—into the boundless, universe-wide, loving heart of Divinity. It is complete surrender to the awareness and will of Divinity as the Source of All Things. Genuine freedom is the luxury of sharing the One Awareness, to the extent that each of us has been given this gift. Genuine freedom is willing all—and nothing other than—what Divinity wills. Genuine freedom is perceiving with clarified eyes What Is, and What Is Coming to Be.
When we are genuinely free is this way, our hearts do not rejoice, because we are no longer aware of our individual place in the Divine heart. Rather, our awareness flows into the great river of the Divine Awareness, going with it where it goes, being where it is.
The Wisdom of the Pronouns
In English, and certainly in other languages, the personal pronouns (I, you, me, he, her, and so on) are often used in such a way that they reveal the closeness or intimacy of the relationship between the persons to which the pronouns refer in their context. With this feature in mind, we can arrange several of these pronouns into an order in which they reveal a series of “levels of intimacy.” Since we are devoting ourselves in our work here to an increasingly more intimate relationship with God, it may be useful to relate some of these pronouns and their usage to the discipline we have developed here for moving our awareness out of ourselves and into the loving heart of God.
We – The Word of Binding
The pronoun we signifies a relationship of one-ness, a fellowship. In Chapter 2, the opening of the individual self into fellowship with others in group song was our first example of the recognition of a world beyond the self.
Among lovers, the pronoun we signifies the one-ness of intimate love. The “we”-experience occurs in those moments of complete openness, vulnerability, and union with the beloved: an infant falls asleep peacefully in its mother’s arms; spouses embrace in the calm ecstasy of love, each losing their sense of self in the intimate union between them.
This meaning of “we”—intimate union in which one heart merges with the other—is the ultimate experience of the Divine Love which is given to those who seek it of God. It is the experience which we have been opening ourselves to receive (in God’s time) in this chapter. This unity is beyond emotion. It is beyond description in words. It is the moment of sunrise. It is the coming of sleep. It is the fullness of music.
You and I – Respectful Love
The level of relationship just “beneath” the intimate union expressed by the pronoun we is the respectful love expressed by you and I. This relationship is surely love. Each of the lovers is open and free with the other. However, the sense of personal identity is present to each of them. And so, they look upon one another with admiration. They listen to each other with understanding, with joy, with expectant humor. They respond to one another with feeling and emotion.—This closeness between the individuals in this type of love relationship is captured by the word respectful in the phrase “respectful love.”
This you and I relationship is, if you will, the minimum level of love which we can offer Divinity. It is the relationship which we experience in the Newness of Life. We recognize the pervasive presence of Divinity in the objects of God’s creation in our environment. We enter the heart of God in these moments and meditate with God on his beauty and power, as these are expressed in creation.
This you and I relationship is also the quality of relationship which we engage in when we pray genuinely. We delight in our recognition of our place within Divinity and respond to this recognition with feeling. This prompts us to express our love in some way, usually (in most religious traditions) by using voice, either by vocalizing or by verbalizing: we chant, we sing, we shout, we “pray in tongues” (glossolalia), we utter words of praise, we beg. In some traditions, this love is expressed in physical action: we dance (either ritually or freely), we weep, we gesture with our hands and arms, we fall down, we prostrate ourselves. (And in some traditions, we use these vocalizations to put ourselves in the proper state to receive the grace of the we-relationship with the Divine.)
At this you and I level of relationship, we respond to God as the beloved other, whom we can address, to whom we can speak our heart. Here Divinity stimulates feelings, emotions, visions within us. Here we exchange love with Divinity.
Us – Reflection
In English, the pronoun we is called the “subjective” form of the set of pronouns which refer to the speaker and the speaker’s social group. The complete set is: we, our, ours, us. The subjective form (we) is used as the subject of verbs. That is, we refers to those people who are the source of the action expressed by the verb.
The pronoun us, on the other hand, is called the “objective” form of this same set of pronouns. The objective form (us) identifies the object of verbs, that is, it identifies the speaker and the speaker’s social group as the recipients of the action of the verb, or again, as being the objects of the action of the verb.
Applying this concept to our discussion in this book, us refers to observing ourselves as the objects of consciousness. That is, we hold ourselves up to the light of critical examination. We reflect on ourselves as the objects of our analysis.
There are at least two ways in which two people in relationship can employ this reflective view of themselves. The first way is that a loving couple, immersed in the present moment of their love (their we-relationship), reflects on past episodes in their relationship (for example, “Remember when we were on the swings in that park in Des Moines?”), for the humor value of these episodes or as a sampling of the couple’s history—as evidence of the durability of their relationship or of the previous stages of their on-going love. They reflect on their relationship as currently active and use these historical episodes as the specific contexts in which this relationship flourished in the past.
The second use of this word—the use important to us here—is among couples who are critically examining their relationship—perhaps at its ending, perhaps in an attempt to refresh it, and so on. (For example, “Did our marriage ever make either of us happy?”)
In both of these cases, the common factor is that the relationship itself becomes an object of examination, an object of consciousness. The people examining their relationship look at it from a distance, as it were. They analyze it as though they were simple observers, as though they themselves were not party to the relationship. They treat the relationship as though it were an object in itself, rather than as it actually is: a condition or mutual arrangement or transfer of personal energy that exists between the people in the relationship and in which they participate. In short, they objectify the relationship in order to examine it in its parts and in the interactions among those parts. (For example, “Our marriage has hit the rocks. How did that happen? Was it the money? Was it my fault?”)
In the realm of our relationship with the Divine, this objectification of the relationship occurs every time we try to say something about it, every time we attempt to put into words aspects of the Divine nature or of our involvement with Divinity. To do so, we must go through a mental process of stepping back from our relationship with God and then, using our memory of our experience of being in the relationship, we attempt to find words which capture the experience. (For example, “When I meditate, I try to listen for God’s voice.”) In other words, we overlook that we are in a relationship with God so that we can step back from it and say something about it.
In these attempts, we are not actively participating in our relationship with God, nor are we praying, that is, speaking with God in an intimate relationship. Rather, we are simply trying to formulate meaningful statements about God. Such statements can then provide the basis for continued thinking about God and for making further statements about God, as developments of our previous statements. Often, such lines of thought can enter realms of speculation far from the experience of God.
Much of this little book, for example, objectifies the experience of God in order to put aspects of that experience into words. However, we try to save ourselves from going too far afield in the wilderness of thought by always seeking to keep the experience of the Divine at the center of our endeavors, and to wait constantly for the grace to enter more deeply into his loving heart.
At the opposite end of the “openness spectrum” from the we-relationship—one heart merging with another—is the state designated by the pronoun me. In terms of our considerations in this book, me refers to a state of thorough self-absorption. It is the state of being with which we began this project—the state in which we enfold our attention completely around ourselves, allowing us to remove ourselves from direct interaction with the rest of creation and focusing solely on meeting our own needs and desires.
The pronoun me, like the pronoun us, is an “objective” pronoun. The pronoun me objectifies the self. When we are in this state of objectifying our self, trying to understand ourselves so that we can serve our desires and satisfy our “needs,” it is as though we have within us an alien creature which constantly demands more and more from us, and we constantly strive to meet all the many and various demands of this creature.
Our Goal: An Open Mouth
Our intention in this book, in terms of our analogy with the personal pronouns, is to move ourselves from the me-state, through the various stages of intimacy, into the we-state of complete intimacy with the Divine Source of All That Is.
What we do at each stage, in reality, is to prepare ourselves through our various disciplines to receive the grace of God. It is this grace which causes us to progress through the various stages into ever-increasing union with the Divine. We cannot accomplish anything or make any progress on our own. We simply do this: We prepare ourselves to receive; Divinity (when it is appropriate in the Divine Will) always gives when we are ready to receive.
With regard to this Divine gift, the Jewish psalmist speaks in God’s voice: “Open wide your mouths, and I will fill them” (Psalm 81:10.)
The Desert Irony
And so, in the spiritual realm, the desert can be a very fertile place once we embrace the barrenness of it. The more we empty ourselves of ourselves, and even of those treasured gifts for which we have worked for a long time, including the Newness of Life—the more we empty ourselves of these things, the more we are filled with the Divine Spirit, and so, the more purely we merge with the loving heart of God.
It is here—in the silence of the heart, in the “middle space” imbued with the loving spirit of God, in the freedom of our spirits loosened from their bondage to thought, to desire, to the demands of our bodies, which all shackle us and weigh us down—it is here, naked and vulnerable in the loving heart of God, that we seekers after God meet one another in freedom and peace. It does not matter what path we followed to get here—for God provides many paths up the same mountain of the Lord. It does not matter what groups or classes or demographics we belong to. Here there are no men or women, Catholics or Moslems or Jews or Sikhs, white or black or brown or yellow or red, gay or straight, married or not, rich or poor or in great need, old or young, dying or vigorous, joyful or mourning. Here we are all simply children of God, filled with the light of compassionate love.
When we are merged with the loving heart of God, we easily follow God’s heart in universal love. We extend our hearts not only to those who belong to our religion or our sect, our nation or our tribe, our value system or our lifestyle, our path toward God or our disciplines. Our heart follows the heart of God in pouring out love upon all his creation. He creates and maintains everything in his love. When our hearts are merged with Divinity’s loving heart, we are also free to love every person and all creation with the same compassionate, joyful love which flows from the heart of God and bears our hearts also along its flowing course.
The LORD! The LORD!
Come, then, let us bow down in worship,
bending the knee before the LORD, our maker,
for he is our God, and we are his people,
the flock he shepherds. (vv. 6-7a)
When our consciousness joins with the Divine Consciousness and we recognize the truth of ourselves—that I am simply the loving God’s willing that I exist—and when Divinity fills all the empty space of our being with his light and air, we come to humility. We come to see that of ourselves, we are nothing. It is due only to the will of the Divine that we exist at all, and that we are created with those abilities and faculties that we find ourselves to have.
Being humble does not mean feeling worthless or insignificant. In his creative love, God has blessed us with his own dignity. For God is the source and origin of all that we are. So what we are derives from who God is. Our very existence flows from his; our consciousness exists in his; our will is fashioned on the model of his; all our structure and parts, and all our destiny spring from him. As the Jewish scripture has it:
God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27; NRSV),
God . . . made us in the image of his own eternity.
(Wisdom 2:23; NRSV)
It is because we humans are created in “the image of the Divine” that we attain to an inalienable dignity.
Moreover, our worth—like that of all created things—derives from the love with which God made us. Addressing God, the author of the Wisdom of Solomon exclaims:
For you love all things that exist
and detest none of the things that you have made,
for you would not have made anything
if you had hated it. (11:24; NRSV)
Though the reality is that we are flimsy and insignificant, small and powerless, nonetheless we are loved by our Creator and endowed with a divine dignity.
And so, for us, this is our humility: We recognize our smallness in our immersion in the splendid Consciousness of the Divine.
When we merge with the Divine Consciousness, we see ourselves as we really are: I am a glistening crystal on the glacier of God; I am a shimmering wavelet on the ocean of the Divine; a flashing drop in the pluming torrent of Niagara.
Bending the Knee
The Hebrew testament often portrays the Divine as a mighty conquering hero, as in the first 3 lines of our current verses. In the ancient Hebrew culture, the gesture that demonstrated submission to a powerful warlord was prostration: bending the face to the ground from a kneeling position. The poet uses this image, familiar to the people of his time, as an expression of humility and worship.
Similarly with us, though the God to whom we submit is no warlord or conquering hero, but Being Itself—a God of inestimable power. Our response is humility, as of old, but not fear. Rather, we recognize that when we submit to Divinity, we are immediately welcomed into all that Divinity is for us, into his consciousness and into the love which overflows from is heart. When we find ourselves, so small and powerless, immersed in the beauty and scope of Divine Consciousness, what arises in us is worship, which is woven of love and gratitude and awe.
This worship of the Divine is the apex of this psalm. The poem builds up to it. God allows us entry into his consciousness, even intends that we join as one with him. Our response is worship: loving surrender of all that we are to God, accepting his offer, merging in will and consciousness with him. There is no fear. There is joy.
The Loving Shepherd
This sense of loving worship is admirably captured in the final line of our current verses, in the image of the shepherd and his flock. The tone or feeling which delightfully arises from it is comfort, trust, and security.
I had the opportunity several years ago to live for some weeks with friends in a rent-house in the sheep pastures of central Washington State. Behind the house, in a fenced pasture, was a small Airstream trailer, in which two shepherds lived. They were two men from the Basque region of Spain. They spoke little English, but by gestures invited us to watch them as they cared for the sheep, whom they so evidently loved. All their attention and concern was focused on the sheep in their flock. They were up and in the pastures—it seemed—day and night. They led the sheep to feeding, they assisted with birthing, they cared for the ill sheep, they even neutered the male lambs!
The image of those two shepherds—so devoted, so tender and loving—is the lens through which I see God in these verses. God is the strong one and the wise one. He has the wisdom to know when and from where the ravaging enemy comes, and he has the strength to turn away this enemy’s onslaught.
Because God is benevolent and caring, wise and strong, I can put my whole trust in him, relax into him. I trust him to provide what I need, to compensate for my weaknesses, and to lead me steadily into a future unknown to me.
Sometimes I see myself just as witless and unforesightful and unintelligent as the sheep those Basque shepherds cared for. And yet those shepherds loved those sheep nonetheless. Sometimes my heart reaches out and recognizes my Shepherd and calls out to God, “Daddy!”
The Steadfast Love of God
The benevolence of God is evident in the beauty and peace of the created world. It is evident in the joy and love which human beings can share. The love of God is everywhere present in his project of creation.
We perceive this love—so pervasive in the world we experience—as a component of the Divine Consciousness that fills all things. When in the silence we come into union with the Awareness of God, we experience the peace and sweetness of this universal Divine Love. This love springs from the very heart of God and has its source in God’s deepest self. Jesus’ disciple, John, exults: “God is love”! (1 John 4:8; NAB, NRSV)
Divine Love, Self-Reflective
Since “God is love,” this Divine Love is, above all, the love of God for himself. Divinity turns to reflect upon its pure goodness and love, and recognizes itself as love. That is, the Divine Consciousness is first of all conscious of goodness and love issuing from itself. The Word of God, which we have recognized to be the Divine Plan for Creation, by which all creation has its form and its final destiny, is the primary issuance of this Divine Love from the heart of God. First and foremost, God loves with his Divine Love the creative issuance of his own heart.
Moreover, when God in his graciousness invites us to experience union with the Divine, it is the Divine Love which fills us with this “knowledge,” this conscious experience of Divine Being, whose loving awareness pervades all of creation.
When God calls us to know him, it is in this way that we come to experience him: His Divine Love shares God’s self-awareness with us.
Divine Love as Context
When we open ourselves to be embraced by the Divine Consciousness, we immediately recognize that our passage into this experience of God is entirely safe and free of care. Gratitude arises in our hearts. For we find our experience of the Divine Presence to be peaceful, comfortable, and secure. We are experiencing the Divine Love.
As our experience of Divinity continues through time, this Divine Love does not fade or change. All that we experience creation to be—or to come to be—occurs against the backdrop of this unchanging love. The Divine Love is the matrix within which creation subsists through time. The Divine Love, then, is the permanent and unchanging context within which the created universe exists.
The Main Attraction
Since Divine Love is the matrix within which all creation abides, we also exist within this Love of God. Within the Divine Love we “live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28; NRSV, NAB) And this Divine Love is not without effect on us. For it is the Divine Love which draws us toward God. The Divine Love propels us to fulfill our destiny of union with God, as the Word of God has instilled that destiny within us and all creatures.
The nature of love is that it attracts the lover toward the beloved. Love is an impelling force which opens the lover and draws the lover near to the beloved. So the Divine Love, permeating us and everything around us, draws us toward God, the source of that love.
It is the Divine Love which inspires us to be seekers after God.—And finding him, that is, entering into intimate relationship with God, we surrender ourselves to him in love. In reality, this means that the Divine Love fills our hearts with the love which we offer and extend toward God. God himself gives us the love which we surrender back to him!
Getting to the End
Just as the Divine Love draws us toward God in a thoroughly enveloping union, this same Love draws each creature toward unity with all the other creatures in the created universe. That force of peaceful attraction which is the Divine Love impels all of creation—all of us—to tend toward unity, the final end of creation, in fulfillment of the Divine Plan for Creation.
This unity among creatures is, in reality, union within the Word of God, the logos, the “plan” which emerges from God, the final destination of all creation. The Divine Love is the attractive force which draws us all toward this final end. The purpose or intention of God for the whole project of creation will be achieved entirely because of the attractive action upon us and all creatures of the Divine Love.
Thus, the Divine Love is, as it were, a kind of moral gravitational force, abiding in each creature, and drawing every creature toward all others and toward Divinity, in love.
The Smaller View
What we have just described is the sweeping cosmic panorama of the Divine Love infusing all of creation, so that all creatures are attracted to one another in love, and finally coalesce into that perfect union which is the Word of God, the Divine Plan for Creation, fully achieved.
From the much more limited viewpoint of the individual person living out his or her moment-by-moment existence, this process of achieving God’s overall intention for the universe comes down to individual moral choices made in particular circumstances at particular times. That is the extent of our participation in the full achievement of the Kingdom of God. And within this very limited framework of the time and space and consciousness of the individual, the Divine Love expresses itself as the moral impulse—the guiding light—the tug which we feel urging us to choose the way toward God in the particular moral decision at hand.
The Divine Love sheds light on our way in all the moral choices we make.
When we choose the way of God, the Divine Love is the joy—sometimes tearful—which we experience as a consequence of that choice.
When we choose against the way of God, the Divine Love is that pulling—often nagging and inescapable—which we experience in our spirits—a separation or tearing away from unity and peace. It is the “prick of conscience” which can bring with it sorrow and shame and guilt.
And when we have been pricked by conscience and turn again toward God, seeking again a place within him, the Divine Love is that softening of our hearts which allows us to accept the welcoming of God that draws us out of ourselves and into his heart.
More Than Just a Pretty Feeling
All love is experienced as an attraction to the beloved. But love is more than simply the experience of a feeling or emotion. Love involves recognizing the value of the beloved, and on the basis of that mutual recognition of one another’s value, the lovers throw in their lots with one another. They open themselves and offer themselves to each other with clear minds, and thus they are filled with the gifts of the other, the two shared selves joining in a bond of unity and peace.
The lovers become significant persons to one another, the whole breadth and depth of each person opening to the other, over time. Each becomes important to the other, as the treasure of who each is comes over time to be realized by the other.
In the same way, each of us who seeks God becomes filled over time with the personal knowledge and experience of Divinity. It is the Divine Love which opens itself to us and brings us to realize—to “make real,” to experience—the living Person of God. In the interior silence, beneath the sadly insufficient words on these pages, we come to share kindness with the Living God. It is the Divine Love which makes these words real within us, which makes Divinity alive in us and to us.
The Love of God, when we accept it and surrender ourselves to it, enlivens our world with the Person of God.
Getting the Way Straight
Today, listen to the voice of the Lord:
Do not grow stubborn, as your fathers did in the wilderness,
when at Meribah and Massah they challenged me
and provoked me,
although they had seen all of my works.
Forty years I endured that generation.
I said, “They are a people whose hearts go astray
and they do not know my ways.”
So I swore in my anger,
“They shall not enter into my rest.” (vv. 7b-11)
There are two dynamics in these verses: human action and, as it were, God’s reaction—the outcome of the human action, as that outcome is built into the structure of what is.
When we strive to approach the living God, we seek to enter the silence of the present moment and merge our consciousness with the Divine Consciousness that pervades everything that is. We open ourselves, to be filled with the presence of God, and we offer our will to his will, so that God might receive it—take our will—and join it with his own.
It is then that we are completely with Divinity—in his hands, as the scripture says. We retain our freedom of will—we could withdraw our will from God at any time—but we choose not to choose. We permit ourselves to go where he brings us. We trust God.
Since this loving surrender to the leadership of God is the fullness of life which we seek and which Divinity intends for us, then the great sin against this way of life is to exert our own will against the evident way in which Divinity is leading us. The great sin is to demand our own way. The great sin is stubbornness.
Moribund in Meribah
The story of Meribah (Numbers 20:2-13) is a desert story—a story of thirst under the blazing sun—a story of survival. There is no water to drink for the thousands of Israelites wandering in the desert after their release from Egypt. The thirsty people are weak and fearful and in distress. Their fear expresses itself as worry, and as they worry they begin to panic. This panic becomes anger—anger toward Moses, their leader, and anger toward God. They expect God to provide for them—what else does surrender to God mean? And when it doesn’t appear that God is providing for them, they throw their trust in God away—and with it, their peacefulness, their confidence that their lives will go well, and thus, the foundation of their happiness.
Now their anchor of knowledge and security—their wisdom—is gone. They are adrift in the chaotic sea of their emotions. Their worry feeds their dread. They fear for their lives. They begin to insist.
Moses pleads with God. God gives Moses the power to bring water from rock by striking the rock with his staff. Moses goes before the people and tells them God’s promise, trying to calm them. They pause. Silence descends. Their expectation mounts. Moses raises his staff and strikes the rock. They wait. They wait. No water. Time begins to echo in their ears. Still no water. They begin to squirm. A baby cries. Restlessness undulates through the crowd. Moses becomes uncomfortable. He begins to question as well: What’s going on here? As the tension rises in the crowd, it rises in him as well. Why is God doing this? Spontaneously, he lifts his staff again and dashes it on the rock. Instantly, a burst of water gushes from among the rocks, and a torrent begins to surge down into the sand on the desert floor.
The people have their water. A cry of joy goes up. God has provided.
But for Moses, the joy is superficial. Beneath it is a river of remorse.
* * * * * * *
It is easy to trust in God when we are getting what pleases us. But when events challenge our well-being, our safety, our joy and peace, we can easily revert to our emotions—our fear, panic, anger, self-protectiveness. When we do this, we lose our footing, our surety, our solid foundation of reliance on God. The surge of emotion carries our consciousness away with it, and we thrash about helplessly, poor swimmers in the tidal surge.
Revert to What Is
On one occasion, Jesus gently corrects his friend Martha: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing” (Luke 10:41; NAB). That one thing is to be peaceful and remain open to the Divine, awaiting the sign or the voice of guidance.
Even in the darkest, most threatening moments, the Divine Consciousness, the heart of God, is open to us, awaiting us. It is always his will that we join ourselves to him, not in panic, but in peace. We are, after all, always and only within his loving heart—that is where we exist and live. It is for us simply to remember this and return our awareness to him.
The process for returning our attention to the Divine Consciousness is easily stated: Revert to what is. This becomes effective quickly with practice—with remembering to do it. When temptation or emotion overtakes us and threatens to carry us away, we save ourselves—by the grace of God—by simply objectifying the threat—looking at it objectively, as an object outside ourselves. We turn our attention to the threat and see it for what it is—that it is not our selves, our consciousness, but that it is outside of us. We recognize that the threat is a part of what exists around us, but also that it is neither ourselves nor the Divine Consciousness. So, since the threat is external to us and simply one element of all that is, we can turn our attention away from it in particular and toward all that is. We can deprive the threat of its power to overwhelm us by observing it as one element of the context of creation around us. In other words, we can re-join ourselves with the Divine Consciousness, the source of everything that is.
The slogan for this process, to repeat, is: Revert to what is.
The Way of Stubbornness
That stubborn insistence on having our own way when circumstances seem to go against us prevents peace. We spend our energy worrying, gossiping, scheming—in an effort to bring about our own version of reality, often exclusively for our own benefit at the expense of others.
There are at least two downsides to this stubborn insistence. First, it costs a good deal of energy. It drains us and wears us out. We are, after all, trying to do what we are incapable of doing—to manage creation. The cost to us is degeneration. We live at an unhealthy level of energy and our bodies malfunction—heart attack, stroke, diabetes, Parkinson’s Disease, and so on. Or again, our bodies begin to devour themselves with ulcers, colitis, cancer, or the host of auto-immune diseases.
God the Teacher
Second, stubbornness distracts us from our recognition of our place in the Divine Consciousness, and so we do not grow in real wisdom and understanding. I don’t mean the wisdom of the world—how the financial markets work or how I can get what I want within institutional structures—but rather, the knowledge of how God in his benevolence and love brings about goodness in the world.
Paul of Tarsus teaches that “All things work together for good for those who love God” (Romans 8:28; NRSV). When we turn our attention to Divinity and seek to be one with his loving heart—when we surrender management of the universe to its Creator—we come to recognize that we have the freedom simply to watch and observe how goodness arises, often unexpectedly, in little things and big. We see how Divinity moves us and others, often without our realizing it, to help bring about goodness. And we see how events and situations converge and coalesce to make beneficial results. We see that nothing goes to waste. We are free to watch God work in his way with patience, with subtlety, with power.
Imitating the Source
Merging with the Divine means not only joining our consciousness with the Divine Consciousness, but also uniting our will with the Divine will. When we open our interior space to the “light and air” of God, we become filled with the presence of God. Our heart—our will—rises into the Divine will.
Since we are filled with Divinity, we become more than simple observers of the ways of God. We ourselves also become channels for the Divine benevolence. Filled with God, we are able to act with benevolence in the world—to tend to the well-being of what exists around us, to respect the dignity of the people with whom we interact, understanding that they are the creations of the loving will of God and that they, like we, are just where they need to be at this moment on their way toward God. We are able to nurture with wisdom, to help, and to care for whomever and whatever God creates in the world around us.
It is for us to be the Goodness of God in the world.
The end of the journey toward God is peace within Divinity. We know this, with chagrin, every time we leave God and act selfishly and break that peace.
When we live within this peace—heart and mind embedded within Divinity—the Divine benevolence spreads itself through our actions in the world. Barriers between people are torn down by acts of kindness. The many become one. The diversity of created things harmonizes into the unity of the on-going What Is. In particular, the variety of human opinions and analyses, religions, ways of life, institutional systems harmonize within this peace, in the recognition of the One Source of All Things.
This peace, and the wisdom which attends it, comes in no other way than when we approach the God of All in integrity and clear honesty and loving surrender. It is then that we enter into his rest.
Divinity and Religion
O send forth your light and your truth;
let these be my guide.
Let them bring me to your holy mountain,
to the place where you dwell. (Psalm 43:3)
You may have noticed that this chapter does not begin with an excerpt from Psalm 95, as the other chapters have. The reason is that we have concluded our reflection on Psalm 95, which was our purpose in this little book. If you carry anything away with you from your reading here, I hope that it is the certainty that living in the experience of Divinity is the fundamental desire and activity of our lives. Many things are valuable to us in our lives. None is sweeter, more peaceful, more valuable than this.
The foundational nature of the experience of Divinity raises a question: What is the connection between experiencing Divinity and practicing a religion? Many religions seem to be less concerned with the experience of Divinity than they are with “faith.” The term “faith” often appears to mean unconditional acceptance of a set of teachings, for which no justification is offered except that the founder of the religion or the religion’s foremost spokespersons assert the set of teachings to be true or spiritually necessary.
Early in this book, I suggested that the purpose of religion is to lead one to the experience of Divinity. The thinking there was that since experiencing God is the fundamental aim of our lives as seekers after God, and since religion seems to be about establishing and maintaining our relationship with God (individually and communally), then religion is the community’s normal vehicle for bringing us as individuals into the closest form of relationship with God, that is, the experience of God.
How Many Chosen Peoples Are There?
What then are we to think of those religions which preach the principle, “Believe what we believe or be damned” ? Which are these religions? We might reflect here on the medieval Roman Catholic dictum, extra ecclesiam nulla salus, “There is no salvation outside of our faith.” (Thankfully, the Second Vatican Council permanently redefined this position in 1964, recognizing that all religions contain the Truth of God in some way, and that people of all religions can approach God and by God’s grace, find him.)
Likewise, we can reflect on the current position of many Evangelical Christian churches that one is damned unless one professes Jesus Christ to be one’s personal Lord and Savior, or on the position of some Muslim groups that infidels must either convert to Islam or be killed.
In Chapter 8 above, we recognized that Divinity, the Source of All Things, loves everything he creates and calls everyone into union with him. Moreover, he provides many paths by which to approach him and enter into Divine Consciousness. In light of this, the claim that a particular religion is the only way to reach Divinity or to satisfy the demands of the god whom those religionists cherish misses the mark of Truth, as those know who recognize Divine Awareness permeating all creation and who share in the universal love that issues from Divinity.
The claim that only those who adhere to “our” religion can find Divinity implies that Divinity loves only one group of people and does not love the rest of humanity who do not belong to that group. This god, then, who shows favoritism toward one group cannot be Divinity, the Creator of all things in love and the one who opens the way to himself for all those who desire him and seek him.
What I mean to say here is that religions which claim a god who shows favoritism have an imperfect knowledge of the Divine Awareness from whom all things arise. The leaders of groups who make such a claim are blinded to the true nature of Divinity by their love of power and the challenge of the battle. Their stance can be reduced to the simple, juvenile claim that “We’re better than you are,” and sometimes they’re willing to damn people to hell or even to kill them, in defense of that claim.
Such distractions prevent these groups from experiencing the presence of God that seekers who find the universal harmony and peace discover in the loving heart of God. Calm Christians, including Catholics, know that universal love was the goal of Jesus: “Father, . . . that they might be one as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one.” (John 17:21-23.) Calm Muslims know that Islam is the religion of universal peace. Sincere Buddhists know that the goal of their seeking is blissful enlightenment to universal harmony. And so on.
In Trouble Again with Words
So the question morphs into this: What is the source of the conflicts among religions which claim that “our” religion is the “true” religion, the only way to God?
The simple answer is: human language. The more precise answer is: the human power to interpret experience into meaning and to capture that interpretation in language.
The natural human ability to interpret experience and to formulate those interpretations into language, is the fundamental cause of cultural superiority and ultimately, of war.
To come to a clearer understanding of the source of religious differences (and the consequent conflicts), we have to distinguish among three kinds of knowledge whose names are often used interchangeably, though each is quite different from the other two. The three varieties of knowledge are: truth, faith, and belief.
What is Truth?
When we ask what truth is, the answer is, quite simply, What Is is truth. Truth is “the way things really are.” We’re not speaking here of propositional truth, such as 3 + 3 = 6, or “If day is when the sun is shining, and if I see the sun shining overhead, then for me it must be day.” This kind of “truth” is arrived at by manipulation of the rules of logic and may have no relation to what actually is or could possibly be. Consider, for example: “If God creates everything within his consciousness, and if there is something that God is unaware of, then that thing does not exist.”
The truth we are focusing on here is not propositional truth. We are discussing truth as the reality of things, and the nature of these things. In science, we say that the reality of things and the nature of those things can only be certified by experiencing them, or by exercising logical processes (such as mathematics) on previously established “truths,” which are ultimately based in human experience (observation, for example.)
There is only one way to be certain whether or not the statement, “The moon is made of green cheese” is accurate: go there and see, or rather, taste.
The fact is that statements of scientific “truths” are not truth at all. Rather, the experiences which underlie the scientific statements—or any other statements of “truth,” for that matter—are what is true. The experiences themselves are our only way of being certain of “the way things really are.”
It’s as simple as that: Truth is simply the experience of the way things really are.
This is a crucial assertion. The only truth is the experience of what exists. The experience itself—wordless, existing simply for itself—is what is true. Do you remember the exercise in Chapter 3 which asked you to place yourself in the presence of some object, such as a bud vase with a flower in it? You were asked simply to allow the object to exist—to manifest its existence—in your presence. You were asked simply to share existence with the object. In terms of our present discussion, that experience of the bud vase is truth. You recognize that the existence of the bud vase cannot be denied, because you have perceived it, you have experienced it. That is truth.
Truth is what we perceive as existing. Truth is the way things really are.
We Have to Respect Perspective
When we say that truth is the experience of what is, we are speaking of course from our limited human perspective. This means that we humans can never achieve a comprehensive experience of truth. That is because we can never experience everything that is.
The experience of Everything That Is is reserved, of course, for Divinity, because Divinity is the Source of All That Is. Divinity alone can perceive the reality of all that exists. So Divinity alone can embrace All Truth. (Let’s agree—or pretend—that we can really understand what that sentence means.)
We humans know truth from a much more limited perspective, because our ability to get our perception around everything that exists is limited by our finiteness. So when we merge our consciousness with the Divine Consciousness in our complete surrender to God, we perceive the truth of What Is through our limited human perception. We are finite, our perceptions are impoverished and incomplete, we are bound in time and space, and so we have a limited ability to know truth. As a result, the only actual truth that we can know is our experience—no matter how incomplete—of what exists.
How Many Kinds of Snow Are There?
When we claim that truth is what we experience as existing, are we claiming that every human experiences exactly the same things? The answer is No.
It is said that the Inuits have in their language fourteen words for different types of snow. In English, we have just a few words for different kinds of snow. Most of these come from the meteorologists, who pay more attention to classifying different types of snow than the average person does. The point is that some observers perceive the reality of things more keenly, more observantly, than others.—An experienced poker player may observe a tiny twitch on his opponent’s face which most of us might miss entirely.
So it is with the truth of Divine Consciousness. Novice seekers after God may have to study and discipline themselves for years before they are given the gift of experiencing Divinity in some powerful but rudimentary way. Other seekers, more experienced and more adept, have learned to open themselves more completely to the Divine gift, and their experience of Divinity is richer, perhaps more blissful, and certainly characterized by greater wisdom and understanding.
Nonetheless, the central assertion remains: Truth is simply the way things are in the universe of things that arise in the loving heart of the Source of All That Is.
Truth is wordless. Truth is pure perception. Truth is the silent recognition of what is.
Faith—The Talkative Stepchild of Truth
The truth that presents itself in existing things, including the Truth of Divinity, can only be known by experience. Truth does not manifest itself as statements.
Human beings certainly have the ability to name what they experience, that is, to create words that signify the experiences that they share. (“Sunrise” is one example in English.) But these words have no content to people—even to native speakers of the language—who have not experienced what the word signifies.
Take the phrase “the bends,” for example, as it is associated with deep-sea diving. Those of us who are not divers can have a conceptual (dictionary-definition) understanding of the word, and we might try to imagine what it is like to suffer the bends. But in fact, no one knows the truth of the bends except those divers who have endured the condition.
It is natural for us, since we possess language, to attempt to express our experiences in statements. In our lived experiences, we have come into contact with the truth of the way things are. Our impulse, especially when we undergo significant experiences or experiences which we believe other people would be interested in, is to attempt to capture or depict or formulate these experiences in statements.
Some might call such statements “truth claims” or “statements of truth.” I will not use those terms here, for the sake of clarity. I will refer to such statements as faith statements. There are several forceful reasons for preferring this phrase to the others.
First, faith statements can never precisely express the truth. As we said above, truth is direct; it is the immediate experience of what is. Words can only inadequately approximate the experience of truth. Imagine, for example, that on an early morning walk, I stop and watch the sun rise slowly into a sky full of various colors and cloud-shapes. I return home and try to communicate my experience to my wife. I might say, “The sunrise this morning was majestic.” My wife might perceive from my enthusiasm that the sunrise I saw was particularly beautiful to me. But the actual statement I made was a summary statement which carried no detail. It is, in fact, a metaphor, a comparison between unlike things which places on the subject of the metaphor (the sunrise) a quality characteristic of the metaphorical object (majestic—the way a king walks, or the qualities of kingship which inspire deference in a king’s subjects.)
This is to say that faith-statements, which attempt to express the truth of experiences, are always interpretive. We set the truth-experience within, or against a backdrop of, descriptive detail, or of meaning, or of values. The statement, “The sunrise was red,” selects one descriptive detail as important enough to be expressed, from among the thousands of other details that were evident. That is, one detail is preferred over many others. That selection of detail is a form of interpretation. Likewise, as above, the statement, “The sunrise was majestic,” interprets the experience in terms of a different experience (the way of kings), in which some similarity between the two different objects in the comparison is highlighted. And likewise, the statement, “God is loving,” interprets the experience of God in terms of the speaker’s value system.
In the realm of science, the situation is somewhat different but the outcome is the same. There are no scientific or philosophical statements of the way things are which are not based ultimately on a set of assumptions—assumptions like “The world can be understood,” or “Parallel lines never meet” or “Genetic mutation is the source of evolutionary changes in species” or “Good exists.” These fundamental assumptions are themselves interpretations of lived experience. And so, every statement founded on them is essentially an interpretation of experience, rather than a reliable and unquestionable capturing of the experience.
One way we know that statements are not truth is that statements can always be questioned, contradicted, argued. Truth is direct experience. Truth is what is. It is immediately self-evident. It cannot be denied by the one who experiences it.
And so, we need a different term for the content of these statements which attempt to capture or express the truth of the experiences which the statements verbalize. The term used here is faith.
We ordinarily think of faith as either (1) a statement or set of statements which is taken to reflect the way things are (statements such as “There is life after death”) on the basis of the reputation of the religious founder or leader who made the statement. In general, these sets of faith-statements underlie the religions, “the Catholic Faith,” for example. Or (2) the ability to accept such statements are accurately reflective of the way things are (as in, “That woman has strong faith.”)
But this way of using the term faith breaks the connection between truth and experience which we recognized above. Therefore, as we will use the term here, faith is the attempt of a person who has experienced the way things are to express in statements the truth he or she has experienced. These statements are always interpretive, as we recognized above. And so, faith-statements are interpretations of the way things are, made by people who have experienced the truth which the faith-statements attempt to express.
Truth is direct and unarguable. It is what is perceived—not what is understood. When the perceiver of truth pauses and steps back from the truth-experience, and attempts to verbalize it, that person necessarily interprets the truth-experience in terms of his or her cultural values or perspectives, or in terms of his or her own insights, previously formulated into faith-statements.
Truth, then, is the experience of what really is, directly perceived. Faith, on the other hand, is the truth-experience interpreted into statements having meaning—faith-statements—by the one who underwent the truth-experience.
This book, for example, is not truth. What the writer experienced prior to writing the book is truth—the experience of what really is. The book is an attempt to formulate the experience of truth which the writer underwent into language, into statements having (it is hoped) meaning to the reader. This book, then, is a collection of faith-statements. My hope is that these faith-statements will help and guide you to experience the realities which I have experienced and know to be true.
So, What’s the Problem?
There can be no dispute about truth. When two people—of equivalent capacity—undergo a truth-experience, their perceptions of what is are undeniable and unable to be challenged. However, when the two people attempt to verbalize their truth-experience, each may interpret the experience differently. Each may develop understandings of it which differ markedly from the other’s. For example, both persons might experience the beauty of the same sunrise. One might say that the beauty of it lies in the mind of the perceiver; the other might say that the beauty of it is inherent in the reality of the event itself and reflects the beauty of its creator.
Both experienced the same event. But each interpreted it to discover a different meaning in it.
We can apply these understandings, then, and observe that in religions, the experience of Divinity by practitioners of different religions is the same. We all experience the same God in the Newness of Life, for example. However, when the adherents of different religions, embedded in different cultures and having different value systems, attempt to teach others in their cultures by making interpretative faith-statements about their experience of God, these statements will inevitably be different from one another, and perhaps contradictory or conflicting.
Though God is always the same and though every person’s experience of God is on the same order as the experiences of other people, regardless of who the seeker after God is, the statements we make when we try to verbalize our experience of God may differ greatly, especially among seekers from very different cultures. This, of course, can be—and is—the source of misunderstanding and hostility and conflict among the religions of the world.
What a terrible shame this is. There is just one Divinity, the Source of All That Is. Everyone who experiences God, experiences the same God. But when individuals from different cultures attempt to verbalize the meaning of what they have experienced, they may understand their experience in very different ways. Now, everyone benefits when these different understandings of Divinity are shared among all the seekers: Eyes are opened to new aspects of Divine Consciousness when all participants in it share their understandings.—But no one benefits when religionists conflict with one another, when each asserts his faith-statements as true and his opponent’s, false.
I suspect, however, that dedicated seekers of participation in Divine Consciousness do not allow themselves to get into such brawls. They’re not warriors. Those who have experienced Divinity know the transcendent value of the experience, and they seek God rather than victory over opponents.
In addition, anyone who has entered into the Awareness of God finds the sweetness of peace. When that person turns to life in the world, they bring the love of that peace with them in their hearts. Such people do not participate in conflict. Rather, they seek to turn conflict into peace.
If a genuine seeker after God does take up a conflict, then that person has chosen unwisely and has gone away from God. He has given up peace for aggression, and Divinity for power.
When dedicated seekers after God experience the truth of Divinity, and when they then attempt to express in faith statements their understanding of the experience—and of Divinity, to which they have surrendered—who receives those faith-statements? How are they used?
Clearly, the seeker himself benefits from the faith-statements he makes, because the statements help to focus the seeker on the path he is walking. They center him on what he is doing.
In addition, a seeker’s faith statements may be shared with other seekers, in the hopes that all achieve greater understanding of Divinity, their goal.
Moreover, the seeker can pass these faith-statements on to neophytes on the journey toward God, as a way of characterizing in words the experiences which the neophytes may be undergoing, and as a way of pointing them in profitable directions for the future.
It is this third use of faith-statements that draws our attention here. The first two uses of faith-statements are by experienced, dedicated seekers. They have the experience of truth as their personal test of the accuracy and usefulness of any faith-statement. They are able to discern whether a faith-statement has “the ring of truth.”
However, the third audience consists of people who have not experienced the truth of Divine Consciousness. For them, faith statements point to an experience they do not know and can only insufficiently imagine.
This third audience cannot recognize the truth suggested by the faith-statements because they have not had the experience of Divinity. What is left for them is to imagine the experience—always in doubt whether their imagining is accurate—and to believe the faith-statements to be accurate expressions of Truth simply on the authority of the one who first formulated the statements.
These neophytes possess the faith-statements, which are formulations or expressions that suggest the Truth, without possessing the experience of God necessary to know the truth suggested by the statements. This process of knowing without having the experiential foundation is called believing. With reference to these believers, who lack the experience of the Truth, the statements themselves are not called faith-statements. They are called belief-statements, or simply, beliefs.
Beliefs, then, are statements of the reality of things held by people who have not experienced the truth, if any, which the statements attempt to characterize.
Humans are believing creatures, homo credens. We want to believe what we are taught and what we are told, often even in the face of contradictory evidence. We want to believe, for example, that our teenagers love us, although we clearly see that they are completely self-absorbed. We want to believe that our politicians or clergymen are honest and respectable, even as so many others are being charged with scandalous abuse of office and heinous self-indulgence. We want to believe that that new car model really will get 48 miles per gallon, just as the big red sign above it in the showroom says.
Believing is the mechanism by which we find comfort and peace of mind, at least until these are destroyed by the disillusionment and sense of betrayal that too often come later. But even then, when we see the reality of things in our cynicism, the belief that we have finally discovered the truth about the issue is itself a consolation.
Believing is a necessary component of human health and thriving. And it is a necessary prerequisite for the survival of institutions. Not only religions, but also democratic governments, financial institutions, and retail sales, for example, are sustained by the belief of the people in them. And the people, in their turn, find comfort in the under-girding of their lives that these institutions provide.
A Problem with Belief
Most of us accept without hesitation or second thought the truth of the beliefs we are taught—that we Americans live in a democracy, for example, or that we Catholics have an unbroken succession of popes from Peter to the present Bishop of Rome.
However, there is a problem with uncritical or unquestioning acceptance of beliefs. The problem is that contradictory beliefs can both be held as true by the same person at the same time. The same citizen might believe, for example, that we Americans live in a democracy, and also that the large corporations have bought and paid for the votes of our congressional representatives.
This same uncritical attitude can extend to practitioners of religions, of course. The same Christian might believe that Jesus, by his death on a cross, earned the forgiveness of God for all sin ever committed from the beginning until the end of time, and at the same time, beg God to forgive his sin, and even “do penance” for his sin, to demonstrate his contrition and to “be worthy of” God’s forgiveness.
So, this uncritical acceptance of belief is problematic for believers if they ever begin to question the positions or beliefs they hold. Questioning of beliefs deeply held but taken for granted may lead to a defeating disillusionment and a bitter skepticism. Many Catholics in America discovered this during the priest sex-abuse scandal that came to public attention in the early years of this century.
Uncritical acceptance of belief can also be a problem for the society, as well. For example, many Christians (more so a half-century ago than now) believe that stores—especially stores selling alcoholic beverages—should not be allowed to do business on Sundays. Store owners claim that this inhibits the growth of the American economy, and workers complain that they must cram all their shopping into Saturdays. Christians, on the other hand, claim that buying and selling—especially, selling alcohol—should not occur on the Lord’s Day, Sunday. But do these Christians ever wonder why shops should be closed just on Sunday? Isn’t every day God’s—the Source of Time and of All Else That Is? Shouldn’t we be devoted to God as his lovers and his servants on all seven days, rather than just the one which we choose to dedicate to God?
When religious believers take seriously beliefs such as these—beliefs which hold all of society accountable to the believer’s set of standards, the believers can become dangerous. Of course, the most terrible of these beliefs is, “You must convert to our religion, or die.” We know the crushing horror of this belief as it manifested itself in the Crusades, the Thirty-Years War, the slaughter of the Natives of the Americas during European colonization, the shoah—the Holocaust—and now, the Jihad.
Better that the religions teach the rest of the world humbly, from the sidelines. Better that they offer their moral and faith teachings freely to society, without the attempt to coerce adherence to them. Coercion is not conversion. Coercion—or force of arms—denies the freedom of conscience to non-believers and therefore, can never reflect or bear witness to the Truth.
Such religious zealots, when they act on their coercive beliefs, have given up the spiritual peace and freedom in their hearts, for murder.
Close to What Is
Belief is a powerful and necessary component of the sane and healthy person. Our lives must be embedded in understandings which we take to be true simply because our culture or our family upbringing offers them to us. As we mature, however, we would want to develop the habit of questioning our beliefs with determination and of accepting our findings willingly and open-mindedly—despite the pain of disillusionment—as a way of discarding the false on our way to discovering deeply the Truth.
Moreover, beliefs can be wild and intractable—seducing us into unwise action because of them. Before we act on our beliefs, we must always question them intensely and accept what we find—about the world and about ourselves—with honesty. We must always demand of ourselves that we be sure that the beliefs we act on reflect what is true, as far as we can tell, and that the actions we take are honorable and promise to result in good.
We must be similarly cautious of faith-statements, as well. We must recognize about them that they are approximations of the Truth itself. They are the best we can do with language to depict the Truth which is apparent to us in our experience. But they are not the Truth itself. For, they are not universal; they are always culturally conditioned in their premises and in their expression. And they are always incomplete—the human view of the cosmos-wide Divinity.
It is best always, as we said in the previous chapter, to climb out of the tangles created by thought and language by putting thought aside and reverting to What Is in the present moment.
Thought and language are simply tools to accomplish a mental purpose. Although it’s necessary to tighten the plumbing fittings in your home from time to time, you wouldn’t carry a pipe wrench around with you all the time and try to use it for every occasion—drinking a glass of wine, for instance, or opening a door. It is the same with thinking and language. They have crucial functions in our lives. We use them to form our understanding of the world. And we use them to communicate with, and joke with, and argue with, our friends and the people around us, forming friendships and establishing community.
Nonetheless, when the job is done, put the tools of thought and language away, and re-enter the silence. Doing this allows us the grace of access to the wordless Divine Consciousness, to the clarity and beauty with which Divinity creates the universe moment-by-moment, and to the fine sweetness of the loving heart of God.
Let us approach Divinity in silence of heart, at peace, in union with Divine Awareness, who is truth and light and joy.
I do not claim to have mastered these things, especially the moral dimensions of this vision. I am far from home in that respect.
But somehow God has given me the experiences recorded here and shared with me this vision of who he is and what is coming to be. This vision is not simply for me. It is mainly for you. As weak and broken and in need of grace as I am, in some way God is using me—as he is using each of us—to bring about the eventual completion of his plan for creation—Divine Love come to dwell fully among us as unity and peace.
I thank God for using me to write these words. I pray—and I ask you to pray, as I will continue to pray the same for you—that he will continue to bring us all more and more toward him.
NOTES ON THE TEXT
 In general, these two terms, consciousness and awareness, are used interchangeably in this book—for the sake of stylistic variation. They do in fact have somewhat different meanings. We get an intuitive glimpse of the difference when we reflect on the terms self-awareness, in contrast to self-consciousness.
Both terms, consciousness and awareness, refer to that ability which we humans possess to be mentally open to sense experience or mental experience, so that the experience impacts us in some way. The difference between the terms lies in what we do with the impact on us of the experience. When we are aware of a sense experience or a mental experience (such as an image or a memory or a thought) we might simply recognize the existence of the experience, as when, for example, some small sound awakens us from sleep but we are not yet awake enough to decipher the source of the sound. On the other hand, when we are conscious of a sense experience or a mental experience, we give the experience priority among all the other experiences we could be conscious of. At the same time, we try to name or identify the experience, and we attempt to find its place in our personal system or structure of meaning. In brief, we attempt to know what it is and what it means.
In our usage of these terms in this book, both terms may be taken in general to mean the process of recognizing the existence of an experience and giving the experience priority. However, in this book this process of awareness is considered to be distinct from a related process: the process of identifying or naming the experience, and of establishing its meaning.
The term salvation, as it is used here, signifies an on-going relationship of loving surrender to—and intimacy with—God. We Christians believe that this salvation was made available to all people by the sacrificial death of Jesus. That is, the term salvation here refers both to the initiating act—the death of Jesus—and also to the enduring relationship that flows from it. The death of Jesus—the innocent life of the “one who comes from God” sacrificed “once for all” to free us from sin and to restore our relationship with God—opened for all of us of every religion and belief-set the opportunity to participate in an enduring relationship of love with Divinity. Salvation can be aptly compared here with traditional marriage. The marriage day is a one-time event which proclaims and makes permanent the on-going relationship of love between the spouses.
In addition, this intimate relationship of love which each of us can share with Divinity is the foundation for our communal sharing of love with God and one another which we might call “public worship” or “the gathering of the faithful” or “the body of believers.” Authentic communal celebration of our shared love relationship with Divinity arises out of—and is necessarily founded on—each individual’s experience of this intimate relationship with God which is here called salvation.
 The spirit of God pervades all things, but is not co-extensive with creation. As the next chapter explains, the universe arises within God. Our recognition of the presence of God in creation, then, is not pantheism. It is as some theologians term it, panentheism—God in all things, or all things held within God.
 Belief has a specific and perhaps distinctive meaning here. Belief is choosing to interpret the reality of things in a certain way, based not on one’s experience, but on the testimony of another person, presumably respected as an authority on or the author of the interpretation at issue. When our understanding of reality is not based in our own experience, it is called belief. We choose an understanding from a set of possible understandings, not because we know from our own experience that the understanding is true, but because we accept someone else’s explanation as true.
The origins of the word belief help us here. The Old English word for “belief” is geleafa. The key idea here is captured in the “root” of this word: leof. Leof is an Old English word which means “to hold dear,” “to desire,” or “to prefer.”
Belief, then, is a preference—a favored choice among several competing understandings. Since our experience does not reliably lead us to a settled understanding, we believe the explanation that appeals to us most.
Of course, those who believe that will is an illusion must say that Divinity, not individuals, chooses what those individuals believe. A more complete discussion of this issue takes place in Chapter 10.
 Perhaps you might reflect for a moment on a society composed of thousands or millions of individuals, including the leaders, living out such personal isolation and hardness of heart.
 The Christian tradition recognizes this Divine Love as the third manifestation, or mode of expression, or person of God. Since the beginning, Christians have recognized three and just three persons of God: the Father, the source of the creative power; the Son, the Word that organizes all and gathers all together and guides all to its final end in God; and the Holy Spirit, the love of God pervading all that is, alive and active in the world. What we call in the remainder of this chapter “the Divine Love,” our Christian tradition would call “the Holy Spirit,” the third person of the Triune Godhead.