Monday, 18 February 2019

Let It Happen to Me

          It is only in the New Testament gospels of Matthew and Luke that the conception of Mary is described. Neither in Mark nor in John is this event mentioned. Incidentally, the immaculate conception isn't spoken of in the Gnostic Nag Hammadi scriptures either. It is almost as if the conception is something of a mythological sideshow, a literary filler-in to get the show on the road. Yet I do think that story is important because it tells us something about the psycho-spiritual Mary that lives in each one of us.
          Now unless one believes that a woman in the physical world can conceive whilst remaining a virgin, one must look elsewhere for the meaning of her conception, because as the story goes,

"The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow." [One might add that Joseph was not going to be involved.]

Here is biblical confirmation that Mary's pregnancy is not of the physical kind, any more than the pregnancies of Demeter or Ceres or any other fertility goddess was of the physical kind. Indeed, I have my doubts even about the existence of Mary, except as a literary figure, an armature on which to construct a myth, a story of a creation within the human psyche.
          Clearly, Mary had no choice in the matter. She was there, not to create life, but to carry life. I say again, she had no choice.

"Let it happen to me as you [the archangel Gabriel] have said."

For me, that statement speaks of submission and the complete absence of psychological denial. Therein lies the spiritual strength of Mary, that symbol of inner creation in the fertile soil of the spirit. What was to come was, what some have called, the 'Inner Christ', the true/authentic/real/higher self. Now whether our Christic Selves were always there but covered in an egoistic shroud, I am uncertain. Maybe there was a point in history when we evolved to a state when we could, if we so chose, break free from the dominion of the ego. Mary's wisdom lay in her acknowledgement of, and submission to, that psycho-spiritual evolution.

Monday, 11 February 2019

Descent and Return

          As I said in an earlier post, "The Word of God" [22nd. January 2019], the Mystical Qabalah has been one of the major influences in my spiritual life. Some months ago, whilst pondering on one particular aspect of the Qabalah's 'Tree of Life', certain thoughts began to emerge. It was perhaps the beginning of the idea that the biblical New Testament gospels should be looked at from a different point of view, as if they contained a mythology of the Christ as told through the legendary stories of a certain Jesus the Nazarene.
          In my studies I find that Greek mythology is often a productive starting point for my thinking. For example, Demeter was the gentle goddess of agriculture, a fertility goddess. She was without a husband of her own and became pregnant, the story goes, by Zeus the king of the gods. When her time was due, she gave birth to her daughter Core, later known as Persephone, and also Iacchus/Bacchus/Dionysus. It is unclear to me whether these were twin siblings, or whether they represented different aspects of some wider process. In time Core, then in the form of the more mature Persephone, descended [by capture] into the underworld of Hades, to return again after three months.
          That is the story of Demeter and Persephone in a nutshell. However, the development of the fertility myth and its relationship to Christian mythology, is not the prime focus of this post. Nevertheless, to add a little meat to the bones of the story [if a nutshell can be imagined to have bones] I must point out that Demeter as the goddess of agriculture is associated with the growth of spelt wheat, the stuff of 'the bread of life'. Furthermore, there are a number of points of convergence with the story of Mary, the mother of Jesus. The latter also was without a husband of her own when she became pregnant by some mysterious, divine force. In time she gave birth to Jesus who grew to maturity, was executed or cut down, before descending into Hell only to return on the third day thereafter. Jesus is often associated not only with bread ["...take, eat, this is my body...] but also with wine, as was Dionysus of course.
          It seems to me that peoples of olden times committed what was most important in their thinking and culture to forms that we now see as mythology and legend. These are not just idle stories made up by ignorant peoples, but accounts of their wisdom put into words that could be read and, hopefully, understood by lay people. The stories were not required to be historically accurate, but did need to carry meanings that reflected truth. The biblical Jesus employed a similar technique by the use of parables for his listeners. His disciples, however, were expected to read beyond the parable, and understand the meanings behind the stories. I think it is almost impossible to overstate the importance that those ancient peoples attached to their mythologies, and in particular to the fertility myth that spoke of their fundamental means of survival. That being the case, the stories surrounding the life of Jesus of Nazareth, having been written in mythological/legendary form, must also have been considered as vitally important.
          And what meaning can be learned from this particular legend of the Nazarene? Firstly, I would suggest that Jesus did not die and, after descending into Hell, return on the third day. It was not he but the Christ [not an alternative name for Jesus or indeed his surname], that which lived its life through Jesus, that made the descent and return. Secondly, it was not a journey that happened only once at some far off moment in history. It is a journey which can continually be experienced through the Higher, Christic  Self. The very essence of growth of the spirit is a journey of descent and return, and that journey needs to be experienced again and again. But as St. Augustine could possibly have said, "What does it avail me if this journey is always happening, if it does not happen in me?" 

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Of Powerlessness and Belief - Part ll

          I ended Part l withe sentence, "It is like looking at starlight after the intervening clouds have passed away." Step Two of the spiritual recovery program:-

"Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity"

was a completely different experience from Step One. To begin with, I did not feel that I was 'doing' anything. Rather, it was about what was happening to me. Many people, both in AA and Al-anon, have difficulty with the 'Power greater than ourselves' part of the Step, because it smacks too much of God. I on the other hand, have always baulked at the expression 'Higher Power'. For me it was about finding that presence which I name God and/or the Christ. I was too desperate at that time to waste time over the niceties of mere words.  But let me return to that morning when I was told that my work on the first Step was complete, and I could take time out and ponder on Step Two.
          I have to admit that whenever I read those lovely words, "Came to believe" my throat tightens, I need to swallow hard and look away, whilst all the time refusing to deny my helpless gratitude. I have always known from that morning onwards that I was in the Presence of something divine. My repetitive, futile, controlling behaviour was over; that obsessive behaviour that had been bordering on insanity. From all that, as well as from my denial, I had been rescued. Observing the experience of that Presence I was gloriously defenceless. I think in my heart of hearts I had already made my decision about Step Three.       
          When I was young, I was constantly frustrated by my inability to do what I felt I ought to do, whilst at the same time doing what I felt I should not do. Now I began to see that morality was an empty box, a washed-out force. I longed to make changes to my personality that would get me to a point where I could spiritually 'succeed.' What a hopeless task it was; what a foolish goal to pursue; what a pointless aspiration to follow. Gradually I would become aware that changes were happening, not perhaps with my personality, but with my deepest sense of being. It is not an easy thing to describe and write about. I just realised that the changes were taking place without any interference on my part, and at a level deeper than I could consciously reach.

..........It seemed as if there were a light ahead of me which consumed my focus. It was in me yet also beyond me. I could not tell whether it was small, dim and close by, or large, bright and distant. I had no markers by which I could judge. I have never had markers by which I could gauge the proximity of God. I know only that 'It' is immensely yet gently powerful. And for all my planning, I sometimes miss out bits in my life. There is always that Presence that seems to acknowledge my commitment, and fill in the missing bits. So much of that came later, but that was the moment, that morning, to which I trace my resurrected spiritual life.
          I finally learned that logic, reason and rationality were not the name of the game. I needed to believe, trust and for Heaven's sake just try it. When that happened I was repaid with confirmation and a knowing that my commitment had received some justification. It was as if I had stepped into the darkness then, looking back, saw that sturdy, stone slabs had been placed just where my feet were supposed to tread.
          And now I find that I have rushed onwards and outwards, yet I remain here. It is as if I am experiencing the acorn whilst also being the oak tree which it will become. And all the while there are more acorns to come. Then and now; here and there; living within a great paradox in an ever-present future;  I remain, looking at starlight after the intervening clouds have passed away..........

Monday, 4 February 2019

Of Powerlessness and Belief - Part l

          All the 'Anonymous' organisations, alcoholics; narcotics; gamblers etc., as well as Al-anon for friends and families of alcoholics, follow the same basic "Twelve Step Program" of spiritual recovery. There are slight variations between the groups but in general they all follow the same format. The 'First Step' says:-

"We admitted we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives had become unmanageable".

In addition to alcohol, narcotics and the rest, I would add that one needs to admit powerlessness over addictive or habitual thinking. This first Step is extremely important and one which most people will not begin to work, so long as their ego insists it can cope or manage, invariably a fallacious conclusion. This Step is important for a number of reasons the first being that one voluntarily commits to the work, and 'does' something. The second Step, which I will discuss in Part ll, is more about what is done to the spiritual seeker. These two Steps are bound together so that the second almost seems to be an emergent property of the first.
           I recall one of my counsellors once saying that if you are unwilling to enter the first 'Step', you haven't bottomed out, you don't yet hurt enough. He was a recovering alcoholic. Friends and families of substance addicted people so often prefer to play the blame game. In blaming others, a classic denial symptom, they fail to see what is wrong with their own behaviour, even that there is a problem to be looked at. I know, I've been there.
          The ego detests, hates and fears change. To change is to admit it was wrong. To change is to admit that it was without real substance. It is a no-one, an emptiness. Yet the acceptance - what a huge word that is - and the ridding of oneself of psychological denial is the gateway to enlightenment and truth, and so much more.
          I would like to cite an example which is outside the usual substance-addiction field to illustrate how easily one can fall into the ego-dominated problem of addictive thinking. I take my example from current UK politics. After the Prime Minister's recent, massive defeat in the House of Commons over her Brexit deal, MPs demanded that she return to the EU and renegotiate the 'withdrawal agreement'. It never seemed to occur to them that the EU might just not be prepared to re-open negotiations. The UK government is powerless to force the EU to re-open the 'withdrawal agreement'. They would require consent, choice, on the part of the EU. Choice is not control. [It will also have been noticed no doubt by anyone observing this political process, that the blame game is in full swing.]
          Of course, the Prime Minister readily agreed to return to Brussels and she would bring back the necessary changes that would be needed to pass the deal in the Commons, or so she said. Well, she has already tried that and failed. As I recall, ex-Prime Minister David Cameron failed also. It may well be that a new deal is struck. But I say again, it will be from choice [maybe even a nasty tasting choice] not power and control that success emerges. Choice is not control; powerlessness is still there even if the political ego refuses to see.
          A good, thorough working of Step One not only reveals powerlessness, unmanageability, and the futility of the machinations of an overly proud ego, but also eradicates the psychological denial in which one has indulged. It is, in truth, enlightenment in the darkness of despair. It is like looking at starlight after the intervening clouds have passed away. But that is more properly talked about in Part ll......

Thursday, 31 January 2019

Metanoia

          When used in the New Testament this word metanoia means change of mind, and goes hand-in-hand with regret and remorse. This was the message of both John the Baptist and Jesus when they called people to repentance. In the Old Testament, repentance appeared to mean something quite different. Interestingly I feel, this change of meaning between the two Testaments also reflects a radical change in the understanding of the nature of God. But discussion of that consideration is beyond this post.
          Repentance as used in the Old Testament is a subject much loved by low church, moralistic, bible-thumping, protestant preachers. The Roman Catholic Inquisition......well let us not dwell on their methods of restoring sinners and backsliders to orthodoxy. Of course, bullying people to recant their heretical urges is not, and I suppose never was, the prerogative of the religious. How would party politics for example survive otherwise?
          One of the essential outcomes of changing one's thinking, in essence admitting one can be wrong, is that one acquires a very different and broadening outlook on life. When one's mode of thinking has become addictive, a state which I fear afflicts most of us in one form or another, that change in thinking, which Jesus continually exhorted his listeners to adopt, can cut to the very heart of psychological denial. For me, that is the essential value of repentance. It requires experiencing regret and remorse, not difficult when that denial is displayed in the glow of enlightenment, because those twin experiences serve to aid the necessary change.
          Once the habitual way of thinking has been broken, regret and remorse will have served their purpose and can be dispensed with. To persist in indulging in them does nothing for the individual except run the risk of slipping into other dysfunctions such as self pity. And this process of metanoia will still need to be continued, for one does not become a perfect as the result of a once and forever act.

Saturday, 26 January 2019

New Possibilities

          I must present this as it revealed itself to me. I was puzzled [yet sadly not interested enough for too long to investigate further] by the Church's declaration of truth about the New Testament in the face of the apparently nonsensical, illogical events detailed in that testament. I was also puzzled by the obvious contradictions between the Old and the New Testaments. How could all this be if it was supposed to be eternal truth?
          I became aware, and I am not always a quick learner of spiritual truth, that the four gospels appeared to detail a mythology of the Christ. On further consideration it seemed to me that mythology, an allegorical narrative about the gods, although close to the target might not quite hit the mark. Perhaps legends, traditional stories sometimes popularly regarded as historical but not authenticated, might be closer to the truth. The legends would tell the stories of a man, Jesus the Nazarene, seen from an inner, psycho-spiritual perspective rather than a strictly historical one. St. Paul on one occasion said that the event in Jesus' life to which the apostle was, on one occasion, referring should be seen as an allegory. Because the stories, so rich in symbolism, could be seen from an inner perspective, they might just be telling a deeper story of the Christ as it lived its life through the physical man, Jesus. Not him, but that which lives through him, St. Paul might have said.
          Suddenly, new possibilities began to open in rapid succession, too rapidly to be consigned to my computer in one fell swoop. All my spiritual investigations began to come together to make symbolic sense of what had appeared to be nonsensical, illogical events. Slowly now, I began to realise just what this New Testament to humankind might mean.

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

The Word of God

          There have been four great religious-philosophical influences in my life. Each of them have had, and continue to have, a major influence on my thinking and my way of life. The first of those influences is Christianity and the Bible, inevitably so since I was raised in a fundamentalist, born again, Christian family. This has been a force both for good and for ill. The second influence is the 'Twelve Step Program of Spiritual Recovery' which started with Alcoholics Anonymous and later adopted by its sister organisation Al-Anon for friends and families of alcoholics, and also - in a modified form - by Narcotics Anonymous. Next came my studies of the Mystical Qabalah, and finally the writings of Father Richard Rohr OFM of New Mexico.
          As a child I was taught that everything should be based on the Holy Bible, the Word of God. In that tome were all the answers to all questions. No other questions existed. The Word was spiritual law, eternal and unchanging. It wasn't until much, much later that I realised that Jesus himself contradicted this unchanging law on a number of occasions. "The prophets said.......but I say unto you......." etc.. Interestingly, when the Church and certain  groups of religious adherents [incidentally, not all Christians by any means] wish to lay down the law on various matters, it seems inevitable that they turn to Old Testament law. Jesus the wisdom teacher rarely or never comes into the picture.
          But there is another meaning to the phrase, Word of God, and one which is of far greater value for the psycho-spiritual life. That Word is spoken of in the famous opening chapter of St. John's gospel:

In the beginning was the Word:
The Word was with God and the Word was God.

I say again, the Word was God, not some dysfunctional ego with divine aspirations. These words are not just idle, biblical jargon for the past but words of profound meaning relevant to modern times. The process of biblical exegesis [Midrash by ancient Judaic authorities] continues today and throws an exciting light on developing spiritual enlightenment. What a great pity it is that so many eyes, both Christian and otherwise [the religious do not have a monopoly on bigotry] still need to be opened; that there are so many who even lack the desire for that opening. Why run away from spiritual pain when the rewards are so great?