Monday 25 August 2014

A Step Closer to Reality

         Whilst accepting that God cannot be defined, is it possible to draw any conclusions about the nature of a true God without resorting to analogy? Before drawing any conclusions about a true God, can it be assumed that any form of God exists? In general, I would suggest that anything, any person, any calling can be said to be a god if it becomes the prime focus of our psycho-spirituality to which all other considerations are subservient. For some, a god may take the form of wealth, a career, a personal relationship. For others it may appear as alcohol, drugs, an icon, the tribe or state. The gods are many and various, and often dysfunctional. Taken to the limit, we can arrive once again at the supreme false God, an amalgam of all lesser false gods. If it can be assumed that the existence of a false God can be demonstrated, beyond reasonable doubt, then so must a true God exist as the partner in a paradoxical pairing of opposites (or gnostic Syzygy), an observable fact about the universe around us.
         As I cannot know God with the intellect, and I shall refuse to resort to analogy which implies a pre-existent knowledge of God, I must seek an empirical approach through personal experience. Now experience of itself may not be the truth of God, but it may be a finger that  points in the correct direction.
         Let me tell you of a very recent experience. It had not started out as a good day, but neither was it excessively bad. In short, it was manageable, or so I had convinced myself. I had awoken with but a single thought, namely that more than anything else in the world I wanted our dog, Molly, restored to us, alive and in perfect health. But that could not be. So once more I had to endure the grief of her passing. The remainder of the morning passed in a mood of depression. I had not slept well for weeks, maybe months, I don't know. I was tired in mind and body. We had lunch, and I was determined not to take a post-prandial snooze. I was fine, and in full control. My body would do as it was told, when it was told. So I worked through the afternoon before taking a shower and going out to tea with friends. We had tea and cake, and I had a very generous helping of cream, and seconds to follow. I should have been warned, but I was in control was I not? Cream I do not eat! It is nothing more than a calorie-ridden, sickly indulgence as far as I am concerned. (Champagne falls into a similar category!) Oh yes, I should most certainly have been warned.
         It was whilst driving home that the incident occurred. We had come to a crossroads, and I had stopped, momentarily. It was odd, but I simply did not see the other car, a big, Japanese 4x4 approaching at high speed. I heard a gasp from Lucy, and as I looked once again at the approaching vehicle I realised that there was nothing I could do to avert a collision. My final thought at that point was that I simply did not care! The physical details of the rest of the encounter are not important here, but disaster was averted by the thinking and action of the other driver. Suffice it to say that at the time my perception was that the likelihood of death or severe injury was extremely high. What is important is my recollection of my spiritual state at the time.
         I have spent days going over that experience of 'I do not care'. Certainly I care deeply about my wife. I also care about the car, but far less so. No, this was something quite different from that kind of caring, but I must take this one step at a time. It seemed as if my ego, so loathe to acknowledge the truth of its own fallibility and imminent demise, had decided to let me go and disappear from the scene. I could not think; I could not feel; I could not sense anything except what my eyes were seeing. Devoid of my ego, or most of it at least, I found myself in the presence of, and totally identified with, some sense of otherness, a presence that I assumed to be my true Self. That Self was not concerned by cares of any sort. It simply observed without passing judgement. It felt nothing because It was completely detached. The whole incident was not dissimilar to a peak experience. I was also aware that there was no tension present, for that had disappeared with my ego. I can only say that presence has always been there, and it will always continue to be there, even when I cannot see it.
         Now what, one might ask, has all this to do with the experience of a true God? Perhaps nothing, and I do not claim to have been in contact with God, and certainly not that he saved us that day. That salvation was in the hands, not of otherworldly agencies, but of very this-worldly agencies. I would claim, however, that in being rejected by my ego-consciousness I was left in the figurative hands of my true Self, and that finger was likely to be pointing in the direction of God. The enforced state of detachment, of letting go, is a characteristic of a meeting with God, or at least some divine intermediary. You see, I realised at that time that it is the ego that is the 'Ancient of Days'. The true God is still young, is still in a state of becoming. It lives in the eternal here-and-now, a state that is so very difficult to enter voluntarily.

.......... I reached out to the slowly spinning sphere, that is both God-like and foetal-like, full of nascent life. And I can hear it.  It is the sound of an ageless child humming to itself, alone, engaged in a gentle activity of concentrated observation. Here, around this Child-God, or perhaps God-child, is the missing input that I need.  That input is love..........
                                                                               [Extract from my Qabalah Diaries]

         If this were the only experience I have had, I would note it with interest and leave it to vegetate in a diary somewhere. But there have been too many supportive writings and experiences by others, including saints and mystics down the years, to allow this experience to be discarded. The way to God is inwards. One must detach and, as the author of "The Cloud of Unknowing" once wrote, look upwards to the Cloud of Unknowing, and downwards at the Cloud of Forgetting.
         I have offered all such detail as seems relevant lest it be assumed that I have drawn erroneous conclusions drawn from highly selective data. It will be the task, if so chosen, for you my readers to comment, and to decide whether my conclusions are valid or not. It will be my task to listen. In any case my search will continue.

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Can God Be Said To Be a Person?

         To answer any question of this nature requires some definition of what a person is, and what we mean by personality. Without wishing to get bogged down in debates about the detail that can arise from this question, let it be generally accepted that a person is an individual human, someone having certain characteristics by which that individual can be identified. Going further, a person is capable of entering into relationships with other persons, and as a result, capable of developing a personality in response to those around him/her. Now the word 'personality' has its origins in the Latin 'persona' which relates to a 'mask', something used by someone whilst acting out a role. Therefore it must be tacitly assumed that a person, as we understand that term, is engaged in activities that are essentially not of the true self, but of the false self. Put another way, personality is a property of the ego. It also follows from these opening thoughts that if the 'personal' is to be investigated, so must the 'impersonal' as well.
         Now if God can be said to be a person then he has a personality; that his personality is merely an act; that he can enter into relationships with other persons; and that he is capable of thought, feeling, and physically sensing his surroundings, this last-mentioned ability arising from the nature of his ego. And let it not be forgotten that the impersonal attributes of God must also be considered.
         Clearly, I have removed the lid from a can, if not full of worms, then certainly full of subjects that cannot be covered in a single essay. I have shared some thoughts in my previous essay on the issue of the supposed gender of God. Here I would like to say something about another aspect of the supposed personality of God, bearing in mind that personality is a function of the ego. I have made the point on a number of occasions that, from readings of the Old Testament which describe, for example, how Jahweh instructs his chosen people to wreak all sorts of vengeance on Israel's enemies, it is inescapable that what is being described is the workings of ego writ large across the cosmos. It is to the credit of his people that they tended to ignore his divine rantings.
         In the (unreferenced) instances to which I have alluded, both the power of the thinking function and that of the feeling function have been brought into play, as well as Jahweh's ability to strike, when necessary, by physical force. On the surface one might consider that all this is a great nonsense. But no, there is something very real going on here, and something we all need to address at some stage in our lives, and it is this. Human beings have a predisposition to indulge in:-

1.          Seeing order, cause and effect, where no such order exists,
2.          Projection of the workings of the inner, psychological world onto the outer world, and
3.          Anthropopathy and anthropomorphism, in short creating God in our egoistic image.

Thus in endowing God with a personality, treating him as a person, is nothing short of a projection of the human ego onto a divinity which, because it is nothing but a projection, is false. I must insist that such a God is a false God, but one which is, nevertheless, worshipped the world over. As is so often the case, blame and judgements tend to be levelled 'out there', onto our projections, rather than ridding ourselves of our denials and seeking reality 'in here'. I shudder at the waste of time that I have indulged in, blaming and judging others when I would have been better occupied seeking my inner truth.
         The statement that the egoistic God is a false God implies the possibility of a true God that has nothing to do with person, personality, ego, gender or relationship as we usually use that word. The search for that kind of God is, in my opinion, a task worthy of humankind, as is the task of addressing our own psycho-spiritual origins and make-up. In the final analysis these activities may be more closely related than we might choose to acknowledge.  

Thursday 14 August 2014

Does God Really Have a Gender?

         I think that I have always known that, somewhere along the way, I was going to have to confront the problem of God. Until now I have accepted this inner Presence, which I experience from time to time as a manifestation, or an emergent property, of God, but have considered any intellectual or analytical approach to God to be too fraught with difficulties. My tentative approach to the problem of God is going to be what might be considered as somewhat negative in that I will try to determine what God is not. Only then, hopefully from what is left, may I gain some idea in which direction I need to travel in order to reach my desired goal of knowing something of what God is. There are no guarantees of course, but at least the opening steps are clear enough. To find God one must seek inside oneself.
         The question I would like to address here is whether or not the christian God is male. Now God, and please stay with me because this has implications far beyond religion, has traditionally been called the Father. He might just as easily have been called God the Mother, if his origins had not been rooted in the Jewish religion but in a matriarchal belief system. It was considered that the notion of fatherhood, drawn from the rural world of the ancient Near East, was an apt analogy for the description of the experience of God. But an analogy it always was, and an analogy is what it remains. Somewhere along the centuries, the boundaries of analogy and perceived truth have become blurred to the extent that the one has become totally identified with the other. In other words the analogy is the truth. Incidentally, a similar argument can be applied to the idea of Jesus being the Son of God.
         In her "Models of God", Sallie McFague says,

"God as mother does does not mean that God is mother (or father). We imagine God as both mother and father, but we realize how inadequate these and other metaphors are to express the creative love of God....... Nevertheless, we speak of this love in language that is familiar and dear to us......"

         Now the analogy of father (or mother) may be useful for people who were raised in a loving, caring family, but what of those who were raised under different circumstances? I would suggest that such an analogy lacks a certain authenticity which cannot be overcome simply by citing the experiences of others. In short, the language of loving parenthood is neither familiar nor dear. Whether or not God can love, creatively or otherwise, is a subject which I will pass over for possible future discussion.
         If I can assume to have successfully disposed of the idea that God is Father, I must add that there is one aspect of the male/female analogy that is universally useful, and that is the use of the words male and female in the strictly biological sense, as used for example in engineering. Where two matching components come together to form a joint or union, those components are described as being male or female, depending on whether they are inserted into or fitted around the other component. Pipe fittings would be one example of this. And here is the crux of the matter, that the two are united to form the one, analogously an inner union of the soul, the ground of our being, and some 'otherness' which may be called God. When that mystical union takes place, there follows a new sense of balance and completion, the uniting of the Bride and the Groom, yet another analogy.
         Lest it be assumed that some form of gender analogy is required to describe the idea of union, (assumed always to be of a loving and caring variety), please consider another analogy which in the end may be closer to reality that one using gender, as well as being free of emotive issues. When two (or more, but not let us complicate matters) chemical elements are brought together chemically, a new substance or compound is created. I stress the point that the elements come into chemical union, a process which follows strict rules. The result of physical union produces a mixture (which obeys no rules) in which the components retain their identity. The chosen elements may be very different from each other, for example sodium (symbol Na) a silvery, reactive metal, and chlorine (symbol Cl) a pungent, yellowy-green gas, will combine to form common salt (symbol NaCl). In this compound these two elements combine strictly in the ratio of 1:1.
         What I like about the chemical analogy is that one can experience the apparent paradox of combining elements of opposite (or at least dissimilar) nature to produce a compound whose properties are completely different from its constituent elements. Furthermore, some chemical reactions can take place only in the presence of a catalyst, a substance which allows the reaction to take place without being a chemical part of that reaction. Thus one might introduce the Holy Spirit, or some other concept, into the reckoning of personal experience.
         I would like to conclude by reiterating that the notions of God as Father or Mother are only analogies based on what seemed in the past to be meaningful, family relationships. Those notions never were other than analogies, and are no more than that now. There are other ways of trying to put into words the ineffable, such as the chemical analogy, which avoids the family concept. And it must be remembered that at some point all analogies break down. If the analogy of fatherhood and the principle it had attempted to model had not become confused over the centuries, we might by now be much closer to a greater understanding of the fundamentals of our psycho-spirituality. And there is much to be understood.
         It may be argued that I have set out on a fool's errand to discover the nature of God, if such a nature can be said to exist. That may well be the case, but I will never know until I at least try to seek answers to my interminable questions.

Friday 8 August 2014

Suffering, A Necessity for True Living

         Although I do have a strong tendency to write in theistic language, this does not mean that I am an apologist for christianity or, for that matter, any religion. To be candid, what I see as the mythology of christianity is too esoteric for my understanding. I suspect this is the same for many people: why else the descent into fundamentalism and the supposed literal truth of holy writ? I find that I hold a similar position as regards psychology, including transpersonal psychology which recognises the existence of a spiritual side to humanity's nature. For me, the healthy development of my psycho-spiritual nature must go hand-in-hand with the continued practice of maintaining my physical body in a state that is 'fit for purpose', at least as far as that is reasonably possible. To pursue the one aspect of my being without pursuing the other seems to me to be lopsided, as well as denying myself the advantages and joys of a holistic life. That is what I feel and wish for, and requires a great deal of detachment from my ego, insofar as I can achieve that. However, this life-style is not what everyone wants, and as the saying goes, 'you pays yer money and you makes yer choice'. Perhaps we need a greater desire to celebrate our diversity.
         Moving to the subject of coping, I find it increasingly difficult to define the word 'cope' in such a way that clearly differentiates between my understanding of the word, and the more vernacular usage. Or perhaps there is only one meaning, and it's simply a matter of degree. Certainly, it is true that we develop ways and means of getting over or around the humps and bumps of everyday living. That would seem to be quite acceptable. However, when coping means that actions are felt continually to be required to enable us to run at top speed in order to stand still, something is going wrong. My experience of the first fifty years or so of my life was precisely that, at least when times were manageable. When, finally, after living with another's substance addiction and I had my back to the wall, I was fighting a rearguard action to save some remnant of my sanity. I had to let go, to stop trying to cope. By that time I existed but could hardly have been said to be living. To let go gave me the opportunity to see life differently, to reassess my priorities.
         Once having let go, and having been relieved of the burden that was dragging me beneath the surface of the 'Slough of Despond', so much else fell into place; so much about my unacknowledged psycho-spiritual world began to be revealed. It needed for me to experience my suffering depths and acknowledge them before I could begin an ascent into real life, a life in which I began to respond to life rather than react to it like some latter day Pavlov dog. And it is a cause of great regret, and almost-despair, to me that everywhere I look I see a world teeming with Pavlov dogs, unthinkingly reacting to every incoming impulse, ever seeking to control and manipulate, rather than stopping and realising there are other ways of being. It is more than simply unfortunate that the lack of that realisation is what represents normality for most of us.
         Fr. Richard Rohr said recently,

         "People who have never loved or never suffered will normally try to control everything with an either-or attitude or all-or-nothing thinking. This closed system is all they are prepared for. The mentality that divides the world into “deserving and undeserving” has not yet experienced the absolute gratuity of grace or the undeserved character of mercy. This lack of in-depth God-experience leaves all of us judgmental, demanding, unforgiving, and weak in empathy and sympathy."

         Once one has plumbed the depths of psycho-spiritual suffering, at least as far as I have been there, and having that ineffable experience of 'coming to believe', or having discovered another way of being, it is almost impossible to turn back. And is this not something to be shared? I do not wish, even if it were possible, to keep this all to and for myself. Yet I recognise that, in the final analysis, it is my life and only my life that I can seek to nurture.
         It had been my intent to write in answer to the comments made about my previous post, "Coping Is Not Living." I do not know whether I have achieved that aim. I do know that in the course of writing, I suddenly had a glimpse of a spiritually healthy world that could happen. Yet I fear that world is, and will always be, a stillborn entity. I will end this essay in the same way that I ended the previous one, with all the commitment and devotion that I can muster,

         "It starts with the individual, not them 'out there'; it starts with me.....'in here'. 

Sunday 3 August 2014

Coping Is Not Living

          Over these recent weeks it has become increasingly clear to me that we are ill-served by spiritual teachers and writings that can appeal to the non-religious reader. People beset by problems of a psycho-spiritual nature are often, and all too readily perhaps, placed in the hands of psychiatrists, psychologists and counsellors who adopt an approach to healing that is nothing more than the integration of dysfunctional personalities into a society which is itself dysfunctional. This can never be a healing procedure but one in which further suffering is imposed by the 'washing of hands' rather than 'the laying on of hands'. The genuinely 'spiritual' approach to healing is almost overwhelmingly in the hands of the Church whose leaders all too often may be classified as the blind leading the blind. Thankfully, there are exceptions.
          But it seems to me that if we would undertake the task of panning for the gold nuggets that can be found amongst the dross of religious teaching, the rewards could be very worthwhile. If that endeavour is to attract those who search unavailingly, or who are unaware of the psycho-spiritual benefits that are available, then, to change the metaphor, the banquet must be prepared and served in a more mouth-watering, appetising manner than that which is all too often adopted. The dishes need to be adapted to modern tastes. We in these modern times are educationally ill-equipped to understand religious mythology. We need some plain speaking.
          And this banquet is not simply for a few who just happen to have an interest in matters psycho-spiritual, an activity which may be gently condemned by 'normal people' (God preserve us from normality!) as a waste of time indulged in by cranks, eccentrics and others of highly dubious mental capacity. It actually goes right to the heart of the activities of a dysfunctional world living under the false glow of excessive materialism on the one hand, and the equally false, fundamentalist religiosity on the other. The banquet must be laid for everybody; yes, even for those who are unaware that there is nourishment to be had at the high table.
          Humanity is never going to experience genuine growth and psycho-spiritual maturity until we as a species are forced to face a worldwide crisis with which we are unable to cope. So long as we can merely cope, that is continually to adjust our management of an ever-increasingly dysfunctional life, we will never experience what it is to truly live. So long as we settle for coping strategies, there will never be any impetus to change. It starts with the individual, not them 'out there'; it starts with me.....'in here'.