Wednesday, 26 August 2015

A Question of Orthopraxy

         Orthopraxy is defined as correct liturgical and ethical conduct. The question is, how does one define the word correct? As Fr. Richard Rohr says this week in his daily meditations, ".....we don't think our way into a new way of living; we live ourselves into a new way of thinking...." I think that anyone who has become involved in the Twelve Step Programme of spiritual recovery will vouch for the truth of that statement. As I have pointed out in earlier posts, the gift of belief in a power greater than our everyday consciousness, or ego, to save us from insane thinking and behaviour, is offered only after practical work on our psycho-spiritual condition. That work is not usually undertaken until we have experienced real, psychological suffering.
         I suppose we all know that if we wish to become adept at some skill or other, whether it be in some art activity, sport, or an intellectual activity, maybe learning a new language, for example, a great deal of work and commitment is usually required. It is tacitly assumed that the activity we choose has some positive value for us, and maybe our community as well. However, the goal of the aspiring adept may not be worthwhile. Thus the concentrated activity to acquire proficiency in a skill is not of itself laudable. It is the end to which our energies are engaged that may be deemed to be worthy or unworthy, sensible (sensical?) or nonsensical. Also, energy can be expended mistakenly so that bad habits and procedures are generated.
         In the early days of my spiritual turnaround, it was made quite clear to me which of my character traits were positive and constructive, and which were negative and destructive. The practising of the positive traits brought about a new and positive way of thinking, whilst the practising of negative traits had had the opposite effect. In a very real sense, negative behaviour has the effect of sending one into spiritual sleep, that condition that Gurdjieff so often warned against.
         One negative trait in particular (and not the only one!) that I needed to guard against was judgementalism. Trying to reach some understanding of the nature of this trait has occupied my attention, on and off, for a very long time. Of late, I have been reading excerpts from the New Testament because I wish to get to know (insofar as it is possible) this man Jesus of Nazareth, and what made him tick; what was he really trying to say? One thing that becomes very evident is his frequent verbal attacks on the 'Scribes and Pharisees' whom he labels as hypocrites. Now is that being judgemental or not? Similarly, wasn't St. Paul's calling the Galatians "stupid" also judgemental?
         In my book such outbursts are indeed examples of judgementalism. Yet it also displays behaviour that is all too human. Gone forever, in my mind, is the notion of Jesus the Nazarene as the epitome of divine perfection, being replaced by someone I can empathise with, someone who made all the mistakes that I make. Yet for all that, something lived its life through that mortal man, to telling effect; Jesus the Christ, the Jesus Higher Self, the Cosmic Christ.
         Of course, that does not mean that I can indulge in judgementalism with impunity. Gradually, I have come to believe that judgementalism is a negative activity directed at a person, not at their behaviour. I must surely become aware when I am engaged in a behaviour that is likely to damage my thinking process, that is going to turn my ways of thinking toward the realm of insanity, as they have done so in the past. Yet to say that I am this or that, rather than saying I am behaving like this or that, is as judgemental as if I am levelling my negative criticisms at others. Finally, after all these years I think I understand. And there is a bonus. If I can cease from being judgemental, I stand a chance of dealing with its accomplices, pride (arrogance) and self-righteousness. Now that can't be bad.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Old Feelings Aroused

          Of late I have turned to reading the New Testament, admittedly in small chunks. In particular, I am reading some portions taken from St. Paul's letters to the peoples of various cities, such as those of Galatia to whom I referred in a previous post. The reasons for this are perhaps a little obscure, and need not detain us here. What intrigued me were the feelings that arose as I read his words.
          When I was a child and in the process of being educated about the love of God and the excruciating agony suffered by the Christ at Calvary - all for the benefit of saving my pretty worthless soul - I swallowed everything I was taught hook, line and sinker, as the saying goes. As a child Christian, the fishy metaphor is apt. What I could not see then, but can see all too clearly now, was the complete contradiction between what I was taught, and how it was taught to me, and what I trust is spiritual reality.
          To begin with (and let me say here at the outset that this is not a judgemental outburst against those who for all their supposed knowledge and wisdom really seemed to have lost the plot) the teaching of Christ's loving message was completely out of touch with the background of his vengeful Father, ever waiting to dole out punishment for all my little transgressions. Also, the way in which I was taught, so beloved of the Protestant low Church, was very much in the Pauline mode. Thus I developed a mindset that was overloaded with guilt, imminent divine punishment, coupled with a need that I abhorred of seeking to convert others to "my way" of thinking. (I never was very successful at doing that, and maintain my abhorrence at indulging in that practice even now.) Suddenly, my reading of St. Paul threw into high relief a kind of familiarity that was pressing all the wrong buttons.
          Perhaps that would have been a good time to dump my copy of the Holy Bible in the nearest bin, but I have always had a powerful aversion to destroying books. In any case, it was possible that I would have been throwing away the good with the bad. I have spent some days thinking over the feelings that have arisen, and the end result is a deep sadness. No real anger remains over my father's........oh hell, let him go!
          It is the sadness of apparent loss of something that may yet reveal something of deep value. I just don't know. It all seems to be so far too late! And when I look around the world, and frankly I am no lover of mankind, I nevertheless sense a deep regret at the huge loss that our species is suffering in the name of religious and political fundamentalism and egoistic arrogance, of arid intellectualism on the one hand and a swamping by an ocean of emotionalism on the other. Yet for all that is wrong, divisive, demanding and non-loving in this suffering world, I cannot deny that there is some intuitive good. For all the mistakes we make, there are some redemptive aspects to our behaviour. On such small and shaky foundations lies all the hope I can muster.
          A long time ago, I was told that I had barely scratched the surface of Christianity. Maybe, just maybe, the Christ said, and still says, something we - or at least this non-religious I - have a need to hear.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Belief from Letting Go

          I observed in my previous post, "Belief As a Gift," that in order to arrive at a "right" answer, some kind of fearless, candid appraisal of appropriate data is required. Then one is placed in a position to experience the giving of belief. Why should this be so? After all, are we not able to acquire beliefs without undergoing the rigour of honest investigation? I would like, at this point, to distinguish between belief as I have been using that word, and something which one has acquired from someone else, a friend, a relative, a preacher speaking from a pulpit, a member of a peer group, or any other source of information - or disinformation(!) - which happens to suit one's prevailing predisposition.
          The latter kind of so-called belief is most likely to be gained in order to boost or titillate one's ego. In other words one's ego is enhanced by the acquisition of what is often an unhealthy dose of unreality. When belief is "gifted," however, a very different process is involved, namely a taking away from the ego. And this process, which is sometimes referred to as "letting go," is the crucial difference. Not only that, but letting go can be applied in a number of different situations, resulting in psycho-spiritual benefits for the receiver. It may well be this removal of substance - if I can call it that - from the stifling shell of the ego that brings about the receiving of the gift of belief that appears to have no connection with the subject being investigated.
          I wonder, having once experienced the process of, "Coming to believe....." why anyone would wish to return to the state of being totally dominated by one's ego. Perhaps this is what was in St. Paul's mind when he said in his "Letter to the Galatians" [3:ii and iii]:-

"How was it that you received the Spirit - was it by the practice of the Law, or by believing in the message you heard? Having begun in the Spirit, can you be so stupid as to end in the flesh?" [New Jerusalem Bible] A similar quote from the King James' Version says:-

"Are ye so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh (or ego)? Have ye suffered so many things in vain?......" [3:iii and iv]

          There is undoubtedly great power in the process of letting go. It almost demands a human response of faith. Of course this may fly in the face of the intellect, of rationality. That does not mean, however, that a faith response - a response from the heart - flies in the face of reality. But at all times discernment needs to be practised. Somewhere, somehow, doors are beginning to open; doors that for so long I have chosen to shut.