Until we have met the monsters in ourselves, we keep trying to slay them in the outer world. And we find that we cannot. For all darkness in the world stems from darkness in the heart. And it is there that we must do our work. Marianne Williamson
This is still another version of the famous wisdom of Pogo, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Williamson, a teacher of The Course in Miracles and a political/social activist, presents spirituality in her books and speeches as something that begins in the depths of one’s own being and has value only to the degree that one realizes any value to the world that comes from this spirituality is dependent upon this realization. Furthermore, value to the world will come from this spirituality as the result of continued focus on one’s own soul as in, “It’s me, it’s me, it’s me O Lord, standing in the need of prayer.”
But the rush of spiritual impulse usually gets co-opted almost immediately by the ego and the “convert” begins to focus on getting others to believe like he does, to have the same experience as he does, and thus the spiritual impetus is immediately short-circuited. One dimension of this problem is that culture usually influences us to think of religion in social terms and the ego immediately begins to utilize this passion to help the individual find a place in a spiritual context, i.e. church, for example. What the Apostle Paul termed “the flesh” takes over and this spiritual dynamic percolating in the soul loses its primary focus–the “working out of your salvation, with fear and trembling.”
In the “old days” of my youth in the American South there were tent revivals, even tales from my mother of “brush arbor revivals”, and other examples of evangelical fervor run amok. I received a mailer last week regarding the modern day equivalent of this type of event which will be held in the comfort of a local motel on the north end of the main street in Taos, NM where I now live. The flyer (fortunately addressed impersonally to “boxholder) announces—THE BIBLE…AMERICA…WHAT’S NEXT? Inside the flyer, some of the topics to be addressed are: How near is His return?; The Signs of His Coming; Will the United Nations Rule the World? The Power Behind the Beast & the Anti-Christ.
This is a glossy, full color, four page-flyer and it will bring the crowds in along with their hard-earned money. The evangelist will leave town 11 days later with his coffers fattened and the desperate souls will leave with the fears heightened and their desperate ideologically-based faith intensified.
In my youth, I loved it when these guys would come to town, though I was born late enough that brush arbors and tent revivals were almost a thing of the past and I never got to participate in one. But evangelists would hold us in awe, driving up in their expensive cars, wearing their handsome suits, and trotting out all of those impressive diagrams and charts which offered positive proof that the end-times were near and that Jesus was coming back to bring his children home and wreak havoc on all those left behind.
Yes, part of me is snickering at this scene that will unfold in this lovely community and part of me would like to attend a night or two and gawk. But I’m pleased that I’m now mature enough that the snickering is overshadowed my a profound sadness, especially for the children who will be mortally wounded with the terror of the atmosphere and many will “come to Christ” out of a fear of hell and will spend the rest of their life under the tyranny of ideological Christianity. And I don’t think the evangelist is necessarily a shyster. He probably is caught up himself in this institutionalized hysteria and is merely playing his role…as we all tend to do in life…in a collective mindset that has him at its beck-and-call, his life being merely the “toy of some great pain.” (Ranier Rilke)
I am “errant” in so many ways other than balking at following through with a career as a preacher. This “errant” theme has characterized the whole of my life though often it was so subtle that I didn’t notice it. For example, I am very much a Christian today but I am not the “right” kind, as defined as what a Christian was in my youth. And for this I feel a lot of guilt for I know that I’m one of those who has “departed from the faith once delivered unto the saints” or who “went out from us because he was not of us.” Guilt, and its kissing-cousin shame, are so fundamental to human nature and are so instrumental in bringing us into the tribe in our youth. And I think that constitutionally I was more susceptible to the torments of those emotions than some are and thus there was a desperation in my effort to “belong” and subscribe to every facet of my conservative culture.
Being a Christian in my youth was a very rational matter; it meant following a simple line of syllogistic reasoning which, having uttered the magic words…the verbal “formula”…one could know the he was “saved” because he had uttered those “magic words.” That never worked for me, not in the depths of my heart, though I assumed for decades that it had as I blindly followed the reasoning of my pastors, “If the Bible says its so, it is so. Trust the Bible, not your feelings.” And I now see that I was actually being taught to trust reason.
To make a long story short, I see God, the Bible, and the Christian faith as something wholly different. It was best summed up by Richard Rohr recently on Super Soul Sunday when he noted that God “is not a being among other beings, but is the very Ground of Being.” God is not merely another object in our world of objects, though we may believe him to be a very “big” and “powerful” one who lives “far away.” Those qualities still leave him as a “being among other beings” or “an object among other objects.” I now see, and intuitive feel/know Him in the depths of my heart and no longer try to “reason” my way into confidence in Him.
Unfortunately, any traditional Christian reading this, including anyone from my youth who happened to stumble upon this, would immediately say, “Why heck! Doggone it, he fooled around and went atheist on us!” Well, I see what they mean and in their approach to the world they would be right. But I am not an atheist but a man of an increasingly deep faith in God who is the Wholly Other yet inexplicably dwells in me and the rest of us and is working his cosmic Mystery through our meager efforts.