Category Archives: Eastern religions

Richard Rohr Prophecy, Part 3

Christians are usually sincere and well-intentioned people until you get to any issues of ego, control, power, money, pleasure, and security.  Then they tend to be like everyone else.  We often give only a bogus version of the gospel, a fast-food religion, without any deep transformation of the self; and the result has been the spiritual disaster of Christian countries that tend to be so consumer-oriented, proud, warlike, racist, class conscious, and addictive as everybody else and often even more so, I’m afraid.  (Richard Rohr, posted in “Mindful Christianity” on Facebook.)

Here Rohr alludes to addiction that often besets Christian countries, making people in these countries, “tend to be like everyone else.”  His teachings emphasize the addictive dimension of faith, a malady that leads him to encourage meditation as part of spiritual practice. He sees meditation as a means by which one can quieten that “monkey mind” that is often present in all spiritual practice, leaving one’s quest for spiritual depth to consist largely of a lot of thoughts bouncing around in one’s skull.  The core issue is addiction to thinking and even if “spirituality” characterizes one’s thinking it does not mean that this “rhapsody of words” (Shakespeare)  is anything but rhetoric disguised as spiritual truth

Rhetorical spiritual truth, i.e. “the letter of the law,” is upon closer scrutiny merely a means of avoiding the spiritual truth that is hidden in the literal grasp of the holy writ.  Meditation facilitates the opening of space between the rhetoric and the Essential, allowing that Essential dimension to begin seeping through into our consciousness and therefore into our day to day life.  It “quietens the mind” and allows that “still small voice of God” to filter through a lifetime of accumulated cognitive detritus. However, when one is addicted to his “cognitive detritus” and it happens to have the label “spiritual,” it is very challenging to understand and admit that it is merely detritus, an obsession with the superficial dimension of teachings without allowing experience of the Essential meaning.  This is the circumstance Jesus discovered in his life time with the religious establishment, leading him to say some rather “uncharitable” things to the Pharisees because he realized that they were so often merely, “straining at a gnat, and swallowing a camel.”

Another dimension of this problem is addressed in the Eastern teaching, “the word is not the thing,” succinctly captured with the Buddhist observation, “The finger pointing to the moon is not the moon.”  Just because we use words like, “God” or “Holy Spirit” or “the Bible” etc. does not mean they have any real value other than that of the aforementioned detritus.  These words are mere “pointers” and their value is found when we allow them to lead us into the Essential dimension.  French philosopher Gabriel Marcel, a devoted Christian, recognized this when he noted, “Words have value when they ‘open up’ into a region beyond themselves.” When the word is but a thing, it is only an object and is not allowed to open up.  This closely parallels the dilemma of “letter of the law” believers who are unable to “open up” as they take even themselves literally, not recognizing that they are but an expression of a mysterious and ineffable presence.  Their bondage to the “letter of the law” reveals the bondage of their life, a bondage that spiritual teachings seek to free them from.  But for this truth to begin sinking through to them they would have to admit, “I have eyes to see, but see not; ears to hear, but hear not.”

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Our Denial System Challenged by Lao Tzu and David Whyte

Thirty spokes are made one by holes in a hub,
By vacancies joining them for a wheel’s use;
The use of clay in moulding pitchers
Comes from the hollow of its absence;
Doors, windows, in a house,
Are used for their emptiness:
Thus we are helped by what is not
To use what is.

I want to write again about this little ditty, written in the 6th century B.C. by Lao Tzu that “moved in like a bitch” (to use a Trumpism) on my soul and has mesmerized me ever since. I was in my thirties and know that I must have been bewildered by this verse as it totally had no place the very literal mind of mine that predominated back in my innocence. Increasingly I have “grokked” this wisdom the past decade realizing the importance of recognizing that there is an “absent” dimension of life which is very present even in its “absence.” Actually, it is the only thing that “is,” but then it “is” not nor “is” it a thing. If you understand this, then “Bless you” and if you don’t, I encourage you to flash the sign of the cross to your computer screen and run away screaming! For understanding this will cost you everything you have and even deny you the ego-satisfaction of thinking you are any better off than those who do not get it.
It is so daunting to realize that one has spent his life denying reality, has lived his life in a trance designed to keep himself out of touch with himself, with the world, and with God. In some way I know this is the “hell” that I used to preach against though I now realize the “hell” I saw threatening others had already gnawed deeply into my own soul. The denial system that we acquire with birth and upbringing is very important, but it is so very important that at some point we find the grace and humility to own our dishonesty with ourselves, with others, and with God. And this is really no big deal as it merely means we have a chance to accept our human-ness, a dimension of which is our mortality, which civilization, composed of comforting “fig-leaves” is designed to hide. Poet David Whyte wrote in “Consolations,” that we are in denial of the grace that lies just beyond the horizon of our view of the world, described by Conrad Aiken as, “the small bright circle of consciousness.” And Whyte avowed that to be in denial is to find oneself with a lot of company, noting then that “denial is the crossroads between perception and readiness, to deny denial is to invite powers into our lives we have not yet readied ourselves to meet.”

Here is a list of my blogs. I invite you to check out the other two sometime.
https://anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com/
https://literarylew.wordpress.com/
https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/

I go “Zen on Your Ass”!!!

The belief I now have in God does not need intellectual formulation nor is it based on cognitive apprehension. This “belief” is something which lies beyond the pale of mere human understanding and is therefore difficult to even write about. In fact, in attempting to do so, I’m about to get high “up there” in the ether for I am using words to describe that which is beyond words.

For, all of this “stuff” is just nothing at all! It is “nothing” in that it pertains to “no-thing” and the domain of “nothingness” which to speak of immediately poses the risk of giving it “thing-ness” in my imagination. But it has no “thing”-ness” but is the domain from which all “things” emanated and the domain from which these “things” maintain their “thingness” in time and space. This “domain” can best be thought of as an emptiness or a void. This dimension of life is described in the New Testament as “the Spirit” and one verse in particular wrestles with the mystery I am here wrestling with. John 3:8 declares, “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. Being “born of the Spirit” does not mean that some dove-like entity flutters down from “up there” and occupies your body and soul but that your body/soul has opened up to its own emptiness and paradoxically found its fullness.

This insight has been so slow in coming to me. I’ve spent six plus decades of my life trying to “get it” and finally realized that there is nothing “to get,” that “the Center that I cannot find is known to my unconscious mind. There is no need to despair for I am already there.” (W H. Auden} I have been “riding an oxen, looking for an oxen.” This has freed me from the pressure to “be Christian” as I realize the teachings of Jesus was that “the Kingdom has come” and resides within and always has and always will. Becoming a Christian is more than saying the magic words or believing the “right” thing but humbly accepting a gift that has been available since before I was even a gleam in my daddy’s eye! This is also “self” acceptance, realizing that I am “ok” without any qualification, warts and all! T. S. Eliot described it as a “condition of complete simplicity costing not less than everything.”

But this passionate spiel can be misleading. I have not “gotten saved” or “been enlightened” or experienced any ecstatic mystical experience. I am way too white-bread dull for anything like that to happen. The only thing I have to show for all of “this” is the disillusionment, which is occasionally gut-wrenching, But I have the satisfaction that at last I am “real” in some sense and am not living in the denial which has drenched my life until recently. I am just stuck with my “am-ness” or “is-ness” and though that is not a piece of cake, I’m pleased to embrace my experience with more honesty that I have thought possible. And a curious development is underway. I find that great joy is found in the mundane beauty of this world, simple delights like my two lovely dachshunds, the budding of an aspen tree which I thought had not survived, tulips breaking the surface of the soil and getting ready to “strut and fret” their two weeks upon this New Mexican stage. I take delight in the beautiful birds that are so grateful for my feeders and fantasize that I’m Fr. St. Francis and have them lighting on my outstretched fingers. Oh, ok. So I’m a bit vain! But most of all I am taking delight in my lovely wife who is flourishing as an artist/musician and am pleased to have a supporting-cast role in the beauty she is bringing into this beautiful community.

To sum it up, all of the sophistry offered above is bringing me to feel more at home in this world and to appreciate all that it has to offer. Oh yes, I still see the abysmal ugliness but I do not let that overcloud the beauty that is present everyday of my life. Yes, the “ugliness” of intense anxiety is difficult but I know that “this too shall pass” just as I will myself at some point in the too near future.

Thirty spokes are made one by holes in a hub,
By vacancies joining them for a wheel’s use;
The use of clay in moulding pitchers
Comes from the hollow of its absence;
Doors, windows, in a house,
Are used for their emptiness:
Thus we are helped by what is not
To use what is.

(Lao Tzu, trans. By Witter Bynner)