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Monthly Archives: November 2012

Faith and Being

Schleiermacher: “The contemplation of the pious is the immediate consciousness of the universal existence of all finite things, in and through the Infinite, and of all temporal things in and through the Eternal. Religion is to seek this and find it in all that lives and moves, in all growth and change, in all doing and suffering. It is to have life and to know life in immediate feeling.”

By the late-eighteenth century, Christianity had already become a house divided. On one side were those who believed that Christian distinctiveness was a doctrinal matter, while others insisted it was a matter of morals. Christians hold particular doctrines that identify them as Catholic or Protestant, Baptist or Methodist, liberal or conservative. But Christians should also behave in a way that is obedient to the great ethical precepts found in the Bible, such as loving the neighbor and following Jesus.

While both sides acknowledged the importance of doctrines and morals, each promoted one as more important than the other. Salvation is a matter of thinking right (doctrines) and doing good (morals), but either the mind or the will has priority. The “cultured despisers” to whom Schleiermacher directed his Speeches were members of both camps, and each tended to regard the other as missing the mark.

These house divisions in Christianity were reflected in the larger culture as well. Science and philosophy – disciplines of the mind – were having great success in classifying reality into separate domains of human knowledge. But so too, government and business – disciplines of the will – were beginning to regulate human behavior into the various zones of public life. Western culture at large, then, gave religion two choices on where to stand: mind or will, doctrines or morals, thought or behavior, thinking right or doing good.

Schleiermacher saw a problem in this – a big and potentially fatal problem for Christianity and the culture as a whole. Whether we are thinking about something or striving for something, the “something” is always separate and apart from us. While the mind frames and arranges its objects, and the will fixes and pursues its outcomes, the immediacy of experience itself is left behind.

Is experience essentially what we think or what we do? Neither one, says Schleiermacher. Rather it is the “feeling and intuition” of being alive in this moment. The farther we step into mind or will, the more we remove ourselves from the heart where the true pulse of the present is found.

To understand what Schleiermacher means by “feeling” we might place it visually at the bottom of a “V” shape. From feeling we can move up into emotion, which generates motion in behavior; or we can move up into attitude, which establishes the position from whence we take our perspective on reality. Both emotion and attitude are derived from feeling but stretch it out, so to speak, either into action or thought. Still farther out are the outcomes of behavior and objects of thought – the morals and doctrines of religion’s cultured despisers.

Deep within ourselves – if we will only open our attention to it – is the feeling of experience, at the point where our life is grounded in present reality. Because the immediacy of experience lies beneath and is prior to the operations of mind and will, its ground is properly regarded as ineffable (beyond words) and spontaneous (without purpose). Yet it is precisely there that we are one with all, and all is one.

To arrive at this still-point (though in fact we never left, nor can we leave) it becomes necessary at times to drop our thoughts and surrender the urgency to act. In quiet contemplation we can enter that internal space where doctrines and morals can be appreciated as but secondary extensions of a primary and eternal life. Otherwise, if we are too tied up in the beliefs and goals that make our lives meaningful, we can end up dying on the inside, strangled in our own web. When being right or doing good are taken as the keys to salvation, the forces of orthodoxy and righteousness can actually become demonic.

We forget that our true healing as human beings comes when mind and will are reconciled in the heart, when we can stop grasping and chasing after meaning and simply dwell in the real presence of mystery.

So what can we say about faith, in light of Schleiermacher’s model of the heart, mind, and will? First of all, faith must not be confused with doctrines and thinking right, nor is it about morals and doing good. It’s not what you believe or even how you live.  It isn’t about the meaning of life or how to get to heaven.

Instead, faith is about being well – grounded, present, centered and whole. Right now.

 

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Ultimate Concern

Tillich: “Faith is the state of being ultimately concerned. The content matters infinitely for the life of the believer, but it does not matter for the formal definition of faith. And this is the first step we have to make in order to understand the dynamics of faith.”

If Paul Tillich has recognition in popular culture it is probably for his term “ultimate concern,” which can refer both to the object of one’s highest commitment as well as to the subjective degree of devotion one has for it. The reformer Martin Luther made a similar claim back in the 16th century, when he defined “my god” as anything to which I am passionately and unconditionally devoted. Devotion, in the way it fuses feeling and behavior, elevates its object to a supreme position of value and inspires sacrifice on its behalf.

As a “formal definition of faith,” Tillich says that the object of ultimate concern is really secondary to the meaning it has for the believer. That sounds right: We have witnessed many wacky cults and fanatical sects that inspired their members to forsake the world and surrender their fortunes, strap bombs to their bodies and murder innocent civilians, or willingly take poison to end their lives for a better gig on some other planet or higher plane of existence. These true believers, however deluded, were filled with “ultimate concern” for the one thing that mattered most to them.

But what about truth? If something is entirely lacking the evidence to support it; if it contradicts logic and violates rationality; if it inspires a believer to commit violent acts against self and others – then when does it begin to matter whether or not the content of faith is true in a more objective and publicly verifiable sense? According to Tillich, faith is not a guarantee that the object of one’s ultimate concern is valid, worthy, or even real. The protection of religious liberty and the separation of church and state in American democracy allows an individual to put his or her faith in any and every kind of nonsense, so long as it doesn’t endanger others or encroach on their freedom not to believe, or to believe differently.

Once upon a time, when we were all metaphysical realists and simply assumed that religion’s ultimate concern was an actual entity separate and apart from us, we could entertain this question of truth in a spirit of quiet confidence – knowing that, in the end, the “real god” would be revealed. Those poor suckers who chase after comets, take dictation from ancient spirit-beings, or steer jetliners into skyscrapers will wake up before the judgment seat of the One True God – ours, of course! However meaningful their lives had been for all the passion, certainty and invested focus, they had put their faith in lies.

They probably hadn’t read their Bible, which tells us everything we need to know about the real God – the one who made the universe, sent his son to save us, and will one day catch us up into heaven or throw us down into hell. Too bad for them.

Metaphysical realism – belief in the actual existence of a nonphysical god – is itself a necessary corollary of mythological literalism, which takes the stories (or myths) of religion at face value. Whereas early cultures seem to have appreciated how the ritual recital and reenactment of a myth could transport participants out of the “broken time” of ordinary life and into the “deep time” of archetypal life, modernity encouraged a more detached reading of the stories, which then forced a critical distinction between fact (what is actual) and fiction (what is only imaginary).

What are we to do with these stories? Unless we are ready to admit their metaphorical status, the only choice we have is to either take them literally or dismiss them as “art” (or lies). Obviously, our stories must be based in fact while the myths of other religions are – well, myths. The Bible is literally true and its god actually exists. You either believe it – and believe all of it – or you don’t. The interesting thing is that we don’t really believe it; certainly not all of it. We just lack the courage it would take to give up and get past our need to believe it.

For many today faith is caught in a loop of irrelevancy. God exists because the Bible says so; the Bible is true because it’s the word of God. Giving up a literal Bible (mythological literalism) would be giving up on the real God (metaphysical realism), and there’s too much at stake to even consider it. So we settle for a god of our own making, an extraction from the countless masks of God in the Bible, selected and modified to fit our needs. Whether you need security or fulfillment, control or freedom, forgiveness or vengeance, power or love – there’s a god in the Bible waiting for work.

Whether we get it more or less right, we try to make up the difference in faith, passionately believing where we just can’t be sure. If we put enough energy into our devotion and make a big enough sacrifice on its behalf, our “ultimate concern” will be rewarded.

Suddenly faith becomes dangerous. But what is life without it?

 

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The Narrow Gate

Kierkegaard: “Only the Eternal is … always present, is always true. Only the Eternal applies to each human being, whatever his [or her] age may be. […] If there is, then, something eternal in [an individual], it must be able to exist and to be grasped within every change.”

One of the critical mistranslations from New Testament Greek to modern English happened when aionios (Greek, eternal) became everlasting. From that fateful moment, upon a careless decision – or was it intentional? – of the translator, Christianity lost its original concern for the real presence of mystery and became – or rather degenerated into – a religion of the afterlife.

Jesus had been deeply focused on that moment of disillusionment when the really real (he called it God-power or the reign of God) breaks through our illusions of separateness and superiority and reveals our essential oneness with our neighbor. Christian orthodoxy not long thereafter began to move the primary objective of salvation out of this world and into the next.

Eternal simply means “timeless.” In time we are always living on the invisible threshold between a past and a future. Everything up till now has conspired to give shape to the ego and its personal world; everything after now can only be sketched out along a scale of probability, following the trajectory of momentum carried over from the past. What we call an individual’s character is only the part of the personality that has been so conditioned by his or her genetic and personal past as to be fairly predictable and enduring.

When we observe the past and future from where we stand, they seem to fit and flow seamlessly; what is called “the present” is elusive and impossible to pin down.

But it is precisely the present that is timeless, transcendent to the flow of past and future. The present is ineffable, since whatever word you may use to render its meaning is itself the product of a previous effort. You think you have it? Look again: you are holding only a relic of the past, however recent.

This is why my preferred reference to ultimate reality plays creatively with the terms “presence,” “mystery,” and “reality” – as in (1) the present mystery of reality, (2) the real presence of mystery, or (3) the mysterious reality of presence. It is about what is really real, what is elusive and ineffable, and what is here and now.

Kierkegaard says that the Eternal is “always present, always true” – and here true refers not to the accuracy of a statement but to the reality or authenticity of something. True, in this deeper sense, is not the opposite of false but of fake, counterfeit, illusory, unreal. (By the way, this is why Nietzsche refers to a doctrine or theory as an “untruth” – because it sets up a screen between us and the reality we are attempting to describe.)

A recovery of concern for the eternal over what merely lasts forever marks a transforming moment in awareness. Because so much of religion and religious orthodoxy is preoccupied with the project of getting the soul out of its body and into the next life, the possibility of a living faith in this present moment has been displaced by a frozen set of doctrines one must believe to be saved. In its deeper and original sense, however, faith refers to a mode of awareness and life that connects us to the present mystery of reality.

This is what Jesus was referring to when he spoke of our need to enter God-power through “the narrow gate” (Matthew 7:13). A living encounter with divine presence is only possible in this moment. Our tendency as individuals to miss the moment and dwell instead on the past or future is only amplified by tribal religion, where sacred tradition or apocalyptic expectation can conspire to distract an entire society from the present mystery. We scurry back and forth across this vibrant threshold countless times a day, and the blood we shed in defense of our tradition or to advance our mission is poured out – always – on holy ground.

Eternity, then, is not after or outside the flow of time, but “within every change,” as Kierkegaard observes. Although he hasn’t used the word yet, I suspect that he also regards faith as something like a primary attitude of existence whereby an individual opens his or her life to the real mystery of presence.

The distinction between ego and soul (explored in my previous conversation with Nietzsche, Watts and Heschel) is especially relevant here. My cultural identity as a member of this tribe, a person with masks to wear and roles to play, is conditioned by a past and oriented toward a future. Ego is always in time – but is just not able ever to be on time, fully in this moment and free of “me-and-mine.”

Meanwhile, my grounded presence in reality, here and now – which is to say, the soul of myself (rather than “my soul”) – simply abides. One part of what I am waits for the other part to slow down, drop in, and let go.

The first movement of faith is letting go.

 

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The Focus of Faith

Schleiermacher: “We should have fewer complaints of the increase of the sectarian spirit and of factious religious associations, if so many of the clergy were not without understanding of religious wants and emotions. Their stand-point generally is too low.”

A bit earlier Schleiermacher makes the point that one would not go to an art enthusiast or critic to understand the true spirit of art, but rather to a genuine artist, one who actually creates the work that these others only observe – from the outside, as it were. When observed from an objective standpoint, religion is a “production” of sort, a more or less complex arrangement of doctrinal beliefs, ritual practices, and moral precepts that support and justify a way of life.

If you were to interview a professing member of such a religious society – what I refer to as a “tribe” – and inquire into the essence of his or her faith, most would respond with observations concerning this arrangement. These particular doctrines trace back in time to a founding figure (a mystic seer, inspired prophet, or divine savior) or forward in time to the Final Days; these specific rituals unify the members and confirm their shared identity; and these rules for life maintain good order and improve one’s prospects in the life hereafter.

Schleiermacher was an ordained minister in the Reformed tradition, a heritage that stresses order and compliance with orthodoxy. His own insider experience made him realize how many of his fellow clergy were serving as little more than house managers of “the faith.” All of this outward expression – the external arrangement of religion – has accumulated over time into what might be called the “denominational set,” and it is the pastor’s job to be sure that the joints are tight and the gears properly oiled.

As in the analogy with art, faith can be viewed from the outside by enthusiasts and critics, where it is some “thing” observed – an objective arrangement, a denominational set, a noun. But if you should inquire with a living artist, or in this case with an individual for whom religion is a dynamic process and profound experience, you would hear more references to the mystery in it and the movement of it. Faith, from this internal vantage-point of experience – the phenomenon and phenomenology of it – is a verb: fluid, moving and alive.

Is it fair to lay responsibility for the sectarian spirit and factious religious associations on the shoulders of clergy? Of course not. But Schleiermacher is only saying that we would have less of these things if only our clergy (religious leaders) were more in touch with the internal lives of people than they are concerned about butts in the pews and budget bottom lines.

What do people really want? What are we looking for? Toward the beginning of this First Speech, Schleiermacher summarizes the twin preoccupations of external religion (the faith as noun) as “providence and immortality.” Outer religion – the one that is managed by the clergy-as-custodian – comforts people with the teaching that God is in control, that God loves us and will take care of us. What’s more, hanging on and waiting it out will eventually win for us the heavenly Door Prize of everlasting life. Just believe, and you’re good.

Personally, I believe that providence and immortality are more like “positive illusions” that help people cope with the changing nature of our lives, with our limited control over how things go, and with the general burden of existence – specifically with the inescapable fate of death. At one level, the two preoccupations of religion provide an important service to culture by helping us keep our sanity and stay in the game. There are countless clergy who are in that same space and feel called to manage the denominational status quo.

But what about the rest of us – and there is a rising number – who have come to appreciate freedom and flow, mystery and depth, spontaneity and change in their lives? What about those of us who don’t need to stretch our life-lines into an endless future in order to hold and celebrate the value of this moment in time? What about those who, like Henry David Thoreau, want to “live deep and suck out all the marrow of life” – not as mere pleasure-seekers but in order to take on the full mystery of what it is to be human, in our particular time and place?

What are the “religious wants and emotions” that move our lives, before we get to church or even join a religion? For now, at least this much can be said: Faith is deeper than religion, it preexists doctrines, and it may or may not benefit from what organized religion has to offer. It’s about experience and what you do with the mystery at the center and all around your precious passing life.

It’s time to pay attention.

 

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Exploring Faith

Creative change necessarily includes a phase of disorientation, when the certainties of a worm’s world are strangely no longer relevant and the new horizons of the butterfly’s world are still unclear. On the near side of this threshold of transformation committees of worms meet in earnest to decide how the old verities can be preserved – or recovered, to the degree they’ve already been lost. We have to keep our feet on the ground and hang on to the reality we know. We need to get back to the way we were before the confusion set in. This agony will pass, but we must remain faithful!

Closer to the threshold, perhaps, are some others – still worms, however – who feel things melting away and look longingly to what the future might hold. By virtue of the perspective offered from a higher perch in the branches, they can see farther out than their fellow worms down below. In the coming era we will be completely liberated from this pathetic existence, they whisper. Life transcendent and trouble-free awaits us; we must remain faithful!

What does it mean to “remain faithful”? In the context of my parable it simply refers to a determination to hold fast, whether in a conservative stance to a previous and more familiar mode of life, or in a liberal stance to an unprecedented and more advanced mode of life. Yet both parties are fundamentally the same, in that they are reacting as worms to the contractions of change. Whether the signals of creative change are interpreted as the loss of something we thought we could depend on or as the suggestion of something that will finally set us free, our primary point of reference is outside and apart from this present reality.

To help me explore creative change as it relates to the meaning of faith (and being faith-full), I am inviting three authors to the conversation: Friedrich Schleiermacher (On Religion: Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers, 1799), Soren Kierkegaard (Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing, 1846), and Paul Tillich (Dynamics of Faith, 1957). Each one of these individuals lived in a time of cultural sea-change, when it seemed as if the wheels were coming off the train of tradition and the world was falling off-center.

Schleiermacher was rooted in the Reformed tradition of Protestant Christianity, which placed high value on scripture (the inspired written word), Logos (The Word made flesh in Jesus), theology (words about God), and logical reason as our primary way of understanding the spiritual mystery. Caught up in the same wave of philosophical revolution as Immanuel Kant, Schleiermacher shifted his focus of study from the object under investigation (as in classical philosophy) to the individual’s experience of the object – which came to be known as phenomenology. This shift would radically redefine faith; many would argue that it brought us back to its original meaning.

Kierkegaard found his voice against the philosophy of Georg W.F. Hegel, whose rational system resolved reality itself down to an absolute mind (God) conceiving the physical universe, and then coming to self-awareness through the speculations and reflections of the human intellect. The action in Hegel’s system was very transcendent and universal, giving little account to the historically grounded and particular individual. Just like Schleiermacher, Kierkegaard sought to grasp the nature of experience and to affirm the experiencing subject, whom he felt had all been written off in Hegel’s system.

Tillich was educated and ordained an army chaplain in the German Lutheran tradition and served during the First World War. The pressures of Hitler’s regime eventually motivated him to come to the United States, with the help of his friend and theological admirer Reinhold Niebuhr. Both World Wars had delivered a deep wound to the secular optimism of nineteenth-century Western culture. The creative powers and divine potential of the human being were severely challenged by equally destructive powers and an apparent proclivity for the demonic, as evidenced in the violence and brutality of Auschwitz. While mainline Christianity was increasingly emphasizing human depravity and the radical transcendence of God, Tillich took up the challenge of understanding faith as a dynamic force for world change.

In the interest of transparency, I must admit that these thinkers struck a chord in me a long time ago. Tillich, especially, would become my nighttime library adviser during seminary, as I was taught the principles of Reformed Theology in the classroom during the day. So many words – so much meaning – can interfere with the experience of mystery. Despite his voluminous output, I detected in Tillich a mystic’s sensibility, a willingness – even a driving imperative – to drop out of the gears of discursive thinking every so often in order to sink into the ineffable experience of God.

As in my previous conversation with Nietzsche, Watts and Heschel, my intention is to move through the above-mentioned writings chapter by chapter. When something grabs me as especially relevant to the question of faith, I will offer some reflection on the author’s point of view and its consequences for our ongoing dialogue. Where possible, I also want to stage a conversation between and among the author’s themselves, to explore how their distinctive approaches and perspectives might cross-pollinate to suggest our next bend in the road.

I hope you’ll join me and read along!

 

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In a Nutshell

I conclude my conversations with Nietzsche, Watts and Heschel by summing up what I’ve learned. All of them were lights in their time, and each one spoke out of – and to – his particular cultural context. My re-reading of these authors has opened up a new insight, however, with regard to their respective places in human history. Whether they were German Lutheran, Anglican beatnik, or Hasidic Jew, these three thinkers have become portals of a new vision for humanity. Something deeper underground than what is specific to any given cultural moment breaks to the surface in their writings. Here are the main ideas.

We live like fish submerged in an unfathomable mystery called reality. Each moment offers a fresh experience of the ineffable wonder of being alive and part of it all. Humans have evolved an ability to reflect on our experience, to pull out the patterns – or put them in – in order to make sense of what’s going on. This business of meaning-making is our chief preoccupation as a species, and the products of our effort – identity, value, significance, and purpose – are vigorously defended as truth-itself.

In fact, for the longest time humans were not self-aware in this construction of meaning. That is to say, we were unselfconscious creators: the projections just came spontaneously out of our deeper imagination in the form of dance, art, symbol, poetry and myth – forming the web of meaning we call culture. We saw ourselves in these projected patterns of meaning, but we didn’t consciously recognize the intelligence “looking back” at us. In the ensuing dialogue of cultural development – over many millenniums – we have come to realize our role in all of this.

One place where our evolving intelligence looks back at us is in the mythological god. This term refers to the key figures of early narratives who are depicted as the primary agents in the creation, supervision, intervention and redemption of the world – focused mainly on the local worlds of the tribes that recited and passed on the stories. As we stretch out the history of mythology we notice that god has evolved over time, beginning as the intention within the forces of nature, becoming more interested in the moral foundations and government of tribal society, and eventually ascending to an absolute position outside the world-system as “the one in control of all things.”

A mythic-literal reading of the sacred narratives is confronted with this personal development in god, which is difficult to accept since god is supposed to be outside of time and essentially perfect. But what if, following the theory that the mythological god is really our own developing consciousness looking back at us, we use this growth chart as a leading indicator of human evolution? The evolution of our body is on a very long trajectory reaching back millions of years; but our ego development correlates exactly to the career of the mythological god. Coincidence?

The rise of ego (self-) consciousness begins in the visceral urgencies of biological life. Under the influence of the drives and reflexes that have secured our survival for countless generations, the infantile ego is powerless to resist. But over time and through the disciplines of tribal morality, “I” (ego) takes its place at the table as a civilized – Nietzsche would say, domesticated – member of the herd. At this point, our focus of value and concern has shifted from the biological imperative of survival to the task of maintaining a social identity, with its driving need to “fit in” (belonging) and “stand out” (recognition).

Remember that all of this world-construction activity is taking place on the ego, by the tribe, and under the divine supervision and final judgment of the mythological god. This gearing-together of who I am, who we are, and who’s in control of it all makes for a very captive audience. Once the doors are locked it’s nearly impossible to manage an escape – but who would want to leave anyway? Our god is the true god, we are the chosen people, and I will be rewarded with everlasting life in heaven for being good (that is to say, obedient).

Remember, too, that all of this construction is taking place outside and around the present moment, where our soul swims in mystery. The erector set of culture makes for an exceedingly interesting, developmentally necessary, and magically entrancing game of distractions. Nietzsche wanted to pull it all down and clear the path to a higher humanity (Ubermensch), beyond good and evil. Watts taught that we can see through the cultural facade and step out of the role-play that is currently holding us hostage; we can wake up from the trance and find wisdom in our insecurity. And Heschel challenged us not to rest in this illusion of security, but rather to use the leverage-point of personal (ego) freedom to leap for the ring of responsibility.

This leads us back to “now” – which we never really left, nor can we. Having arched out of and away from the real presence of mystery and through our self-spun webs of meaning, we arrive once again in the living moment. Our awareness has been opened up and the focus of our attention now sees through what we once took as real. The seeds of creativity, compassion and wisdom, once the special possession of the mythological god, have begun to take root in their proper ground.

We are still becoming. The future is already being felt in the contractions. Don’t be afraid.

 

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Polarity and Paradox

Heschel: “There are two ways in which the Bible speaks of the creation of [humanity]. In the first chapter of the Book of Genesis, which is devoted to the creation of the physical universe, [humanity] is described as having been created in the image and likeness of God. In the second chapter, which tells us of the commandment not to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, [humanity] is described as having been formed out of the dust of the earth. Together, image and dust express the polarity [in human nature].”

In the counseling clinic you will find two types of clients: those who are ashamed of themselves and regard others generally as not to be trusted, and those who are conceited with themselves and regard others generally as not to be trusted. Both of them will typically have relationship issues, be chronically unhappy in life, and will either be in therapy for a long time or else jump in and out, looking for the magic trick that no counselor can provide. Fix me.

As I have already suggested, the persistent problems of middle-class mental health in America today are likely a complication of our Western fixation with ego. Instead of following a more contemplative line of research into the spiritual intelligence that grounds us in present reality, Western “psychology” has in fact abandoned the soul (psyche) in favor of personality development and its organizational center, the ego. From the vantage-point of the strained and conflicted ego, any threat to its executive control and perpetual reign is perceived as a problem.

Ironically, then, we have come to prefer experiences of ego-inflation to genuine self-transcendence; what we are has been eclipsed by who we are. Experiences of love, wonder, inspiration and faith – all of which require that we let go of “me” in release to a larger mystery – are seen as threatening and make us anxious. The divine ideal of our own higher nature (god) becomes severed as the object of our aspiration and becomes, not a force for waking and clarifying our dormant virtue, but rather a source of judgment, shame and condemnation. The “God beyond god” is inaccessible to the degree that we insist on saving ourselves.

On the other side of this existential divide – this illusion of duality generated by Captain Ego – is the body and its realm of instinct, mucus and blood (yuck). Strange urges and powerful moods take us by surprise, and much of our shame for falling short of god’s demands is hooked into our bodies. But the body is also in time, and time is passing, and passing time is mortality, and mortality means deathand who wants that?!

The cosmic force of entropy, which is constantly pulling at the heels of higher order so as to reach simpler and more stable arrangements, is also at work on our bodies. As a living composition of physical matter, the body will eventually succumb to this downward pull of mortality and return as dust to dust. In reality this is a marvelous thing, and it might be appreciated as the descending arc of our recycling universe, straining against the upward push of evolution along its ascending arc – a scientific yin and yang that strive together in the beautiful balance of all things.

But again, if ego is attached to the body, then I am going down as well – which is unacceptable. So I dress it up to look younger, take supplements to extend its life, primp, tuck and cinch up its sagging weight. I will not be dust … I will not! What is really an astonishing miracle of matter becomes instead a death sentence, a damnable anchor holding me in time. Thankfully, religion has provided me a way out of this mess, with its doctrine of immortality and the promise of everlasting life.

What would happen, what would it be like if we could embrace this polarity in our human nature? How different would our lives be if we were able – really it comes down to whether or not we are willing – to transcend the ego and move more effortlessly (less anxiously) through the frontiers of body and soul? Can we affirm the image of god in ourselves, and in each other, without becoming self-inflated? Can we embrace mortality and learn to appreciate the fleeting moments and limited time we have?

Not to separate ego from body, and not to confuse ego with soul – this is wisdom. We harbor a divine image, but we are even now passing into dust.

 

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