The Mystical Union

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“Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?  So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder” (Matthew 19:4-6).

How we understand Jesus’ kingdom of God is our key to understanding the mystical thread running through his teachings. Is this kingdom a biblically prophesied day of judgment, complete with major destruction, wailing and gnashing of teeth? Or is it a quiet spiritual awakening that is born and grows through our consciousness from the innermost recesses of the soul? It is clear from the overall message of the New Testament that the early Christian community couched it in apocalyptic terms. But when we lift the sayings of Jesus from this evangelical narrative, we find another, inner-directed message more closely associated with the mystical thread.

Jesus often speaks in contrasting terms. He uses things like good and bad fish, wheat and tares, wide and narrow gates, old and new wine, houses built on rock and sand, man and woman, to name a few. We get the most from these illustrations when we see them, not as references to believers and sinners, but as contrasting types of consciousness. One is the surface, senses-based understanding, the wide gate that most rely on to navigate through their world. The other is a consciousness built upon the bedrock of the soul, the narrow gate that relatively few discover. This is the heart of the gospel of Jesus for it not only establishes our relationship with God, it gives us a practical spiritual base from which to weather life’s storms.

Matthew obviously used this passage simply as commentary on the institution of marriage. The deeper meaning addresses the need for unity between the intellect (man) and the intuition (woman). Rather than think of ourselves as a human being seeking a spiritual experience, we correctly understand ourselves as a spiritual being having a human experience. From this spiritual foundation, the intellect and the intuition act in unison, the soul inspired intuition providing the primary insight. We are no longer two but one flesh, our head and our heart joined in spiritual matrimony.

This is an appropriate message for today. Our intellectually driven science sees the soul as little more than a neurological process, an unnecessary curiosity. The towering intellect has effectively divorced this intuitive counterpart for that singing siren of technology.

We know that civilizations grow or fall on the same principle: from the inside out. It’s what we grasp as our center that determines which direction we go. Through all time, this mystical union that God has joined together is truly a marriage that no culture can afford to put asunder.

Get Real, You’ll Feel Better

“We have already seen that the kingdom is within all of us. … Those who do enter the kingdom are those who have come to recognize the reality of the inner world and to respond to its demands upon them for consciousness. This must always be an individual act of recognition; it cannot be accomplished so long as we are identified with a group. Yet most of us find our sense of identity only in our membership in the Church, the nation, the political party, or the gang on the street corner.” (John A. Sanford, The Kingdom Within)

A friend recently gave me a copy of Sanford’s book, whom I quickly recognized as a kindred spirit. This was a pleasant surprise considering he was an Episcopal priest and I was ordained in Unity. I severed my ties with Unity, in part for my perception of the organization’s move away from focus on the individual awakening to its not so thinly disguised move toward social activism. I entered the movement when it could be summed up in Emerson’s statement: Every man is the inlet and may become the outlet of all there is in God. I left it summarizing itself something like this: As individuals we are strong, but as a group we are powerful. The first advocated finding one’s center of power in God. The second has shifted to finding one’s center of power in the group.

Though I was somewhat saddened and initially resistant to this change, I have let things take their course. The principle of individuality will never change with the times. The distractions of those re-created dreams of achieving that ever-elusive Utopian collective that promises equal power to all does nothing to alter our natural spiritual architecture, or our yearning to return to it.

The individual is forever the inlet and may become the outlet to all there is in God. There will always be that minority of people who understand that the soul rises from the Infinite. They will seek the group, but not for empowerment. They seek it for the thrill and satisfaction of knowing they are not alone, not aliens dropped here from another planet, but healthy human beings who refuse to lose touch with the cosmic heart that makes them tick. Encountering a kindred spirit deepens our resolve to go even deeper, does it not?

The spiritual journey is one each person must make alone. Though we are witnessing a major attempt worldwide to do so, we cannot ride in on the coattails of any group. The soul’s authenticity does not permit it. With the advent of social media, the pressure to conform may seem  stronger now than ever before. Under the pretense of progress, the scramble to acquire whatever it takes to join is causing the erosion of basic values on an unprecedented scale. How far we can wade into this shallow muck of conformity remains to be seen, but I sense many are getting weary of the slog.

The wide gate of conformity is always open, but so is the narrow gate of individuality. If I were given the choice between being the gatekeeper of one or the other, I would choose the narrow gate. True, there are no bustling crowds of chattering people to keep us entertained. But the ones who do come through are real. My favorite people have always been the real ones.

I think John Sanford was a real person. I was going to email him until I realized he passed in 2005. I have a genuine appreciation for people like him who devoted his energy to a book about the importance of being real. This was his take away from the teachings of Jesus. And, it’s certainly mine.

Finding Your Center of Power

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Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mark 11:22-24).

Last week we focused on the parable of the prodigal son, which is all about coming home. Coming home is a return to your center of power, a key element of the mystical thread that we’re considering as the Gospel of Jesus.

How do we find our center of power? Jesus says to have faith in God. That is, draw your attention away from that mountainous problem that looms before you and recommit to turning your faith in God.

A story found in 2 Chronicles really drives this home with a practical how-to. Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, is informed that many of Judah’s enemies have formed an alliance and are coming to attack. Jehoshaphat responds in fear, but he vows to “seek the Lord” and calls for a national fast. Addressing the Lord, he says, “In thy hand are power and might. We are powerless. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon thee.” Then the Lord spoke through the prophet Jahaziel. “You will not need to fight in this battle. Fear not, and be not dismayed at this great multitude; for the battle is not yours but God’s. Go out against them, and the Lord will be with you.

The recognition that the battle was not theirs but God’s indicates they had found their center of power. Jehoshaphat then orders singers to go before them singing praises. In the end, the forces arrayed against Judah began to fight amongst themselves and they destroyed one another.

God within is our center of power, the source of our strength. If we are drawing our strength from what we have rather than from who we are, we may discover that we don’t have what it takes to win the battle.

When Jesus says, “…and does not doubt in his heart,” he is echoing Jehoshaphat’s, “In thy hand are power and might. We are powerless. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon thee.” In other words, both are describing a very definite shift in focus. How will the mountain be cast to the sea? How will the army be defeated? We don’t know. We only know that our eyes are upon thee. Our faith is in God.

This is the homecoming, the return to our center of power. Problems come in the form of mountains and great armies that seem poised to destroy our peace. Return to your home, your center of power by reaffirming your faith in God, the absolute good working through your life right now.

 

 

 

 

The Gospel of Jesus

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We have four Gospels about Jesus, but do we have a Gospel of Jesus? I like to think we do, and it’s found in the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). The story not only provides a summary of the entire problem of sin and salvation, it also gives us the key to the mystical thread that I believe represents the heart of his message.

Luke positions this parable and the two that precede it—the lost coin and the lost sheep—in the early Christian context of the wayward sinner, which is how it is usually considered today. Though we’re led to believe that Jesus taught a repent or else message, his original intent was probably more in line with the less abrasive, forgiving words and actions of the father toward his wayward son. It’s been suggested that Luke was seeking to appease a remnant of John the Baptist’s following who would have been accustomed to John’s harsher tone.

An overview of this parable shows that it contains all three phases of the Hero’s Journey: 1) the departure 2), the initiation 3) the return. The son leaves his ordinary life to heed the call to adventure. Once out, he encounters severe trials that lead him to the brink of disaster. His transformative moment occurs when he comes to himself. The arrogance of youth is replaced with humble compliance. He returns home a changed character.

I think the perfect litmus test for Jesus’ gospel is found in how well his various sayings align with the tone of this parable. The sinner is punished by his sins, not for them. The father does not forgive the son because he never condemns him. He expresses nothing but unconditional love. The only condemnation in the story comes from the older brother, who represents the demand for punishment found in so many mainstream religions.

If we go back to the statement that Truth is the omnipotence of God expressing as the spiritual essence of every individual, we see this principle portrayed in the prodigal story. The father represents this perpetual state of self-expression in his love for both sons. Our wayward thinking does not change the expressive activity of God in us. We may wander into the far country of despair, but because this relationship of oneness is unchangeable, we can come to ourselves and begin our journey home, no bargaining required.

The younger son breaks the rules and the older son insists on punishment for his sins. Both suffer as the result of their transgressions. The father goes out to welcome his wayward son, but he also goes out to console his angry son.

The story clearly illustrates the unconditional love of God, a message worthy of being treated as the good news, the Gospel that Jesus likely intended to bring to the world.

The New Birth

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Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again” (John 3:3).

We’ve all heard of the born-again Christian. We may think of this new birth, as one mainstream Christian writer puts it, as occurring in one who “turns from sin and with his or her whole heart trusts in Christ as personal Savior and Lord.” But the context of this well-known encounter between Nicodemus and Jesus gives no indication that this is what Jesus meant. He explains to Nicodemus that “flesh gives birth to flesh, but Spirit gives birth to spirit.” The new birth is a transition from that which is born of the flesh to that which is born of the Spirit. One cannot see the kingdom of God, he says, unless they experience this shift, this new birth. Interestingly, we see this same idea expressed in the Hindu Upanishads: “Thou canst not behold Me with thy two outer eyes, I have given thee an eye divine.

That in us which is born of the flesh is our body-based self-image, the core identity most of us use to navigate through life. We can refer to this surface self in many ways including the personality, the ego, or as Paul’s “mind of the flesh” (Romans 8:6). The physical body is the central component of the self-image. In contrast, that which is born of the Spirit is, of course, our spiritual essence, the image and likeness of God we know as the soul. We come to know the soul, not through “thy two outer eyes,” but through our intuitive faculty, the eye divine. “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:6). To go into your room and close the door is a way of saying, Turn away from the senses, listen and learn to feel the innermost promptings of the Spirit. This is not an intellectual pursuit but an intuitive activity in which we attune to the quiet radiance emanating from our spiritual center.

This new birth occurs in most as a gradual awakening. It may begin as unrest accompanied by questions about life’s purpose. This evolves into a new way of thinking. We eventually lay down the books and actively pursue a first-hand experience with God. “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8).

When the door is opened, God is immediately transformed from speculative theory to concrete reality. Our new birth opens our eye divine to see this otherwise invisible spiritual realm, this kingdom that, as the Gospel of Thomas states, “… is spread out upon the earth, and people do not see it” (Saying 113). This is not simply a shift in ideas. It’s a consciousness transforming renewal of the mind, a new birth. The soul is brought into our field of awareness, not as a conceptual abstraction, but as the living energy we know as the true basis of our identity.