The admonition of the Lord is to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness”, trusting God to supply our needs and to work in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure. This means, on the one hand, giving priority to the order of Being (i.e. “learning in whatsoever state we are, therewith to be content” and praying, in any event, “not my will, but thine be done”); and it means, on the other hand, being content to let the order of appearances unfold as God wills (just without falling asleep at the wheel).
To be sure, we all know, in many respects, what the will of God is–and it is up to us, indeed, to be about our Father’s business. And while it is certainly up to us, as well, to exercise discernment and discretion as we follow the particulars of his leading in this or that area of our life, it is also the case (regardless of the particulars) that “I” am called (without exception) to exchange “my” will for God’s will and to exchange my own “headship” for the headship of Christ.
With regard to the former– the surrender of our will to the will of God –a G.K. Chesterton quote comes to mind;
The truth is, that all genuine appreciation rests on a certain mystery of humility and almost of darkness. The man who said, “Blessed is he that expecteth nothing, for he shall not be disappointed,” put the eulogy quite inadequately and even falsely. The truth “Blessed is he that expecteth nothing, for he shall be gloriously surprised.” The man who expects nothing sees redder roses than common men can see, and greener grass, and a more startling sun. Blessed is he that expecteth nothing, for he shall possess the cities and the mountains; blessed is the meek, for he shall inherit the earth. Until we realize that things might not be we cannot realize that things are. Until we see the background of darkness we cannot admire the light as a single and created thing. As soon as we have seen that darkness, all light is lightening, sudden, blinding, and divine. ~ Heretics
God has a way of pleasantly surprising us, does he not? As such, we must never fear that in following the order of Being (instead of attempting to manipulate the order of appearances), that life will somehow pass us by. No price is too high that keeps us in the center of God’s will.
With regard to the latter– the surrender of our headship to the headship of Christ –the truth sounds so silly, on the face of it, that we may hesitate to articulate it (fearing also, perhaps, lest we cast our pearls before swine). But then again– it is so obvious –no one can fail to see it if only they will have a look for themselves (unlike the priests in Galileo’s day, who refused to look through his telescope).
So, here goes: Did you ever notice that you don’t really have a head as you ordinarily imagine it?
Given our neo-Darwinian conditioning, especially, it is natural to think of ourselves as simply these bodies that we see when we look in the mirror. It’s no wonder that we tend think of ourselves merely as higher primates whose truth and being extends no further than the epidermis of our apparent bodies. Of course, we have all been conditioned to think like this, but when we suspend our conditioning in this regard and really have a look for ourselves, we see that where other people see a head, we don’t see a head at all. Rather, we see the light of the world and all that appears therein:
Note: These images are borrowed from The Headless Way website–an organization promoting the work of Douglas Harding (the general contours of whose work, it is worth noting, C.S. Lewis was acquainted with and admired).
Of course, one’s initial inclination may be to reject this out of hand as some weird “belief” or strange “doctrine”, but anyone who is sincere would do well resist that inclination and, as before indicated, have a look for yourself… For, in fact, it is neither a doctrine nor a belief, but a more authentic way of seeing ourelves and the world. Thomas Traherne had a look for himself (about) 350 years ago and described this pristine awareness in terms of a boundless capacity:
MY naked simple Life was I;
That Act so strongly shin’d
Upon the earth, the sea, the sky,
It was the substance of my mind;
The sense itself was I.
I felt no dross nor matter in my soul,
No brims nor borders, such as in a bowl
We see. My essence was capacity,
That felt all things;
The thought that springs
Therefrom’s itself. It hath no other wings
To spread abroad, nor eyes to see,
Nor hands distinct to feel,
Nor knees to kneel;
But being simple like the Deity
In its own centre is a sphere
Not shut up here, but everywhere.
It acts not from a centre to
Its object as remote,
But present is when it doth view,
Being with the Being it doth note
Whatever it doth do.
It doth not by another engine work,
But by itself; which in the act doth lurk.
Its essence is transformed into a true
And perfect act.
And so exact
Hath God appeared in this mysterious fact,
That ’tis all eye, all act, all sight,
And what it please can be,
Not only see,
Or do; for ’tis more voluble than light,
Which can put on ten thousand forms,
Being cloth’d with what itself adorns.
This made me present evermore
With whatsoe’er I saw.
An object, if it were before
My eye, was by Dame Nature’s law,
Within my soul. Her store
Was all at once within me; all Her treasures
Were my immediate and internal pleasures,
Substantial joys, which did inform my mind.
With all she wrought
My soul was fraught,
And every object in my heart a thought
Begot, or was; I could not tell,
Whether the things did there
Which in my Spirit truly seem’d to dwell;
Or whether my conforming mind
Were not even all that therein shin’d.
But yet of this I was most sure,
That at the utmost length.
(So worthy was it to endure)
My soul could best express its strength
It was so quick and pure,
That all my mind was wholly everywhere,
Whate’er it saw, ’twas ever wholly there;
The sun ten thousand legions off, was nigh:
The utmost star,
Though seen from far,
Was present in the apple of my eye.
There was my sight, my life, my sense,
My substance, and my mind;
My spirit shin’d
Even there, not by a transient influence:
The act was immanent, yet there:
The thing remote, yet felt even here.
O Joy! O wonder and delight!
O sacred mystery!
My Soul a Spirit infinite!
An image of the Deity!
A pure substantial light!
That Being greatest which doth nothing seem!
Why, ’twas my all, I nothing did esteem
But that alone. A strange mysterious sphere!
A deep abyss
That sees and is
The only proper place of Heavenly Bliss.
To its Creator ’tis so near
In love and excellence,
In life and sense,
In greatness, worth, and nature; and so dear,
In it, without hyperbole,
The Son and friend of God we see.
A strange extended orb of Joy,
Proceeding from within,
Which did on every side, convey
Itself, and being nigh of kin
To God did every way
Dilate itself even in an instant, and
Like an indivisible centre stand,
At once surrounding all eternity.
’Twas not a sphere,
Yet did appear,
One infinite. ’Twas somewhat every where,
And though it had a power to see
Far more, yet still it shin’d
And was a mind
Exerted, for it saw Infinity.
’Twas not a sphere, but ’twas a might
Invisible, and yet gave light.
O wondrous Self! O sphere of light,
O sphere of joy most fair
O act, O power infinite;
O subtile and unbounded air!
O living orb of sight!
Thou which within me art, yet me! Thou eye,
And temple of His whole infinity!
O what a world art Thou! A world within!
All things appear,
All objects are
Alive in Thee! Supersubstantial, rare,
Above themselves, and nigh of kin
To those pure things we find
In His great mind
Who made the world! Tho’ now eclipsed by sin
There they are useful and divine,
Exalted there they ought to shine.
~ Thomas Traherne (?1636–1674)
Alas, the language is rather archaic, so a second and perhaps a third reading is in order. But since the poem is also rather long and time may be limited, perhaps it will suffice to revisit these lines in particular:
- Being simple like the Deity…
- Not shut up here, but everywhere…
- God [hath] appeared in this mysterious fact…
- O sacred mystery!
- My Soul a Spirit infinite!
- An image of the Deity!
- A pure substantial light!
- That Being greatest which doth nothing seem!
- The only proper place of Heavenly Bliss.
- To its Creator ’tis so near…
- In it, without hyperbole, the Son and friend of God we see…
- being nigh of kin to God…
- O wondrous Self! O sphere of light,
- Thou which within me art, yet me!
- Thou eye, and temple of His whole infinity!
Once again, it is very easy– and perfectly natural for the egoic mind –to think that we are trapped in these lumps of clay and are peeking out of those two holes which we refer to as “our eyes”. And while there is no reason to suggest that our bodies aren’t real or that what we refer to as “our eyes” and “our brain” have no relation to the details of what we see, this idea that we have of ourselves as being discrete individuals– individuals who exist separate from one another, from God, and from creation as a whole –is (mytho-poetically speaking, at least) the result of our having eaten of the forbidden fruit and our having become preoccupied with “the knowledge of good and evil”. As William Blake put it, “Man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.”
As such– by virtue of our having eaten of this fruit, whether literally or figuratively construed –we find ourselves in exile from our Father’s house and from the garden of God and the Divine presence. But by the grace God, there is a point of access through the cross of Christ to the mind of Christ which offers a way out of our predicament. For just as soon as we are willing to abandon “the story of me”– and along with it all our attempts at evading “the cross” and “manipulating the turn of events” in the order of appearances –we can enter into life (i.e. the order of Being), here and now:
Whereas the earlier illustration (i.e. “the story of me“, several pages above) is all about “me” and what “I” hope, fear, and desire (and all about “my” various reactions to what “I” imagine are the current prospects for “my” hopes, fears, and desires being realized), this illustration (immediately above) is about what IS–the gift of God that is given, here and now:
“I know that good . . . is always coming; though few have at all times the simplicity and the courage to believe it. What we call evil, is the only and best shape, which, for the person and his condition at the time, could be assumed by the best good.” ~ George MacDonald
The “present moment”, which in the first illustration is (at least implicitly) “paper thin”, is actually “the narrow gate” that, in the second illustration, opens up into the spacious awareness of our abundant, eternal life in the Spirit (as described by Traherne in his poem and also by Jesus in the sermon on the mount). This is similar to what Paul Tillich refers to as The Eternal Now and what Boris Mouravieff calls The Real Present). Thomas Kelly also writes of it in his Testament of Devotion (see below).
Let us speak frankly to anyone who has cared enough– been desperate enough, per chance –to read this far. This is the key you have been looking for:
When the Divine presence is recognized and honored, the struggle of Romans 7 is transcended. There is still a discipline of sorts, but it is the discipline of lucid awareness conjoined with our unconditional trust in and reliance on the presence of God which IS Here & Now. This is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (aka the mind of Christ and the power of the Spirit) which is with us always.
It is easy enough to see these two two orders– these two “gestalts” –and to flip back and forth between them. Number 1, in the image below, is how we tend to see ourselves in our neo-Darwinian mind’s eye (i.e. in a merely conceptual way, having eaten of the forbidden fruit and having become preoccupied with matters of good and evil). Number 2, on the other hand, is our actual, first person experience, but most people don’t recognize it–or if they do, they are not inclined to honor it, but quickly revert back to Number 1, instead:
To walk in the Spirit is to relax into the easy yoke which is the mind of Christ (pristine awareness & unconditional trust). The separate self and all that it desires (in Number 1) must be offered up in exchange for the pearl of great price which is our new life in the Spirit ( present your bodies a living sacrifice ). So doing, we begin to enjoy the grace and dignity of children of God who, together, participate in the life of the Trinity in this vast community of Spirit that “I Am”.
Taking up our cross in this way– i.e. leaning into the Reality of that which is given, here & now –we receive the gift of God with thanksgiving. And so doing, we can begin to respond in living faith– creatively and compassionately –to one another and to the challenges of life. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof… My yoke is easy, my burden is light…
“But now what…???”, the ego is apt to respond (when these two ways of life are first considered). What’s in it for “me” ???
Indeed, the ego may decide that the cost is too high and choose, instead, to persevere in its prodigal pilgrimage. And even when we, on balance, have recognized and are committed to the mind of Christ and the power of the Spirit, the ego may continue to assert (or attempt to assert) its independence from time to time–attempting to initiate a tug of war… But having recognized the light of the world in this way, we need no longer play that game… We have the mind of Christ…. We can simply observe– in lucid awareness –the shenanigans of the egoic mind which will eventually play itself out (being deprived of the energy previously supplied to it by our very willingness to play its game). Indeed, in light of awareness, the various elements of the conflict will tend to reorganize themselves in new and dynamic ways that “our understanding” could never have anticipated. As such, what before confronted us as an almost demonic conflict, will (in the light of Christ) become a creative cooperation (as we continue to abide– clothed and in our right mind –in the presence of the Lord). Or, to use a less extreme example, think simply of the “worries” of Martha, in contrast to the peace of Jesus which Mary enjoys:
This way of seeing or mode of being does not mean that our lives are free from pain or that we have a license to sin. Rather, it is inextricably bound up with the way of the cross and the surrender of our will to God’s will, whatever the turn of events. As a result, we begin to live primarily with reference to the order of Being (instead of merely with reference to the order of appearances) and the kingdom of God begins to be reflected in and through our lives as we honor– day in and day out –the Divine presence that is with us always.
In (t)his light, that which needs to be done is done. In (t)his presence, we can bear the pain of our infirmities and the dis-ease of those desires that must (for whatever reason) go unsatisfied. Whatever the turn of events, the LORD is our inheritance and, in Him, we find an unfailing sufficiency. From this standpoint, the Word of God– the bread from heaven –is our sustanence; and hearing and obeying (t)his Word, we have meat, indeed. As Thomas Kelly writes:
“The Now is no mere nodal point between the past and the future. It is the seat and region of the Divine Presence itself…. The Now contains all that is needed for the absolute satisfaction of our deepest cravings…. In the Now we are at home at last (A Testament of Devotion).
No doubt, many of those reading this are intimately acquainted with the satisfaction that is to be found in the presence of God (their personal struggles or disappointments, notwithstanding). The only question is how best to describe this and to share it with others. The key elements, as presented above, are the light of the world and the Divine presence, “I Am” which are two ways of designating the same Reality — i.e. the image of God in which we are created (the light in which we see light, which is obvious–cf. Psalms 36:9) and the Image of God in us (the Divine presence or Word of God in our hearts–living and powerful and sharper than any two edged sword, per Hebrews 4:12). Together, these indicate Christ in us, the hope of glory– our point of contact with the order of Being –the point of UNION between our lives and the life of God, between our lives and the life of other human beings (in Christ), and between our lives and the life of the cosmos, as a whole (which is, by extension, the body of Christ/True Nature). Recognizing and honoring this Divine light/presence, we need only wait upon the Lord who works in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure.
While, in the material above, we have placed more emphasis on what may be characterized as a transcendent (or transcendental ) point of view (i.e. the light of the World and the headship of Christ ), it is worth repeating that the mind of Christ is not disembodied, but is immanent within these apparent bodies and within creation as a whole. As such, we do not honor Christ by ignoring or disparaging these temples. Breath awareness and inner-body awareness are also worthy of emphasis. While these two apparently physical orientations may seem pointless to the those who are lost in the conceptual labyrinths of moral and dogmatic abstractions, they are widely associated with moments of clarity like the one that marked the beginning of the prodigal son’s homeward journey (Luke 15:17-19). And for those who have ears to hear, the most profound answers to life’s enduring question(s) can be found in the “I Am” presence which transcends all social, cultural, and political categories. This is not just the thought that “I am”, but the aware Presence that is beyond all that we ask or think–the profound sense of Being that is encountered in alert stillness, between each breath we breathe; and in deep silence, between each heartbeat… This is the essence of contemplative prayer:
- Be silent and listen (cf. Deuteronomy 27:9).
- Be still and know that “I Am” God (Psalms 46:10).
- Open your heart and dine with Him (cf. Revelation 3:20).
- Taste and see that the Lord is good (Psalms 34:8).
- Abide in Him as He abides in you (John 15:4).
- Pray without ceasing (I Thessalonians 5:17).
- Trust God to work in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13).
Let this be our testimony. And if anyone finds it incredible– if anyone is tempted to dismiss it, out of hand –at least be courageous enough beforehand to have look for yourself…
Flesh and Spirit in Conflict
This is an older essay outlining the problem…
The Order of Being and the Life of Faith
This offers further scriptural analysis leading up to the solution…
The Mind of Christ and the Power of the Spirit
This describes the kind of transcendental vision and existential decision which effectively resolves the conflict…