“Hell is a state of mind – ye never said a truer word. And every state of mind, left to itself, every shutting up of the creature within the dungeon of its own mind – is, in the end, Hell. But Heaven is not a state of mind. Heaven is reality itself. All that is fully real is Heavenly. For all that can be shaken will be shaken and only the unshakeable remains.”― C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce
C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce is a classic (those unfamiliar with it may click here for a synopsis). Given its allegorical nature, it seems reasonable to consider life in Lewis’ “grey town” (hell or purgatory) to be analogous to the life of “the carnally minded” in “this world” [i.e. the life of the “separate self” or “ego” which imagines itself and its concerns to be of absolute importance; and which also considers (what we have elsewhere referred to as) the horizontal dimension to be the only reality]. And like the life of “the ghosts” in “the grey town”– however dismal (and mostly imaginary) it may be (considered in and of itself) –the life of those who are “carnally minded” (whose “conversation” and “citizenship” is in “this world”) is, nevertheless, not without a point of intersection with (what we have elsewhere referred to as) the “vertical” dimension (i.e. the Reality that IS the mind of Christ and the power of the Spirit).
In fact, our local churches can be understood as vehicles of sorts which, as in Lewis’ novel, offer a kind of transportation to heaven for whosoever will... Anyone who wishes may get on a bus that will take them to the outskirts of heaven and, arriving there, they really are free to stay if they wish. So far, so good…
It is worth noting, however, that life on the bus is also subject to a fair amount of deception and confusion for those who are carnally minded. In order to operate efficiently and effectively, the bus lines must follow certain protocols and may recommend, advocate for, and sometimes even require certain standards of behavior or ways of comporting oneself that all travelers are expected to follow.
This is all well and good– and apparently necessary –but it is not in and of itself sufficient to make our calling and election sure. In and of itself, such a religious subculture can quickly devolve into legalistic forms of personal piety (at best) and petty tribalism and hateful sectarianism (at worst). Following Christ means moving beyond such outward forms of religiosity towards the deeper realities to which these outward forms were originally intended to direct us.
To be sure, we are often exhorted to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12) and to “make every effort” (II Peter 1:5), but in the end it must be acknowledged that “he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5); that, indeed, it is “God who works in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13); and that it is His divine power that “has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness” (II Peter 1:3).
So, with regard to the “ego” in Romans 7 (which was the focus of the first article in this series), it seems clear that however sincere and determined he may be, his life is characterized by an inordinate emphasis on “works” and “effort”. For however desperately he desires to measure up to the law of God, his efforts, nevertheless, continue to reflect his own strength and his own understanding rather than the mind of Christ and power of the Spirit. This is indicated, in part, by the numerous times that the word “I” is used in chapter 7 (in contrast to the many references to “the Spirit” in chapter 8) as illustrated here.
One of the lessons from all this is that people who attend church and contemplate giving their life to Christ are somewhat like the “ghosts” in The Great Divorce who– if they wished to stay in heaven –had to be willing forget their former lives, in “the grey town” (and their lives on earth, too, for that matter, which seem to have prefigured their afterlife in “the grey town”).
Moreover, those of us who commit our lives to Christ must also move beyond the outward forms of life in and around “the bus”, moving further up and further in— becoming more substantial (spiritually speaking) –as we explore the depths and the riches of the kingdom, leaning (initially) upon those who have gone before (the saints and fellow citizens with whom we travel) but also (and ultimately) on the grace of God and the power of the Spirit.
As such, to continue with The Great Divorce analogy, while our participation in the practical organization of the bus line (schedules, seating, drivers, protocols) are important, it is also the case that our personal ambition to excel in such activities– our zeal for God, in a sectarian or institutional sense –must not be confused with the abundant life that is possible in and through the power of the Spirit. Just as the law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, so in many respects, the order of our services and many of the contours of our evangelical subculture– both theoretical and practical –are merely preliminary to the kind of deeper walk to which we are called.
And while the local church rightly spends a good deal of time on outward activities and basic teachings which serve as an on-ramp to the Way, these must not to be confused with the Way itself. Indeed, one of the local church’s primary functions is to facilitate an increasingly profound realization of the depth and riches of the wisdom and the knowledge of God among those who are already on the Way (vertically speaking). And this function would seem to be at least as important as its function as a bus stop which shares the gospel with the world at large (horizontally speaking).
Nevertheless (i.e. despite the undeniable importance of what we sometimes refer to as discipleship and sanctification), there seems to be a natural tendency (among professing Christians and non-Christians alike) to mistake the outward forms of worship and personal piety for the inward grace. As such, even the most sincere and determined seeker– one who, according to his or her lights, delights in the law of God after the inner man, per Romans 7:22 (συνήδομαι γὰρ τῷ νόμῳ τοῦ Θεοῦ κατὰ τὸν ἔσω ἄνθρωπον) —may not yet have been strengthened in [his or her] inner being with power through [God’s] Spirit, per Ephesians 3:16 (δυνάμει κραταιωθῆναι διὰ τοῦ Πνεύματος αὐτοῦ εἰς τὸν ἔσω ἄνθρωπον). So, the question remains, how to more clearly recognize (and more effectively share with others) the mind of Christ and the power of the Spirit so that Christ may dwell in our hearts by faith–not merely in a nominal way, but in the living and powerful way that Paul has in mind in Romans 8 and Ephesians 3.
With regard to that question, we discussed in some detail the following equation (or approximate equation) in the first article in this series, The Order of Being and the Life of Faith:
Two Men ≈ Two Minds ≈ Two Worlds or Two Kingdoms:
The Order of Appearances & The Order of Being
And apropos of that discussion, while there is plenty of room for disagreement about this or that detail (or the meaning and application of this or that verse of scripture), it is impossible to deny the general contours of the relationship between these two men, their two minds, and the two very different “worlds” in which they dwell. While an ego like the one portrayed in Romans 7 delights in the law of God as (s)he understands it– whether the law of Moses, per se, or the ideals articulated in our contemporary Christian communities —(s)he is still attempting to actualize those ideals in his (or her) own strength and merely with reference to the “horizontal” plane (i.e. the order of appearances). (S)he is making certain efforts, it seems, with a view to obtaining certain results– i.e. (s)he is hoping and expecting to conform to the law of God and, as a result, to appear a certain way in his (or her) own eyes and in the eyes of others –but (s)he perpetually falls short. Nevertheless, (s)he is sincere and determined and, by the grace of God, eventually finds deliverance through a living faith in the living Word of God:
“Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God [who will rescue me] through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin [until I am rescued through faith in Jesus Christ]” ~ Romans 7:24-25, [paraphrased].
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For [having been rescued through faith] the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death [so that you are no longer a slave to the law of sin]” ~ Romans 8:1-2, [paraphrased].
Note: For an explanation of this paraphrasing, see Flesh and Spirit in Conflict.
This hearkens back to Chapter 6:
“We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin” (Romans 6:6-7).
And while the word “faith” and “grace” (somewhat surprisingly) do not appear in Romans 7 and 8, clearly, those primary themes from the earlier chapters (especially 3 – 6) are implicit in the text:
Romans 5:1 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
In contrast to this statement of faith in Romans 5– and to the detailed description provided in Romans 8 –the ego in Romans 7 does not seem to be living an authentic life in and through the Spirit. Listen to Romans 8:
Romans 8:9 But if God’s Spirit lives in you, you are under the control of your spiritual nature, not your corrupt nature. Whoever doesn’t have the Spirit of Christ doesn’t belong to him. 10 However, if Christ lives in you, your bodies are dead because of sin, but your spirits are alive because you have God’s approval. 11 Does the Spirit of the one who brought Jesus back to life live in you? Then the one who brought Christ back to life will also make your mortal bodies alive by his Spirit who lives in you. 12 So, brothers and sisters, we have no obligation to live the way our corrupt nature wants us to live. 13 If you live by your corrupt nature, you are going to die. But if you use your spiritual nature to put to death the evil activities of the body, you will live. 14 Certainly, all who are guided by God’s Spirit are God’s children. 15 You haven’t received the spirit of slaves that leads you into fear again. Instead, you have received the spirit of God’s adopted children by which we call out, “Abba! Father!”
Unfortunately, when the person who is stuck in Romans 7 reads Romans 8, this description of our new life in the Spirit is usually misunderstood as an exhortation to work that much harder in an effort to appear a certain way and to achieve certain outward results on the horizontal plane. Here is the way the natural (wo)man (or the carnal Christian) conceives of himself or herself:
Note that this way of understanding ourselves is illustrated here in the form of a “thought bubble”. While this “idea” of ourselves seems plausible enough, at first glance, a closer look will reveal that it has little correspondence to Reality. Far from reflecting the order of Being and the Reality of Life, this is the order of appearances at its most superficial and deceptive. It portrays “me” as separate from God, from nature, and from other people–and attributes a measure of freedom to this imagined separate self for which there is little if any justification.
Imagine trying to prove to someone that the earth is round when they think that it is flat… One way to do this (assuming they are very obstinate and you both have the time and resources) is to take them, compass in hand, and follow some precise bearing along the surface of the earth (e.g. along the same latitudinal or longitudinal line) until, together, you reach the point you set out from (at which point, they will see the light).
In a similar way, the person in Romans 7 mistakenly thinks that it is up to them to live up to their ideal by the sheer force of their will, but if (s)he is both sincere and determined, chances are (s)he will eventually explore all the nooks and crannies of the carnal mind and will, eventually reach the place (s)he set out from and know it for the first time (at which point (s)he may be ready, by the grace of God, to relax into the easy yoke which is the mind of Christ and the power of the Spirit). But in the meantime, the struggle continues and (returning to The Great Divorce analogy) is even encouraged by many of his or her fellow passengers on the bus (and perhaps by the bus driver, too–and by much of the literature distributed by the bus line).
Perhaps this is a necessary stage that must be traversed. Perhaps we should even entertain the question as to whether (or to what extent) it is really wise to try to help others to circumvent this struggle (remembering the story that is sometimes told about caterpillars and how trying to “help” them out of their cocoon can have a deleterious effect, leaving without the necessary muscles to support their wings in flight). Nevertheless, it still seems a shame that so many people– rather than recognizing and trusting in the mind of Christ and the power of the Spirit –continue to live defeated, frustrated lives (often giving up completely), not realizing that there is, in fact, a way of seeing and a mode of Being that transcends the tug-of-war in Romans 7.
In the first article in this series, we referred to this way of seeing as “the order of Being” in contrast to “the order of appearances”. No doubt many people (by the grace of God) discover the order of Being without fully understanding how they happened onto it and without really being able to explain it to anyone else (and we must acknowledge that it ultimately defies our conceptual categories, in any event). But it is also the case that many others want nothing to do with this even after it has been pointed out to them (and explained to the extent that it can be). Nevertheless, for those who both recognize and honor it, this is the Way of Truth and Life.
No doubt many of us caught glimpses of the Way long before we saw it clearly (or were morally and emotionally prepared to follow it). This is especially true, perhaps, if we had no nominal “faith” and/or no living cultural context through which to understand those glimpses. In such circumstances– in such relatively barren, rocky soil –the significance of such glimpses may not be fully appreciated and the way of Life which they suggest may not be given the attention that it deserves.
Moreover, even when we are open to the idea of God and to the possibility of being led by the Spirit, we may still imagine ourselves as failures and may still be hoping to somehow set things right by virtue of our own efforts and intelligence (through sheer determination or force of will in conjunction with our native talents and abilities).
At some point, however– by the grace of God –we finally realize the futility of this way of living and abandon that strategy once and for all when the choice between these two ways of life finally becomes clear and we consciously surrender to the order of Being. Prior to that, however, we may feel that we have no choice but to lean upon our own understanding as we attempt to coerce ourselves into achieving certain goals– and sometimes attempt to manipulate others, as well –in our unceasing efforts to control the turn of events. All of this is, on balance, an effort to redeem the past and secure the future as we attempt to make the story of “me” end happily and successfully (both in our own eyes and the eyes of others). Such efforts, needless to say, are a fool’s errand…
If, during such struggles, we identify ourselves– and are identified by others –as Christians, we nevertheless do not (on balance) experience the joy of our (putative) salvation. Fear, guilt, and despair tend to dominate our lives as we persevere in our attempts to secure the objects of our desire and to cultivate habits and relationships that we imagine to be “good”–and to avoid those things and people that we imagine to be “evil” (or otherwise undesirable).
By and large, the present does not really exist for us when we are in this state–and the presence of God is by no means consistently recognized and honored. Instead, the Reality that is NOW is, for us, primarily a means to some imagined end (a paper-thin dimension in which we are both haunted by the past and alternatively teased and terrified by the future); and whether we are “saved” or not, in any technical sense, when it comes to the Way, the Truth, and the Life, we still haven’t found what we are looking for.
Of course, this is not to suggest that our concern with particular objects of desire and with our personal relationships are always illegitimate–not by any means… Our heavenly Father knows that we have need of such things… And, as indicated earlier, it is not as if our sincere and determined effort to honor God is not also good and necessary. But in both regards, 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. The following images (compliments of Ingen Findes) illustrate these two ways of seeing. 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…