Answers for a Friend

We had a bit of email correspondence a while back. I just wantedto say the recent posts on your blog have been great especially the one on ID and abortion. Ive yet to read much in-depth onTeilhard de Chardin but your post has really motivated me to doso. In your last email you mentioned that your attempting to enter a ECUSA seminary, how is that going? Were you a Jesuit before? You had mentioned having problems relating to other Christiansbecause of their personal or anthropomorphic views of God-how isthat coming? Ive been thinking a lot lately about thepersonal/impersonal aspects of God, how they relate and in whatways God is personal. Any thoughts?

I got this note from a friend of mine today. Thought I would respond to it in this format.

In your last email you mentioned that your attempting to enter a ECUSA seminary, how is that going? Were you a Jesuit before?

Today I was formally received into the Episcopal Church. It was a very moving ceremony. Formal reception means that since I was already baptized and confirmed, I am simply being received into the Anglican Communion.

I was raised Roman Catholic, and at the age of 21 entered training to become a Jesuit–a member of the Society of Jesus. The Jesuit order is a group of male priests and brothers in the Catholic Church. Most people know of them for their work in education–Boston College, Georgetown, Santa Clara, Gonzaga–and others for having good college basketball teams. My favorite is when Notre Dame plays Boston College and the announcers always say The Catholics vs. The Jesuits–as if Jesuitism were another religion unto itself.
Anyway after four years in the Jesuits, studying for the priesthood under vows of poverty,
celibacy, and obedience I left the order. I was just about to turn 25 at that point. That was Summer of 2004. It was a wonderful experience. There is a lot I miss about it–my Jesuit brothers, the comraderie, the feeling of being part of something bigger than yourself, the millitary-like dedication and single-minded observance (as an ideal to be sure). And the sincerity with which people would open to me just after I told them I was a seminarian.
During my time in the Jesuits I was exposed to a great multitude of ideas. From the Jesuits I learned about Liberation Theology [For you integralists out there that is the “green” form of Christianity]. I read all the classic texts and absorbed the mindset.
In my third year in the Jesuits is when I came across Ken Wilber’s work and my life was transformed yet again. If Liberation Theology is considered radical by many–and it is–then adopting Integral Thought even put me further out there. Basically on an intellectual island.
My only guide into this territory was Teilhard de Chardin
Roman Catholic theology was forever transformed at the Second Vatican Council (1963-1965), when the Catholic Church finally responded to the modern world–on its term….praising certain trends, criticizing others.
Teilhard had essentially no influence at Vatican II. He had died in the 50s before the Council, and his work was just beginning to get noticed–he had been silenced and banned from publishign during his life by the Vatican though never formally charged or convicted on charges of heresy.
Catholic theology and thought and politics since Vatican II has been over the proper interpretation of the Document–kinda like US Supreme Court and the Constitution. During the 60s-late 70s, the “liberal” school of thought dominated–just like US politics. Then during the 80s–just like the US–with the rise of John Paul II and now Benedict XVI (then Cardinal Joseph
Ratzinger), the tide shifted to the right.
Either way, however, Teilhard was still not in the picture. Some Liberation Theologians were interested in his work, and the confluence of liberation theology, US environmentalism, certain “new” paradigms (so-called) in science, and elements of Teilhard led to the rise of Creation Spirituality. The names associated with that movement are Matthew Fox and to a lesser extent Thomas Berry.
While they certainly were a step in the right direction, it was not quite altogether there (the work has been taken over interestingly by Jim Garrison, a very integral thinker). Berry was especially prone to say that human beings were parts of the greater whole–GAIA. What Teilhard had stressed repeatedly, and Wilber affirms, is that the noosphere (the realm of thought) transcends and includes the biosphere (GAIA). That is, GAIA is in Us. Not we are in GAIA. We are members of the Earth, but we are not subservient to it.
Fox also described a four-fold path to Christian mysticism over the traditional three-fold path. He translated the works of Meister Eckhart and basically introduced, through the back door as it were, Nonduality. He, however, I think did not truly grasp what he was onto. His work suffers from the traditional flaw of all green-meme worldviews–the lack of understanding of true, healthy hierarchy.
The man is a genius, if not entirely correct. He is also one of my heroes, even if I disagree with a lot he has said and done–and not said and done. We corresponded for a long time during my stay in the Jesuits–he supported me in my spiritual growth at a time when others closer to me did not and would not. For that I will always have deep love and affection for the man. Even though we have gone in different directions of late, it is his influence that has brought me to the Episcopal Church (like him).
In one of Fox’s early books he described the difference between the traditional Christian path as symblized by Jacob’s Ladder with a new image of Sarah’s Dancing Cirlce. Jacob’s Ladder and Sarah dancing are two Hebrew Testament stories—too complex to get into it all–just note that the Ladder is meant to represent elitist, hierarchical, judgmental, rigid, masculine mysticism and the circle=non-hierarchical, embracing, non-exclusionary mysticism.
A better notion of course is a Spiral–which is both vertical (Ladder) and horizontal (Circle), both hierarchical and heterarchical.
Fox’s Four Steps in Spirituality are more like Four Movements that go around and around–like a Circle–but never higher or lower. And I need not rehash all the self-contradictions in there. Readers are smart enough to figure it out.
What no one has yet done is unite Teilhard’s understanding of Creation and the human role as the Universe aware of itself thinking as the embodiment of the noosphere and the eventual theosphere with the traditional Christian three-fold mystical path, as well as the less well known four-fold path of Nonduality (or Indistinct Union).
That is what my studies are about, that is what my work in Integral Christianity, in a nutshell is about. Beyond the right and left arguments and beyond even the faux-integral (what in Spiral language would be called Green/yellow, a kinda mini-step between postmodern and integral) notions afoot, keeping the worthy elements of all, jettisoning that which is unnecessary any longer.
I plan to be back in school Fall 2006; I will pick up my theological studies where I left off, complete them, and be ordained in the Anglican Church…God willing.
You had mentioned having problems relating to other Christiansbecause of their personal or anthropomorphic views of God-how isthat coming? Ive been thinking a lot lately about thepersonal/impersonal aspects of God, how they relate and in whatways God is personal. Any thoughts?
That’s a really good, important question. When I was first exploring non-personal aspects of the Divine, I became almost allergic to the whole “personal” notion of God issue. I over did it, in other words, going to the other extreme.
I accept the basic distinction made by Paul Tillich that for an educated, modern/postmodern/integral person, theism must be dead. Or is already dead. By theism I mean the notion that God is some sort of Being, a really big Ego as Alan Watts once said, “out there” or”up there” somewhere. Namely that God is totally separate from the process of creation and must supernaturally “dive” into creation to redeem it by mythic-magical acts: i.e. a supernatural atonement sacrifice on Calvary; a literal-gross level physical resurrection from the dead (or as Bishop Spong put it once, a “resuscitation of a corpse”); and all the rest.
None of the Church Fathers ever held such a primitive notion–not so literally. Even for an Aquinas and Luther God was present in everything. As Br. David Stendl Rast showed in his Dialgoue with Ken, the best postive image (cataphatic theology) for God is pan-en-theism: Everything is in God but God is more than the world (transcend-and-include). Panentheism is completely Teilhardian.
The non-theistic Christianity of a Tillich or Teilhard I think is more satisfying than the more mythic, big God in the sky. I also realize, however, that that view of God has its place. For me, in the post-industrial world I think it should be for children, not adults. I think its appropriate for 10-12 year olds. That is when most people make their confirmation (or bar/bat mitzvah) and as a result, most people still have a 12 year old vision of God. Even if they have become efficient business people, rational, intelligent humans in every other way, that religous part of them is stuck on pre-teenage mode.
So instead of personal per se I prefer the term active. What the Church Fathers meant by personal is so complex (and right) and so anti-thetical to the common way of thinking in our world that I say it might not even be worth the argument. The gist of it anyway is that God is the Truly Personal one, and we are persons only to the degree that we become like God. Other wise, in our sinful lives, we are not even real persons.
Obviously there is a lot of truth to that statement, especially when combined with notions of illusion, false self, and so on. But the word person has come to mean exclusively the individualistic, Western ego-notion, that when we talk of God as Personal, I find most people can not get out of the mode of thinking of God as just a Western-ego multiplied by a whole helluva lot.
This story illustrates the point.
A reporter asked Mother Theresa once what she said to God in prayer.
She answered, “I don’t talk to God. I listen.”
Then the Reporter said, “Well what does God say.”
She resopnded, “God doesn’t say anything either. God just listens.”
And before the reporter could get the question out, she said, “And if you ask me how that is possible, I have to say I don’t know. But it is.”
The mythic-theistic God notion leads to a view of prayer that is me pleading a bunch of requests out to that Big Ego in Heaven. Its how we pray in Church when we do petitions. Does anybody think that God is actually going to make it rain if we pray for it more and more?
The pan-en-theistic notion of prayer is so different. It is you listen and God listens. And the silence is itself the Conversation. As opposed either to us praying for a bunch of stuff, or God talking about of stuff (like “Conversations with God”).
As Eckhart said, our view of God tells us more about ourselves than it does about God.
So personal/impersonal (transpersonal) or active/passive means in essentially, God and Godhead.
The Greek Orthodox have a old theological dictum which goes there is God’s existence and God’s essence. They are not completely separate, but they are not the same either.
In other words, God’s existence is God as God-is-for-Us. The Biblical Term for that is “Emmanuel”–God is With Us. What God is as God is Pure Mystery–not even circumscribed by the notion of Pure Mystery, even that is a useless term. God is not Mysterious, and yet not known either.
So God must “constrict the Divine self” to meet us. We call this Revelation. Revelation is God as God chooses to manifest “himself” to Us. God meets us at our Level (The Incarnation). That is God’s Existence–or Active Pole. This is the traditional God of the Biblical Narrative. A God who chooses the poor, who calls Light out of Darkness, who calls Creation into Subjection under the One. It is the “God-of-the-Future” as Karl Rahner said. God the Prime Mover of Teilhard, the Omega drawing all things to “himself.”
The impersonal then is the Godhead–the Essence of the Three Divine Persons. The common “whatness” that makes the Father, Son, and Spirit God. Godhead could be equated with the term The Witness as used in Buddhist/Hindu tradition. The Godhead is the High Causal-Witness (Turiya) of all the worlds unending. The Kingdom of God on Earth then would be the Fifth–Turiyatita–or true Nonduality.
What the Eastern Orthodox Church said was that in this life (and the life to come incidentally) one could experience the Existence of God but never the Essence. The Existence of God is called they call the Divine Energies–God’s “action” in this world. God’s energies, “deifies” or “sanctifies” the soul of the mystic. As Athanasius said, “God became human, so that humanity might become God.”
In the Eastern traditions they speak of the Relative and Absolute Truths, the Relative and Absolute Paths. The three-step process outlined by Dionysius: purgation, illumination, union is the Relative Path. [This is a really important point, the differences/similiarities between the Catholic and Orthodox mysticism–but that for another post].
There is the Relation”-ship between grace and free will, the soul and God. Neither is the other, yet the join together. You move as Paul said, from the false egocentric self, to the True Soul-Level Self. The Self that is a self inextricably united to God. But STILL A SELF. Just a divinely connected one.
The Absolute Path is the Path of Indistinct Union. The Path of the Godhead-Witness and the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth-Nonduality. Here discussion of Grace or Free Will, where God begins and the soul ends or vice versa, no longer has any value. There is aboslutely nothing to say–including that there is nothing to say. Only the experience, or the clearing of all experience.
The Orthodox were right that one can experience the Existence-Energies of God in this life and be deified. They were wrong when they said that one could not experience the Essence of God on this side of death. It is possible.
Back to the two poles for a second. The word for Godhead in both German and Latin is Feminine (Deitas, Gottheit); the word for God masculine (Deus, Gott).
I find it interesting to play with the Masculine/Feminine notions around the active/passive God/Godhead poles. So it seems like the passive pole is the Feminine One. This would make sense since Chrsitianity has neglected the Nondual, and has been marginalizing of the Energy of Descent-Feminine.
On the other hand, Pan-en-theism is often pictured as God is a Pregnant Woman, with the Universe in her womb. She is more than the womb (transcends) and yet the universe is within her, and her womb permeates every aspect of the Universe-Baby (Includes).
And, we normally talk in Integral World of Eros and Agape. Eros is the Energy of Ascent, the Masculine; Agape, the Energy of Descent, Embrace, All-Love. God, as Existence, as “Acting” is therefore more Feminine in Christian lanugage–God reaches down through Revelation-The Incarnation to embrace us.
And there is a truth to speaking of the Witness-Godhead as the Ultimate Masculine Principle. You find this particulary in Eckhart’s writings. Godhead is beyond, neither this nor that, in the Emptiness, no words, no thoughts, no feelings, the absence of created being. Pure Being, Eternal. Very Masculine sounding.
Not that either has to be right to the exclusion of the other. The key is to see these two poles–however conceived. God is the Masculine-Active-Existence and Godhead is the Feminine-Passive-Essence, or vice versa, the key is that both always exist simultaneously.
The Essence never “ex-ists” except in and as and through the Persons. And the Persons, in their “ex-isting” or nothing other than the Manifestation of their Essence. This was the traditional teaching of the Hypostasis in Triniatarian thought (in the Cappodocian Brothers–Basil and the two Gregories).
The one Christian mystic who understood this better than all the others, in my estimation was Jan Ruysbroeck. Eckhart most famously separated God and Godhead–he said, “God is as different from Godhead as day is from night.” Eckhart also spoke often of the God beyond God (Godhead), flowing out from Godhead and being sad at encountering God (meaning there is duality). And so on. It probably served a point, given that it was so radical. To make his point he had to overshot the market I imagine, but by itself it was still missing the final synthesis.
Ruysbroeck comes on Eckhart’s heels and basically helps unite the two again (if Eckhart is the Transcend, Ruysbroeck is the and-Include). The image of two poles in constant oscillation, one energetic and one unmoved, is a sheer plagarism of Ruysbroeck. Keeping with the theme of his transcend-and-include notion, Ruysbroeck describes both the traditional three fold Christian mystical path and the four-fold–Eckhart only describes the four-fold path.
Eckhart described this unmoved action as “living without a why. Living without an egoic agenda. Being the Process, Incarnating itself, purely with gratitude and joy. No other agenda–especially to be holy, to do God’s will, go to heaven. Those desires have their place–on the relative scale. But they are not absolute. To paraphrase Marguerite Porete: “To desire to do God’s will is to admit that you are not doing it right now.” To desire to unite to God means that you do not understand that you are always already indistinctly united to Godhead.
That is why the Absolute Realizer–The Siddhi–has such a sense of humor. S/he sees through the veil, even the spiritual veils, and sees that everything is already at Peace. Already free, even in and as and through the struggle, the erotic ascent, the evolutionary pull. The Existence is the Essence. The Active’s Essence is the Passive, and the Passive never is except as the Active.
Just realize that. Just watch the thoughts, the feelings, anything that arises–right now. And jsut look. See through. Be through. Feel your Right Heart, your Sacred Heart, feel the current of Love and Bliss that emanates from there. Feel also the knot in that part of your Body.
The Bliss and the Knot co-arise. Feel them both. You feel one, you feel the other. Feel them and continue just to look through-be through everything arising. Be Eucharistic. Everything that arises “sacrifice” it with gratitude. That is Thanksgiving-Eucharist. Sacrifice of Praise-Thanksgiving. Let it all come, let it all go. Watch. Feel the Bliss-Contraction. Then pop the question, “Who I am?” “What is this?” And let it go as well.
Then maybe you realize what is before you, aroudn you, within and without you.
The Kingdom of God(head).
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Published in: on October 5, 2005 at 12:08 pm  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Thanks for this post, particularly your response to the last question. People have been asking me (and I’ve been asking them) variations on that theme for some time now.

    This is the best answer I’ve read.


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