Sunday, November 27, 2016

3 Processes To Expand Your Faith

1. Acknowledging Mental Conflicts with Religion.

I've noticed that a lot of seekers these days get turned off from Jesus. Too many bad associations, I think. People grow up, have an unsatisfactory experience with their childhood churches, and then later, in adulthood, seek out alternative spiritual sources. I was one of these people. On the other hand, I run into lots of people these days that proudly call themselves Christians, but they are Christian to the complete exclusion of all other religions and all other spiritual paths. Some will even swear off things like acupuncture or yoga based on their religious views. It's created a social context where on surveys where you have to choose your religion, there is no a choice "spiritual but not religious." I guess you religious has come to mean sticking to only one path and believing others are wrong, or at the least, grossly incomplete.
     For me, the problem wasn't so much that I hated organized Christianity, it was more an issue of contextual associations. I imagined Jesus Christ, or the way of the cross, or a connection to divine power through Christianity as a narrow channel to the Source. It was if drinking in all of God, was taking a big gulp of water from a broad-brimmed glass, and Christianity forced me to use a narrow straw that sometimes broke.
    A devotion of Jesus could take me to an emotional space of spiritual connectedness, but a devotion to the Greek muses, or a prayer to Vishnu, could do the same thing. Yet they were all different channels that didn't seem to intersect with one another. Some metaphysical seekers will use the maxim, "one mountain, many paths," to mean that the world's different religions are all valid paths to the same mountain of divinity and holiness, or that there are as many paths to transcendence as there are people in the world. But my paths were not all running up the same mountain. In short, while I honored and even revered aspects of all the world's religions, I couldn't integrate them into one composite spirituality. Unlike Carl Jung or Joseph Campbell, I couldn't connect the spiritual maps and territories. While things don't need to always coalesce perfectly in matters like these, the common variable in the equation was myself. The part of me that worshiped Shiva was different than the part of me reading psalms before Yahweh. And the disconnections tempted me into thinking that one path was less healthy than the other. In fact, it was the health of my own psychic integration that held me back, not some outside, objective religious truth.
    While scholars and evangelicals alike may disagree, I think one's religious views are often more of an indication of the individual's progress than some religious or historical truth. Stages of faith exist, and if you don't believe that they do, then, oh yes, there's a stage of faith for that, too. But that's a bit of a bigger topic. The point of this post is more to share my own experience of integration and apotheosis. There came a point when the intolerable nature of the incongruity of the conceptual images that dominated my own mental formations was too much. It was time for the vast sea of myths and pantheons to make friends with each other.

2. Apotheosis

Apotheosis, as described by Joseph Campbell, is the spiritual experience, or stage, where the dualities of existence become equated. This is the marriage of heaven and hell, good and evil, light and dark, masculine and feminine, etc. Of course, Jesus Christ as a fusion of heaven and hell will undoubtedly seem heretical to many Christians, just like the integration of good and evil may strike some as a regression into sociopathy. (Nietzche's Beyond Good And Evil has been the victim of many a misread because of this.)

   It's hard to view the Christian gospel as a fusion of light and dark, especially when much of Paul's epistles, not to mention the sermons of the average priest, appear to consistently present individual's with a pressing responsibility to choose between good and evil, God and the devil. But this isn't exactly the integration of light and dark that Campbell or myself is encouraging. The apotheosis and union of existential opposites is something that comes further down the path; to get there it is assumed one has already made the choice between rudimentary good and evil, hopeful as early as 8 or years old. In fact, it's been my experience that evil proper is more of a heavily distorted sickness where the journey of the seeker turns against himself, like a cannibal eating his own humanity.

Emotions, when fully experienced, run the full spectrum of degree and quality. One might even say the heart, as the center of all one's actual and potential feelings, is analogous to the universe as a whole, to all of human history, or even to the various virtues and sins, if plotted out on a circle. Plenty of humanistic and psycho-dynamic thinkers have created charts like these, but rarely, if ever, have I seen the spectrum of human emotions equated the Sacred Heart..

3. The Sacred Heart

The Sacred Heart of Jesus became an official devotion of the Catholic Church in the late 19th century, probably springing from medieval and early Church mystics that viewed the passion and suffering of Christ as a model for the individual's path to transcendence and divine union.  Part of the litany of the Sacred Heart designates the Sacred Heart of Jesus as "the king and center of all hearts," and it's this line that best describes my personal view and connection with the sacred heart.

Early in my twenties, I realized that fully feeling one's emotions, to every extent, from every corner of the past and repressed memories would get your complete heart on the table.  Added up, each component of emotion and memory and sensation ---added up altogether would equal Perfect Love.  That is, negative emotions like anger, sadness, anxiety, were ultimately just fuel that would be burned into love through the fire of actualized feelings.  It was the psychoanalytic mantra, making the unconscious conscious, bring darkness to light.  But in the emotional sense.  And the journey and integration of apotheosis is an emotional one, in my experience.  At least, the emotional part is the hardest part.    I can make conscious intellectual sense of the ideas  (light and dark, self and other, existence and non-existence, etc) being reconciled to each other, but until I've kinesthetically experienced the fusion of opposites as a physical sensation in my body, I am only doing an academic exercise. 
   The Crossroads is a favorite theme on the Graveyard Cowboy Show.  The story we tell is a shady one, in fact, it's the legend of blues musician Robert Johnson selling his soul to the devil at the crossroads.  The devil made him a great guitar player, made him a legend.  Some tell this story as if it was The Devil, evil personified, and others tell it as it's more of a trickster character, like Bob Dylan's Jokerman.  It's more the latter in Campbell's Hero With A Thousand Faces, where the hero upon first leaving his homeland and being called to adventure encounters a shadow presence on the outskirts of town.  Depending on this interaction, the character is either an enemy to be defeated or an awesome force to be appeased or conciliated.  But the Crossroads can have more than one meaning and can occur at more than one stage of the journey.  As an apotheosis and enlightenment experience, it can be the intersection of all seemingly contradictory dualities, as the literal meaning implies: four roads converging in a cross.  And there we are: the cross, where the Sacred Heart of Jesus was both fully destroyed and redeemed, and where all hearts on the journey are both wounded and healed, erased and resurrected, the center of all hearts and the center of the journey, the end point where we " arrive where we started and know the place for the first time" as T.S. Eliot put it. 
  The Sacred Heart is also a way to serve as the crossroads of all religions, like a meeting point where Shiva and Allah meet with Diana and Buddha.   Not to imply that other religions are lost and should find their way back to Christianity (although some churches preach that), but rather, I use the Sacred Heart of Jesus as the center because that's where I personally started.  And the purpose of these posts has been primarily to reach those who also started inside the Christian church but left to pursue their spiritual needs elsewhere.  The various paths on the mountain can and will intersect from time to time, and until we make peace with the different religious aspects of our own psyche we cannot have peace between the world's religions at large.