Hundreds of years before the life of Jesus of Nazareth, the mystics of Greek Hellenismos understood Humanity’s spiritual development as a growth into engagement with certain fundamental natural forces. Aphrodite, for example, was represented as a beautiful woman, but as a god mediated between humanity and the force of attraction, which manifests as much in gravitation as it does in sensual desire. Following the era of the Titans and Olympians, the aim of the mystics was to usher in the age of Dionysius, allowing men to interact directly with the principles. In other words, for us to become gods.
When this truth was first revealed to me, the speaker admitted that in the modern era, we view Dionysius, the “party god”, as an unlikely avatar. We view alcohol as a vice, but the Greeks saw it as a tool. When we are drunk, we “lose our inhibitions.” That may manifest itself in a tendency to orgy, but at a deep spiritual level reflects the loosening of the protective barriers around our souls. We surrender ourselves to trust, and so relate more freely and deeply than we would otherwise. (See this post by Irwin Osbourne for more on this experience.)
The power of this relation can be abused. Megalomania is one pathology. In “Ray”, the film biography of Ray Charles, one scene reconstructs a set in which a horn player stands up to take an impromptu solo in the middle of a number. The man was dismissed, not because he violated the integrity of the rendition, but because Ray recognized intuitively that the man was on heroin. Accused of hypocrisy, Charles’s retort was that he had to be the only one. A second pathology is dependency. In graduate school, a friend shared his experience of a teacher who drank incessantly, and actually could do chemistry well only in that state. It took me a while to figure out how to suggest that maybe the teacher wasn’t doing the thinking at all – that the alcohol enabled him to inject himself into a community of minds that tolerated his needs.
There are other methods to achieve this integration. A young woman can be almost suicidal in her disposition to trust the men that she desires, and when that is manifested in sexual license, she may serve as the pool in which men join. Junger’s book “War” documents the characteristics of men that survive constant threat only by surrendering themselves to trust in each other.
There is enormous power in such melding, but the methods listed above cannot be sustained by our physiology. The licentious woman becomes corrupted by masculine demons, and loses her beauty. Substance abuse drives our metabolism into pathways that destroy our health. And war is a process that no one escapes without harm, even if it is hidden deep in the soul behind a stoic mask.
It is for this reason that everdeepening.org opens with this statement:
Love dissolves the barriers of time and space, allowing wisdom, energy and understanding to flow between us, and embracing us with the courage, clarity and calm that overcomes obstacles and creates opportunities. When we open our hearts to one another, there is no truth that is not revealed, and to those that love themselves, no impulse to harm that cannot be turned to the purposes of healing and creation.
As a Christian, I see the ultimate human manifestation of this truth in the march of Jesus of Nazareth to the cross. And behind that sacrifice, I must see the yearnings of a perfect and unconditional love that invests itself in the realization of that truth in our lives.
But when picking up the Bible, it doesn’t take long to reach contradictory evidence. Taking Eden as a metaphor for a relationship of trust between the source of love and humanity, that trust is corrupted by the serpent, which appeals fundamentally to human selfishness. In God, we were gods, but Eve is encouraged [NIV Gen. 3:5] to “be like God, knowing good an evil.” For this breach of trust, Adam and Eve are dismissed from the garden, and punishments are heaped upon them.
What was so heinous about their crime? Was it worse than the slaying of Abel, for which Cain was allowed a lifetime of repentance? And what is so important about us that God would give Jesus as a sacrifice to the goal of our redemption?
To understand this, we have to understand the nature of thought. We have succumbed in the modern age to scientific materialism, and so hold that thought occurs in the brain. I know this not to be true: I relate frequently to thinking beings that have no bodies and no brains, and so must recognize that my brain is merely an interface to my soul. To facilitate the expression of will through my body, the operation of the brain must correlate completely with the thinking done by my spirit.
Thus I interpret “In the image of God he created them” [NIV Gen. 1:27] in this way: our bodies are a tool through which we manifest the will of our souls and – given the quote above – they operate most effectively when used to express love.
The problem is that every interface is a two-way street. While through our commitment to creative expression, we can bring truth and beauty into the world, the opposite can occur. In the experience of pain and suffering, we project thoughts back into God. In the expression of greed and lust, we corrupt the purity of love. This is articulated many times in the Bible: consider Noah, Exodus and Ezekiel. Rather than being remote and impervious, God suffers from our wrong-doing. The flood is thus a desperate move to rid himself of the irritation, as is the destruction of the Holy City through the witness of Ezekiel. While horrifying to us as humans, we might imagine that so must the bacterium feel when confronting the operation of the immune system.
The error of the Law is to interpret these actions as a judgment, as an evidence of sin. They are not. The effect is to destroy the material manifestations of the success of selfishness, revealing its sterility. They are actions taken to frustrate selfish personalities that attempt to prevent love from liberating and healing their abused captives.
This is “The Knowledge of Good and Evil” that brings death into the world. Lacking appreciation of the virtues of love, we chose not to trust in love. We demanded understanding. But understanding is gained only through experience, and experience requires expression of both good and evil. We are educating ourselves.
In the end, Christ gathers those that chose good into the fold of the perfect love that originates from the divine source. We join our shared memory and wisdom into a single holy mind, and heal the world of the disease of selfishness. Thus I do not interpret the Crucifixion as atonement for our sins. Rather, I believe it should be seen as a surrender to trust in love, a struggle waged most fiercely in the Garden of Gethsemane, and redeemed by the proof of the power of love in the Resurrection. Rather than an indictment of our frailty, it is meant to be an exhortation to manifest our own forms of greatness.
Trust in yourselves. Trust in love. Welcome yourselves into the Holy Spirit, the mind formed when that trust is perfected in us.
Interesting! I think you’ve expressed some things I also see, you’ve just said them in a different way.
In the garden, I believe the original sin is really that pride/ shame dichotomy. Pride is what tends to separate us from each other and fearing shame, we often cannot trust. Those are the same things that tend to separate us from God.
Many people perceive the exile from the Garden as a very bad thing, as if God were mad at us and there are all these punishments. And yet there is so much love there too, that people often ignore. He clothes us in skins and sets us forth on our journey. There is an angel with a flaming sword posted to keep us from getting into more trouble. And of course, Christ comes to redeem us. His message is one of mercy, redemption, and grace. On the cross He is said to be “despising the shame,” on our behalf. In Christ there is no condemnation.
Pride, “self,” creates shame which leads to distrust. The more we surrender ourselves, the closer we draw to God.
Thank you for these reflection, IB! They’re really heartening.
Very beautifully written piece! Glad I got a chance to read through this. I believe the quote about love dissolving the barriers of time and space says it all. Love it.
In regards to addiction and spirituality, it is quite obviously true that they lower our inhibitions and can allow love/soul/true self to shine through. There are a couple problems, however. The first is that it is highly reinforcing because that is the feeling we all desire – to be our true selves without the inhibitors. The brain creates new balance, bringing about dependency, and we all know the rest of the story. The secret is to learn to lower these inhibitions naturally and be able to crush these same barriers.
This is very deep and I had to read through it a few times to ensure I am getting the full message. I really enjoy the piece on the brain as an interface to the soul. Very eloquently stated. Thanks for sharing this piece.
Irwin – thanks for the feedback. I know that my material is dense, and told friends reading my books that I tried to keep them short because I expected that they’d have to be read more than once. I don’t know how to write any differently, though – because love is welcomed by all things, everything seems to be connected, and any serious spiritual philosophy must attempt to heal the gaps that have been created in the whole. As a result, in Vedic terms my perception of the world is “abstract.” I do try to be consistent in my use of terminology, however, and hopefully someday I will find a way of making it transparent to others.
Of course, your piece was a great aid in that regard, as it brought the issues into a concrete modern context and elaborated on the psychological experience. It’s great to have people like you to refer to!
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