Jesus versus the Temple… as it plays out today.
Posted on 04 November 2015, 16:24
I have told the story of a time when I had deeply surrendered to..Christ? God? the Source of my being? I felt I had died to something. On the evening of that day, I was listening to a string quartet, and found myself envying the musicians, and berating myself for spoiling what was a spiritual experience. Back in my study, late at night, a voice instructed me to look for a book lying hidden under a lowest shelf. “Page 69” said the voice. I got down on my hands and knees and reached under the shelf. There was a book there. Page 69 presented “Ode for Music” by Thomas Gray. It spoke of the folly of envying the musicians, thereby spoiling a spiritual experience. The poem told me again what I had already felt. There was a Mind that knew what I had thought at the performance, and showed this by telling me to look under the bookcase.
Thus Psalm 139 struck home:“You have searched me, Lord, and you know me”. Profound words which repay much meditation. “Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.”
Such experiences do not often come in the routine of worship in mainline churches, the routine which provides a sense of the presence of God, reminders of what is important in spirituality, and corporate love and prayer. Spiritual breakthroughs usually occur away from church, in times of peak experience, or personal crisis, and they do not always come clothed in the language of organised religion.
Perhaps the reader might like to read again Psalm 139, because “you know me” comes up in a surprisingly profound episode from True Detective, an American anthology crime drama television series created and written by Nic Pizzolatto. In the episode in question, we find ourselves in a good old revivalist tent, The preacher rants as only a good old fashioned preacher can, and there is much response from the crowd as if at a Pentecostal revival.
Here’s how the preacher begins:
“You were as blind to him as your footprints in the ashes but he saw you…
Beneath every disguise, every gesture, false or true… every silent resentment
He saw you in those dark corners.
He heard you.
Oh my brothers, he heard those thoughts.
Now… I’m here today to talk to you about reality.
I’m here to tell you about what you already know.
That this—all this—is not real.
It is merely the limitation of our senses, which are meager devices.
Your angers and your griefs and your separations are a fevered hallucination, one suffered by us all we prisoners of light and matter.
And there we all are, our faces pressed to the bars looking out, looking up, asking the question—begging the question—“Are you there?”
Would that we had ears to hear.
Because every moment, every now, is an answer.
Every beat of every heart, every second of every minute, every minute of every hour, every hour of every day is an answer.
And the answer is, “YES!” “YES!” “YES!”
See the video of the whole thing. It is memorable.
Read the whole text.
Many will agree that churches with their beliefs and their traditions play an important role in transmitting awareness of Spirit, and as guardians of what a community considers to be good and genuine. When things go well, churches preserve a higher spirituality and avoid superstitious nonsense, they bind people together with their shared aspirations and moralities, they are also communities of mutual service and love, and reaching out to others. If there were no traditions, no organised religion, what would the world have?
The problem though always, is that the corporate tends to tame and domesticate spirituality. Spiritual routines are followed, teaching is given consonant with a tradition. So that the churches can domesticate Spirit, even quench it, with the corporate discouraging the individual from hearing from Spirit directly.
Recognising this difficulty, churches do hold revival meetings, provide devotional books, theologies, retreats and more. But the big problem is that “the Spirit bloweth where it listeth, and no one can tell whence it cometh, or whither it goeth.” It is a problem for the churches who like doing things decently and in order.
The thoughts expressed by “the Preacher” have much in common with Mysticism in all the great religions, and with the New Thought movement, a spiritual movement which developed in the United States in the 19th century, following the teachings of Phineas Quimby, and has 1, 500,000 adherents. It promotes the ideas that Infinite Intelligence, or God, is everywhere, spirit is the totality of real things, true human selfhood is divine, divine thought is a force for good, sickness originates in the mind, and “right thinking” has a healing effect. While we can find plenty of Bible passages supporting such an understanding of the nature of things, we can find plenty of passages which would contradict it, and legalism in the structure of churches helps in that contradiction.
Even though the churches maintain that the Bible books were inspired from the world of Spirit, the mainline church leaves no room for communication between the living and those who have passed on. Even if a church countenances such communication, it plays no part in such a church. So Spiritualist churches, and Spiritist Societies are formed.
I am not aware of serious attempts by churches to fight against the superstition of Materialism. If we are going to examine the overwhelming evidence that there is an afterlife, we need to know why Materialism is an “Emperor with no clothes.”
The biologist Rupert Sheldrake lists ten Materialist presuppositions that most scientists take for granted. They are really superstitions, because there is no scientific evidence for their truth, they are “notions maintained despite the evidence to the contrary.”
1.Everything is essentially mechanical. Dogs, for example, are complex mechanisms, rather than living organisms with goals of their own. Even people are machines, ‘lumbering robots’, in Richard Dawkins’s vivid phrase, with brains that are like genetically programmed computers.
2.All matter is unconscious. It has no inner life or subjectivity or point of view. Even human consciousness is an illusion produced by the material activities of brains.
3.The total amount of matter and energy is always the same (with the exception of the Big Bang, when all the matter and energy of the universe suddenly appeared).
4.The laws of nature are fixed. They are the same today as they were at the beginning, and they will stay the same for ever.
5.Nature is purposeless, and evolution has no goal or direction.
6.All biological inheritance is material, carried in the genetic material, DNA, and in other material structures.
7.Minds are inside heads and are nothing but the activities of brains. When you look at a tree, the image of the tree you are seeing is not ‘out there’, where it seems to be, but inside your brain.
8.Memories are stored as material traces in brains and are wiped out at death.
9.Unexplained phenomena like telepathy are illusory.
10.Mechanistic medicine is the only kind that really works.
So many church members and even clergy are influenced by these superstitions, that deep religious faith can become impossible. A church needs to be aware why Materialist tenets are superstitions, before much spiritual progress can be made.
Church people (in this scientific age) need to be aware of what science is, namely a set of investigatory tools used by people of all nationalities and beliefs, which is always work in progress. Religious or atheistic dogma stultifies and prevents science. That Materialists are dogmatists, is shown by their failure to engage with the quantum physicists who provide much of the evidence of the falsity of Materialist belief.
There is one further thing that needs to be explored: When we read a passage from the Old Testament, is it OK to ask whether it is in the spirit of Jesus? We read all Bible readings with equal solemnity. Can we be clear about what kind of God we have in mind when we pray?
As a priest of the Anglican church for more than sixty years, I owe very much to this church which welcomes members of varying beliefs, Anglo-Catholic, Liberal, Charismatic, Evangelical and more. That it is that kind of church, means that members of a congregation can have varying beliefs, including scepticism. Such a church often avoids dogmatism, and can be very inclusive. Because of this there is often love and mutual care, and service to the community. Jesus’ command to love God and neighbour is often foremost in the church’s thoughts. It does include highly developed spiritual people. But the very general character of this church means that its members need to find deeper spirituality elsewhere. And that should include all that open-minded science can show us about the world of spirit, and the true nature of reality. All that, and a burning inner desire to relate and be one with That which is in all, through all, and above all, for whose nature Jesus came to bear witness.
Michael Cocks edits the journal, The Ground of Faith.
Afterlife Teaching From Stephen the Martyr by Michael Cocks is published by White Crow Books and available from Amazon and other bookstores.
His latest book, Into the Wider Dream: Synchronicity in the Witness Box is published by White Crow Books.