O Life, awakening life in cell and tissue.
Posted on 09 September 2014, 10:41
From flower to bird, from beast to humankind:
Help us to trace, from birth to final issue,
The sure unfolding purpose of your mind.”
[O Lord, of every shining constellation” A.F.Bailey]
As I look through “Hymns for Today’s Church” one of the hymn books of the Anglican church, in which I am still willingly a priest, I see that people of all persuasions, who want a basis for meditation, will find there magnificent hymns and poetry. It is same with the Christian Bible: there is also magnificent stuff to be found. I have preached about that good stuff all my adult life. Those who think ill of churches, should be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. But of course there is also rubbish which I think should not be read. I remember a time when a person was reading a rather terrible Old Testament reading, he ended by saying, “And this is not the word of the Lord.” Very brave. The problem, at least with traditional churches, is that their congregations have all age groups present, all stages of spiritual development, and many points of view. In one way that is a problem, yet congregations often function as mutually caring communities, and may act in many ways to build a better society. As true religion is about love, if a “big mixture” church can produce love and mutual service, then it is doing the right thing, even if the theology is questionable.
On the other hand it is sometimes possible for “Right thinking” followers of gurus and spiritual leaders to be self-centred, and not serve society as a church can.
Although churches can offer much that is precious, coming from sound spiritual intuition of great people, I am immensely frustrated with the churches’ failure to independently validate the spiritual fare on offer with reference to the enormous store of exceptional human experience explored in consciousness studies. Yet we can recognise really good and spiritual people when we find them, and we can find them in churches. And so if I find true love and service of others in people who ignore such studies, then I must put my frustration to one side.
How possible is it to “get things right”? The fact is that all of us are inseparably products of the society and world we live in. It may be that the same profound truths are present in Christianity and say, Hinduism. But the stories and words in which these truths are expressed can be so different, that it takes time to understand that they are conveying the same message, the same picture. In addition we have the question whether we can express these truths apart from these stories. If for instance I say, “Look after the needs of your neighbour”, I have spoken some words that you are likely to put to one side. If I tell you the story of the Good Samaritan, then you may let sink into you all the implications of that story, and you may change.
You may say that all stories are not necessarily helpful. Perhaps we should meditate, and make our minds blank. That too may not help you to love your neighbour.
In churches there is a mixture of good, and not so good. What’s new? This is the case wherever we look. It is therefore my opinion that we should not surrender our entire self to any church, any guru, any political movement, any spiritual leader, for there will always be some rubbish amongst the gold. If we want to see what happens to militant religionists, we just need to look to Syria and Iraq. If we want to see what happens when you have militant atheists, look no further than North Korea, Kampuchea, and the works of Stalin and Mao. Militancy does not result in love.
And to think in terms of “churches” and “spiritualities” is to think much too narrowly. We are conscious participants in the universe, and all experience, all knowledge has a bearing on our spiritual development. Always we think too narrowly, too parochially.
Spirituality is a matter of heart and spirit. Spirituality is best communicated in the language of poetry, and story. And poetry and story differ from culture to culture. You and I cannot escape from our cultures but we can always step back and consider whether what we are hearing will lead to love and spiritual growth.
If we can step back and try to find other ways to discern the spiritual truth behind the story in the other culture, that will help. I myself participated over a couple of years in an Islamic group called Subud, where we tried to be open to the Spirit of God directly, without regard to a Teaching. I did find that a helpful exercise, and I would have to resort to poetry to communicate it.
I don’t think it is a good idea to follow the “Post-Moderns” who seem to advocating the respect of all views regardless. Last Sunday I was stung into preaching on the afterlife by an article in a national church magazine that asserted that nobody had come back from the dead, but we could perhaps know this by faith. We should not fear death, though, because God is a God of love. I could agree with the last bit, but.. “What about the resurrection appearances of Jesus?” I asked. And it is the case that in every country at all times, people report personal contacts from the so-call dead. I have had several personal experiences of the dead, and they have warmed my heart, and increased my faith. And some members of the congregation had privately confided in me that they had experiences of their own.
This raised the question about the Great Day of Judgment, and Heaven and Hell. There has been false and harmful teaching on that subject, I maintained. There has also been uplifting and helpful teaching, and this can often be discovered in the hymns sung in church. The hymns commonly stress the idea of a God in all, through all, and above all. Spirit is one, and cannot be divided. We are not drafted like sheep, one to heaven, the next to hell. In this life “the unfolding presence of [Spirit’s] Mind” is to be discerned in all life, all people. In this life we cannot be separated from a wider whole, and usually we receive both loving care, and also correction from others. After death, we cannot be separated from something greater, the universal “Body of Christ”. There, even if we are undeveloped, blind and rebellious, others will give us the opportunity to change. This seems to be the testimony of many spirit communications, and must be the case, if we accept the Spirit of Love is at the basis of all things. Many of church hymns would be in harmony with such an understanding. It would be hard to find “sheep and goat” imagery there.
Of course, we can, and do cause ourselves unlimited pain, when we depart from the ways of love. But we are not like sheep drafted either into the holding pen for the “saved” or into the pen for the “damned”. Spirit is one and cannot be divided. The process of “saving” from lack of love takes place within Spirit, and not separate.
“From heav’n to here and from here to heav’n
is a distance less than tissue thin,
and it’s trod by him who, in the stranger’s guise,
is made known when he is welcomed in.
So, come Lord Christ in the stranger’s guise,
known both through scriptures and through broken bread.
Your kingdom come and on the earth your will be done
by the people you’ve loved and you’ve led.
The folk who journey on the road with Christ
are the ones who’ve left their selves behind.
Their song is taught them by the deaf and dumb;
their horizon is shown by the blind.
The love that’s shared along the royal road
is a love not found when standing still.
It lives and grows wherever faith is known
as a movement grounded in God’s will.
From heav’n to here and from here to heav’n
is a distance less than tissue thin,
and it’s trod by those who meet the risen Christ
as a stranger to be welcomed in.”
Wild Goose hymns, Copyright. Please do not reproduce.
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 forthcoming book, Into the Wider Dream will be published summer 2014 by White Crow Books.
RIGHT ON Michael!!!! Good work
Karen E Herrick PhD, Thu 11 Sep, 14:16
Blessings to you on this day 9/11/14 Karen
Very heartening to find a man of the cloth seeking and finding a Middle Way between the extremes of religious fundamentalism and atheism. What is important is the Spirit of the Word, not the fine detail, often created for propaganda or out of incorrect historical data. Whatever form the God of various religions takes, it is the Cosmic Spiritual Essence that prevails and unites.
Dr Howard A Jones, Wed 10 Sep, 11:00
Holly Klein LSCSW, Wed 10 Sep, 03:08
Your journey to enlightenment and your teaching reminds me of my debates with Fr. Theodore in HS. We spiritedly went round and round because I was on my way where you are back then. Your teaching rings in my soul as I have journey’d far beyond that Catholic school girl years ago. I agree, there is so much more. When I met Victor and Wendy at the Afterlife Conference in Phoenix, I thanked them for all he brought for me to learn in the newsletter. One of the things he brought me was you. What a gift. My guide tells me teach, teach, teach, but there are others here to be my teachers. Oh, to sit across from you and wax about the possibilities of consciousness, what we know, and what’s next! Maybe…someday. (You do not need to print this if you choose, this is for you.)
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