On avoiding being one-eyed
Posted on 09 April 2013, 22:43
Each one of us, from time to time, needs to step back from our customary point of view, and acknowledge that reality is many faceted: We must not become one-eyed about what is real: reality is more than what psychic research reveals, it is more than what churches talk about, it more than scientific endeavour, indeed there are probably as many ways of getting a handle on reality as there are people on Earth. Our problem is indeed our temptation to become one-eyed.
I personally have spent 60 years as a priest in the Episcopal/Anglican Church, and I am very aware of its strengths and weaknesses. I have tried not to be a one-eyed priest. I find that I’m happier about my church when I remind myself of all the other ways of looking at reality, and avoid making grandiose claims about what my church can or cannot do.
Before I discuss the positive things that churches, and only churches, can do, I need to acknowledge the many negative things that can also be said about the organised religions: their superstitious teaching, their dogmatism, their use in the past in furthering colonialism, their oppression of women, moral lapses, and their role in fermenting intercommunity strife. The list of crimes committed in the name of religion is very long.
They often disappoint those who would like to think in a rational and scientific manner. They frustrate those who so desire that they would let themselves be aware of the very studies of exceptional human experiences that would validate the teachings derived from their holy books. In the interests of keeping a community of faith together, they can often act as a barrier to a profounder experience of Spirit. They have these faults because of the very fact that they are human institutions.
But I am not sorry to have spent my life is a priest, because churches, with all their limitations, perform irreplaceable functions: ideally they are composed of many kinds of people, young and old, of mixed nationalities who often share their community of faith throughout their lives. Such being their composition, churches bring their disparate members into one communion, and help them transcend themselves into a higher level of consciousness. Consider the masses of people congregated in St Peter’s Square, awaiting the blessing of the Pope. Self transcendence is found on a somewhat wider stage than we can experience in our private meditations.
I have been re-reading Michael Talbot’s (below) Mysticism and the New Physics 1980 (rev. 1992) and once again have been much impressed by his writing. He is so able in his expositions, so interesting in his thinking, that I consider that he should still be widely read. He attempts to incorporate spirituality, religion and science together to shed light on profound questions. Of religions, he suggested that they could present differing kinds of metaprograms, presenting complex understandings of spiritual reality, and the opportunity to participate in such a reality, to young and old, at differing stages of emotional and intellectual development, in ways that no amount of straightforward rational prose could accomplish. (At least that is how I interpret him.) Churches do this through ritual, inspiring stories of the great religious leaders and teachers, with prayer, poetry, parable, story, hymn, song, symbol, dance, and other ceremonies. The intention is to evoke collective awareness of an inner spiritual reality in a very varied group of people, thus promoting a sense of communion amongst themselves and an all-embracing spirit.
The parables told by Jesus can be seen as such “metaprograms”. Take the story of The Good Samaritan. The story is introduced with these words: ‘On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” [Luke 10:25-29]
To answer him Jesus tells his story, in which we are in true-believing Judaea, and a man walking along a country road has been robbed and badly hurt by robbers, leaving him lying on the side of the road. A priest comes along the road sees the man lying there, but fearing the robbers, passes by on the other side. Then another holy man, a Levite, comes up averts his eyes, and hurries on. Later there comes a very wrong-believing foreigner, a Samaritan, and he is riding on a donkey.
“And when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ ” [Luke 10:33-35]
Then Jesus asks, Who treated the injured man as a neighbour?
Obviously, it was the Samaritan. And even children can get the message, “Your neighbour” is “whoever is in front of you and in need”. Older people get a further message, religious beliefs and doctrines take second place to the loving of God and neighbour. (Another message to the parochial and the racist would be that the foreigner may well be more enlightened, and a better person than oneself. ) Jesus spelled this out in his Great Commandment, to love God with all one’s heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love one’s neighbour as oneself.
This and a great many other stories, because of the churches, have been in the minds of countless millions of people for 2000 years. They provide a spiritual and moral compass that no other institution can provide. Members of these religions become aware of perhaps many millions of other people throughout the world who perceive spiritual and physical reality in a similar light. The great religions have inspirational leaders, mystics, thinkers, and often produce social and political reformers. And over the ages their have borne witness to the reality of the world of Spirit, and of the afterlife.
Religions also erect inspirational buildings. Every centre of population has its sacred edifice testifying to a higher realm.
Nothing can replace the great communities of faith, embracing all walks of life.
Thinking becomes one-eyed, though, when one fails to acknowledge the Cosmic Cathedral, the All in All, where church members disregard science and psychic research, when it is forgotten that life in general is the arena in which our spiritual development takes place. Thinking becomes one-eyed, when it is forgotten that a church has a general function embracing the multiplicity that their membership is. Churches are not usually so good at supporting individuals in their spiritual development. If individuals do not also seek their spiritual nourishment elsewhere, they will be impoverished. As with our daily food: we need greens as well as starches.
83. Stephen, on the Mission of the Church
Question: Stephen, what about the Mission of the Church?
Stephen: About the Church as a whole?
You ask the most surprising questions!
First, let us define the Church as a collection of people of a Christian belief, who follows this belief in its particular way.
In your case, the particular group of people is Anglican.
The mission of the church, (and it is a good question),
should be, and quite often is,
is to assist each other and those
that they come into contact with,
to develop into the eventual path of their own salvation
with the Lord Jesus Christ.
To follow the teachings of the Lord,
to give water to them that thirst,
to clothe him that has no clothes,
to give bread to them that hunger,
to love them that appear to be unlovable,
this is the mission of your church.
Also to receive those that come to you,
but not despise those that don’t come to you,
for there are many ways to salvation.
Think not that God would abandon any soul or any child or creature through the lack of understanding of your church, or through the nonconforming with the rules of your church.”
Stephen sums up his teaching in a short prayer: “Lord, let me forget that I am me, Let me know that I am with thee, Let me not separate myself from thee, Because I am me.’
This prayer is a prayer for transcendence of the sensory-physical self into the spirit of the Whole.”
Michael Cocks edits the journal, 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.
I teach philosophy. At no point do I make any claims of originality. However, I don’t regard that what I have to say is therefore redundant. Each generation must rediscover the truth that is there to be found and express it in terms relevant to them. If Stephen can reacquaint us with Biblical teachings or those of the saints or mystics through his unique voice in a way that we find consoling or enlightening, then I would say, yay for Stephen.
I tell my students that when it comes to saying anything truly new about the human condition, their only real chance of saying something that no one has thought of before is to say something really really wrong. I’d rather be right than original.
To say that there is no evidence that God uses human intermediaries from the afterlife seems to simply beg the question against Stephen and similar teachings. What evidence could there be other than things like the teachings of Stephen? Is what Stephen says consistent with what you think you know about the love of God, etc.? I would be most interested to know what things attributed to Stephen could be said to dishonor the historical Stephen.
Richard Cocks, Thu 11 Apr, 23:30
I do indeed understand John Marcon’s scepticism. We should be sceptical. We should also check the evidence. Stephen spoke a little in the dialect of Greek spoken in formerly Celtic Thrace. Part Four of “Afterlife Teaching” details the linguistic and historical research that shows that it is highly likely that we have to do with the historical Stephen. He is a wise spiritual director emphasizing Being in Christ, as does St John and St Paul. For an informed opinion it would be helpful to study
Michael Cocks, Thu 11 Apr, 18:03
< http://www.thegroundoffaith.net/stephen >
Thank you for a very meaningful message.
Michael Tymn, Wed 10 Apr, 13:40
I remain unconvinced on the source of the material attributed to Stephen the Martyr. I have seen nothing original that we do not already know from the gospels and our heritage of two millennia of Christian teaching and experience. There is no evidence of God using human intermediaries who have departed this life. most people consulting psychics either want reassurance that their loved ones are safe (and I’ve never heard one yet that didn’t offer that comfort!)or are seeking beyond the grave for enlightenment presumably unobtainable directly through the presence of Christ and the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth. The use of second-hand direction seems both unwarranted and unwise. Mohammed, Joseph Smith, Mary Baker Eddy, Jim Jones are among many to claim divine authority through non-earthly sources beyond the Scripture and the Spirit. Do we risk dishonouring Stephen by attributing to him thoughts that we have no way of verifying and are present in information we already posses?
John Marcon, Wed 10 Apr, 09:08
A nice blog Michael; thank you.
Jon, Wed 10 Apr, 00:07
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