Why we shouldn’t believe our eyes.
Posted on 12 February 2014, 10:08
As I am an 85-year old Anglican clergyman, you would think I would have got myself sorted in regard to my spirituality. But, like everybody else I have a picture of reality presented to me by my eyes and ears, by society in general, by Anglican Christianity, and then by the really weird spiritual experiences that I have had in the course of my life. Perhaps they started in 1932 when the pine plantation around our Mount Somers vicarage caught fire. One of the fire-fighters collapsed and died, and his body had been placed on a table in our house. It was a time of extreme emotion. Right in the middle of all this there was a long-distance call from my grandmother in Christchurch 115 kilometres away: “What’s happening? What’s wrong?” Grandmother was not in the habit of making such calls, and this call perhaps would have cost $20 or £10 in today’s currency. No doubt readers will perhaps be aware of similar stories. Such occurrences do tell us that physical reality as presented to our five bodily senses is not what it seems. Our five senses tell us that space separates us: such experiences tell us that it does not separate.
Years ago, I had a long telephone conversation with a friend in Auckland. There were I think eleven specific topics discussed. As soon as the conversation ended, I looked to see if there were new e-mails. There was in fact one from a friend in Sweden. Eleven days before he had had a dream and he wanted to tell me about it. It turned out that those very same eleven topics featured in that dream, and there were no others. Here again, our bodily senses tell us that time separates us; but this story says that time does not. In the timeless eternal world where aspects of ourselves must reside, there must be an eternal present where our past and our future is together and not separate.
I have told the story of how a woman friend reported that three stainless steel saucepan lids had simultaneously fallen off a shelf. She asked me to consult the Unseen and find out why. Into my mind came the idea that the answer would be found amongst her many books in a book by Thomas Hardy at the top of a certain page. The title contained the syllable “ille”. “Tess of the D’Urbevilles” was eventually found. The words indicated by my intuition suggested that my friend’s deceased father was involved in the falling of those saucepan lids. It then turned out that the book in question was the only one she had that had been given to her by her father, that the stainless steel saucepan lids were the first stainless steel items developed by the Sheffield firm of Firth, that her father had been general manager of that firm and had bequeathed these items to her in his will.
The next day my friend reported that three pictures had fallen on top of each other in the kitchen, and that when she had gone to the dining room, she saw a further three pictures on the wall, and as she looked at them, the middle one, a picture of herself, fell to the floor. On a later occasion, when I was talking to someone about this incident, a picture on the wall behind me fell and hit me on the head. I asked my friend whether it would be in character for her father to cause all these phenomena, and she said that it would indeed be in character – her deceased father had been a fond of practical jokes. There is much more to be said about this experience, but that’s enough.
So here are other reasons why we should not believe what our physical senses usually tell us: in this story we have a “long-dead” person interacting with the living, knocking pictures down, and perhaps putting the Thomas Hardy reference into my mind. The dead interact with the living. The living and the dead are not separate but part of one whole.
There was a further twist to the story. A week later my friend was listening to National Radio, and was startled to hear a radio play based on Tess of the D’Urbervilles, and the first words of the play were the very words my intuition had led me to. So there is the question whether the former manager of Firth’s was aware of this programme – or was it perhaps that the whole scenario was brought into being by some higher and inclusive consciousness? Space prevents describing several further twists to the story, but they are so striking and so complex and involving events in my own life, that I feel that I cannot credit the former manager of Firth’s with their orchestration. A series of meaningful stories interrelate, so complex and over such a period of time, that I feel constrained to say that they came about through the activity of such a higher and inclusive consciousness.
We are not separated by time, nor by space, nor by life and death. Such events demand that we act out these synchronistic scenarios, not because of cause and effect as we normally understand it, but because of these scenarios, scenarios which appear to override normal cause and effect. All such events proclaim that we are together in an indivisible whole, and that this “togetherness” is more important and more fundamental than the seeming separateness that characterises our everyday lives.
This is the continuing theme of the teachings of Stephen the Martyr, as recorded in my book. To this day, in order to sort out my thoughts about spirituality, I often go back to our conversations with him. In terms of our world of the physical senses, whatever nonsense am I talking? Yet so many kinds of evidence, related in my book, point strongly to accepting that we were indeed talking to that saint. Truly, there are no limits to the eternal present, with events of 2000 years ago side by side with events of the present time.
There would never be an end to stories of wonders that say our see and touch world is some kind of illusion, brought about by many strange happenings backstage. The illusion of reality that we see on a television screen comes to mind, as a comparison.
But back to my confusion about my spirituality, faced with the evidence of my senses, and also by the contradicting evidences that I have been recounting. I am torn by the picture of spirituality that we can gain from a good church, with prayer, love, mutual caring, public service, praise and thanksgiving for the wonderful experiences of life – who can possibly gainsay all that? – and this allegedly more real world of interlocking oneness, where experiences occur, unheard of in church. In this “more real” world we are describing what apparently is. We are not so concerned with those issues so prominent in a good church.
Of course I do not have to choose. I can have both worlds: both are real in their own way. That I have strange experiences does not necessarily make me a good and loving person, it does not even make me more wise. But they do provide me with a wider perspective, a better understanding of the reality of things. In that wider context I can grow in love and service or others – or not.
Stephen always speaks of us as aspects of an indivisible reality. The prayer he taught us runs: “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.”
Stephen: “I shall speak further, and maybe your eyes may open just a little
more to the truth of yourselves.
The Lord said, “Blessed are the meek”.
When you, my friends, search in others for what you might lack,
then this manifests meekness.
Think now of the world that you are in.
If each separate body and mind were to look upon their fellow
and say, “in them is so much good that I can gain from”
we would all indeed be blessed,
for this is truly what you are doing -
looking to others that you cannot feel akin to,
and saying that they are good, and that you do love them,
in spite of your differences,
and you wish to see more clearly the good that is in them.
Maybe your lack, or feeling of lack,
is because at this time they fall a little short of your expectations;
for you are searchers, of this be in no doubt,
you search for feelings everywhere
and joy comes each time you find these feelings.
Can I say more that might help?
These other friends we might [think of] as the hands of the body,
and ourselves as the mouth of the body.
I think you will recognize similarities
in the separate physical behaviour;
the diff erences [of experience] when the hand touches something
that is soft and pleasant, it is pleased, and the whole body
while the mouth, on the other hand, does not feel the softness
in itself; but when the mouth takes in what is sweet and warm and
pleasant to taste, the whole body [again] fi nds pleasure;
the hands cannot taste the sweetness of the mouth, nor can the
mouth feel the softness that the hands feel.
Although you all are of one body,
experiences are diff erent in the feeling.
We should not expect the hands to taste,
nor the mouth to do what the hands do better;
but the mouth must learn to feel with the whole body
the pleasure of what the hands hold,
as the hands must learn with the whole body
to feel the pleasure of what the mouth does taste.
For I cannot say that we are separate, only diff erent.
If I might talk a little of myself,
we could liken me to the eyes, that I can see and anticipate what
the hands touch, that it is soft.
And I can see and anticipate
the sweetness my mouth is going to taste.
I am not speaking in parables and examples
for frivolous reasons.
It is the best way that you might understand
and still grow in the spirit.”
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.
His forthcoming book, Into the Wider Dream: Synchronicity and the Fates will be published summer 2014 by White Crow Books.