If we think of prayer as an altered state of consciousness, we don’t have to think of it as contact with the Big Guy, who takes our orders and tells us he will see what he can do. An altered state of consciousness can be a religious experience. Peyote, for example, can expand, or deepen, depending on your preference of direction, whether you want to go out, or down, our capacity for sensory input and reception. We can achieve similar results with some varieties of meditation. With a little effort, we can move beyond the world of normal, apparent reality and encounter what we are wont to think of as transcendence.
What we are moving beyond are the filters that keep us from experiencing sensory overload. At any moment, we are capable of perceiving an unmanageable amount of sensory experience. With the right kind of receivers we can pick up television and radio transmissions from around the world, without the advantage of a tuner on the receivers, all those signals come in as one signal. We couldn’t begin to make sense of it. Without volume control, or an on/off switch, we would have to leave the room. Quickly.
What if we could suddenly see all there is to see? ALL the colors, for instance, in an expanded spectrum? The movement of a mouse a football field away? Infrared? Microscopic activity? Waves of light? If we only caught a glimpse of some of that, on rare occasions, we might consider it a religious experience. If we couldn’t get away from it, ever, it would drive us mad.
Religious experience is sensory experience beyond the norm. Spiritual experience is physical experience, somatic experience, sensory experience, sensual experience. The physical transports us to the spiritual. We don’t know where the line lies separating the two experiences. They are not separate experiences. They are one experience.
We are capable of perceiving much more than we realize. We pick up “vibes.” We sense opportunity knocking and danger lurking. We talk about our “intuition.” We speak of “reading a room,” and “getting a feel for things.” Our bodies are sensory receivers; our brains are, in part, sensory filters, keeping from consciousness the information, the input, that doesn’t suit our purposes; that would just get in our way; that would prevent us from functioning and keep us from reproducing. Maybe Neanderthal didn’t survive because they were tuned into more frequencies, and spent too much time lost in other worlds to make it in this one. And, maybe not, but part of the evolutionary process is devising brains that allow into consciousness only enough of the “right kind” of sensory information. Too much, or too little, and we become extinct. There is a lot of “non-essential,” yet very interesting, and potentially helpful, information “out there,” just waiting to be accessed. Could it be that when some of it “breaks through” to us, we call it “God”?
We generally think of God as directing the action of life and of living from the outside. Heaven is a realm apart, and God has this Divine Plan that is being incessantly and inscrutably worked out as “year succeeds to year.” We like to think there is a purpose for everything, that there are no accidents, that we will be amazed and delighted when we see how all the pieces fit together, and how the tiniest details compose the wonderful whole, when all is revealed to us and we “understand.” How about, NOT!?
Most of the stuff we have told ourselves about God is nothing more than compensation for our helplessness and vulnerability. Our dreams are demolished, our hope is lost, our lives are constantly at the mercy of forces quite beyond us, and we console ourselves with the idea of a plan, and a planner, who is really compassionate and caring and has our best interest at heart, and we only have to wait to see that it is so. All the bad things happen to keep something worse from coming our way. No matter how awful it seems, God is in control, and it is all a part of God’s Eternal, Immutable, Purpose. It is a position that is increasingly difficult to maintain.
Are you telling me THIS is the best GOD can do??? Any theory, even theories about God, has to take into account the inconsistencies, incompatibilities, and incongruities that are a part of every theory. No theory explains everything. At some point, every theory leaves us with “having to take it on faith” that the theory knows what it’s talking about. It is at that point, or those points, that every theory is capable of being revised, abandoned, or transformed into a different theory. A “doctrine” is just a pretentious theory.
Where do you think the doctrines came from? Not from on high. From down below. And, I don’t mean hell. I mean earth. I mean me and you, or people just like me and you. Here’s one for you: The church was before the doctrines. Not one doctrine existed prior to the church. We, you and I, or people just like you and I, came together and cooked up the doctrines. And, the people who would not go along with us, who refused to agree with us, who wouldn’t buy into the majority report, were excommunicated or discredited or executed. That’s how you solidify support for a theory.
The church was also before the Bible. And, the church was before God. Of course, we like to think, because we have been told, that God was before Abraham, and Moses. That God was just waiting around all those years for the time to be right to talk to Abraham, and Moses, and kick the Plan in gear and get things going, but, our position could just as easily be without Abraham and Moses, where would God be? Who says what God says? The prophets, priests, and kings, right?. Who says the prophets, priests, and kings know what they are talking about? History, right? History bears them out, right? Well, with history as our Rosetta Stone for reading rightly the words of the prophets, priests, and kings, we ease smoothly into the position that experience, or history, bears out the truth of astrological signs and that you only have to read your horoscope every day to know that it is so. The same thing could be said for reading tea leaves, and casting lots, and finding patterns and meaning in tossed chicken bones.
The church, people, me and you, or people just like me and you, was/were before the Bible, the Doctrines, and God. If we cooked it up, and we did, we can throw it out, and start over. Well, not really. Once we cook something up, and serve it through the centuries, there will be a lot of us who stick with it no matter what.
There is a principle at work which first came into my awareness through the work of Paul Watzlawick. He says a theory expands to fit the facts. Instead of being discarded, we get elaboration. Theories that should be abandoned because of their inconsistencies and incompatibilities with “the facts,” with observation and experience, become increasingly complex and inscrutable, which makes them increasingly beautiful, and believable, wonderful and true in the minds of their adherents. Genesis’s idea of creation is an example of this in action. Rather than say Eden is a nice story, but the facts don’t support it, we get Creation Science.
It seems that we are capable experiencing the sacred truth of our most preposterous propositions. You only have to believe to see that it is so. And, the longer something is believed, the longer it will be believed. If we treat something seriously over time, it becomes serious. People kill one another over their views of God. Christian people kill one another over their views of the God who said, “Thou shalt not kill,” and “Love your enemies.” It’s all in how you look at it. Perspective governs everything. Anything can be justified in the heat of the moment, or through years of calm, reasoned, reflection following the moment. Which is to say that we aren’t likely to throw anything out except those who suggest that we throw something out. We don’t like people screwing with our preferred way of seeing things. We like to think that we see things the way they are. And, want to be left alone, so we can get some sleep. If you try to wake us up, too bad for you.
So, there will only be some of us who are capable of throwing anything, much less everything, out and starting over, and we will have to proceed very carefully so as not to wake the rest. If you are coming with me, you will have to tip-toe. And whisper.
I propose starting over, not with a substitute cosmic design which explains everything better than the theory we are replacing—replacing the doctrines with more doctrines—but with some basic agreements about how we are going to treat each other, and all others. I propose that we start over with compassion, and, not only with compassion, but with all of the “qualities and characteristics of God.” I propose we start over with the conviction that it is our place, our role, our calling, to bring God to life in our lives; to exhibit God; to express God; to incarnate God; to make God real through our way with life, in the way we live our lives. I believe this is what Jesus did, and I believe that this is what those who call themselves Christians must live to do. We live to make God visible in our lives; to be as God is.
We won’t need much of a structure to do this, certainly nothing on the order of organized religion. We will need to come together to process our lives, to say what is happening, and how that is effecting us, impacting us, and what we are doing about it; to say who we are and what we are about; to remember, and to be reminded, of what is truly important, of what the vision is, of why we are here. We will need to come together to be encouraged, and sustained, and enabled in “the practice of the presence of God,” in the work to bring God to life in our lives.
We could do that in a pub, over a cold beer, with two or three friends who gather to keep one another going in the service of the good of all. Or, we could do that in a weekly “gathering of sojourners,” or, in any way that works to provide us with what we need for the task at hand.
Once we embrace the vision and begin to live out of the realization that we are here to bring God to life in the world, we find ways of serving the vision. The central element in those ways is that we cannot do it alone. We need one another. We are more like God together than we could ever be apart. Together, we have a clearer view of what it means to “be like God” that we could ever have apart. We need one another to make God known. More specifically, we need the insight, the perspective, the wisdom, the compassion, etc. of one another to “see” God and make God known.
Of course, it works like this only if ALL the voices are heard and given equal weight by those gathered. When we start discounting, dismissing, ignoring, the children, and the women, and the poor, and the disenfranchised, and the uneducated, etc., and listen with respect only to “the leaders,” it’s all over. The simple act of listening to one another is replete with difficulty. Already, in that act, God ceases to be present when we step out of God-like-ness and go over into patronizing those whom we think have nothing to say. Are you catching on to how difficult it is to be God in the world? Waking up to how much we need one another, and from one another, to allow that to happen?
The story, stories, actually (You do know that there are two creation stories that have been combined into one in the early chapters of Genesis, don’t you?), of the Garden of Eden is a perfect description of how difficult it is to remember, and be, whom we are called to be, whom we are capable of being. We get distracted by the least little thing. We lose the way. We forget who we are and what we are about. “Oh, that looks lovely,” we say. “I think I’ll have some of that.” And, we wreck our lives, again, wanting what we have no business having. It’s the story of the species. There are no immunities. It is awfully hard work, being God.
Fooling ourselves is what we do best. Shooting ourselves in the foot is what we do best. Wandering away from the path is what we do best. Getting lost is what we do best. Sabotaging ourselves is what we do best. Getting in our own way is what we do best. We are always at the point of waking up, turning around, starting over in the work to live in the service of the qualities of God. We need one another to have a chance.
And, if we don’t listen to one another, we blow the chance. We have to listen. Here’s the secret. Listening to one another allows us to hear ourselves. The voice within is the voice we have to hear. That’s the voice the others help us hear by listening to us. That is the voice we help them hear by listening to them. Listening to one another re-establishes our connection with ourselves. It isn’t what is told to us that is so important, but what we hear ourselves saying. When we listen to one another, we bring to life that which is struggling for life within the other. God is born in the act of hearing God speak. In the beginning is always the word.
It is essential that we know how to listen; that we understand The approach used in Focusing is especially valuable, and the questions that help us hear ourselves. We have to appreciate fully the deep value of attention, and awareness, and sensitivity to tones of voice, and facial expressions, and body language, and all that is being communicated through what is said, and how it is said, and what is not said. We listen God to life. The primary task is developing ears that hear. And eyes that see. And hearts that understand. That’s the work that will keep us busy all our lives long.