Friday, October 28, 2011

History of Religion, The Evolution of the Christian God, and the Second Axial Age

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History of Religion and

The Evolution of the Christian God

Dr. Joseph Lumpkin

“In religion and politics, people's beliefs and convictions are in almost every case second-hand, and without examination, from authorities who have not themselves examined the questions at issue but have taken them at second-hand from another.” ‘
Mark Twain

In 1949, Karl Jaspers, the German psychologist and philosopher, published “The Origin and Goal of History,” and coined the term, “The Axial Age”, to describe the period from 800 BCE to 200 BCE. During this span of time, which in relation to the age of humanity, was a blink of an eye, revolutionary religious and spiritual awakenings appeared in synchronicity around the world, with major hubs in China, India, and throughout the Middle East.
Anatomically modern humans arose in Africa approximately 200,000 years ago. Modern behavior was established only 50,000 years ago. Spiritually, humans may have come into their present stage only 3000 years ago. This is a single grain of sand in the archeological hourglass.
Jaspers saw in the recent shift of religious and philosophical thought similarities that could not be accounted for without direct transmission of ideas between regions, and there was no evidence of “cross-pollination” of ideas or concepts to be found.
Jaspers argued that during the Axial Age "the spiritual foundations of humanity were laid simultaneously and independently."
In Karen Armstrong's book, “The Great Transformation,” Armstrong expands on Japers’ thesis, stating that the insights representing liberal religion occurred almost simultaneously and independently about 2500 years ago in four different areas of the world: China, India, Greece, and the Middle East.
Religion can be broadly understood as a system of beliefs and practices concerned with sacred things and/or symbols uniting individuals into a single moral community. The religious laws, rituals, and beliefs form a cohesive moral structure. If “religious” did specifically relate to the sacred, one could use the same definition for governments. Moreover, religions can become governments unto themselves. Therefore, a “religion” does not require a supernatural being as the object of worship, but it does have to represent a commitment to a particular moral or ethical code.

In the pre-Axial Age, religion always revolved around a deity. After the Axial Age, some religions, such as Buddhism, did not revolve around a god, but involved an inward journey toward deeper self-awareness.
Armstrong further suggests that the history of the last two and a half millennia is seen as a continuous struggle between those who acknowledge and value the newly evolved spiritual insights and those who may have a much older and more restrictive concept of the nature of religion. There is no way to know the number of mystics or progressive religious thinkers that influenced any changes in the ancient world’s religions, but archeology shows us that changes were molded mostly, if not totally, by migrations to and from adjacent regions, mixing cultures and gods.
This does not answer the nagging questions of why we persist in “structured” religions, and why all major religions carry the same moral or ethical imperatives. Jesus, among others, so beautifully summed up these imperatives: “Love God and treat others as you want to be treated.” The rest is commentary.
Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) was a German philosopher. Kant sought to find and identify the foundational principle of the metaphysics of morals. He attempted to analyze and articulate commonsense ideas about morality. Kant looked for the principles on which we base all of our ordinary moral judgments. He took the position that all rational people are born with an innate sense of morality. Thus, normal, sane, adult human beings will usually make the same judgment calls based on an inborn sense of right and wrong.
This is a wonderful idea, but seems rather naïve considering the amount of crime and abuse we see today. Neither does it answer certain questions such as, “If man is intrinsically good, why did we insist on human sacrifice in our past?” Today, crime runs rampant and Kant’s theory does not seem to hold water. Possibly Kant’s arguments only come to light when there are few negative social pressures involved. Studies have shown that the number of human sacrifices in primitive cultures rises rapidly under pressures of famine and pestilence. Under extreme circumstances, they sometimes turned to cannibalism.
There are at least two “wired in” processes going on here. The highest and oldest is self-preservation. The secondary impulse, which Kant describes, is based on following a social norm in order to enable the group, family, or tribe to survive. In other words, we are inclined to work as a team. This may explain our ability to stand by and see humans killed or sacrificed as long as the group acts in accord. We can call this a “mob mentality.”
However, maybe there is something to this idea of humans drawing on some very widely shared moral viewpoint that contains some general judgments. Outside of the religious ceremony for punishing someone who has broken a moral imperative, such as – do not murder, do not steal – most societies do have the same basic moral structure.
Kant sought to discover a rational basis for one’s sense of duty, and from this devise a principle by which one can distinguish between right and wrong. Right and wrong hinge on the intent. The intention or motive for the action determines whether it is right and wrong. It opposes the view that the end justifies the means and does not account for the outcome of an action. The morality of an action has no regard for its current situation. It is universal and does not take into account the action regardless of circumstance.
Kant’s starting point was his observation that we all experience an innate moral duty. Conscience triggers feelings of shame and guilt when we violate our internal moral compass. In this way, morality stands an empirical test. Since we seek to avoid the negative feelings of a disturbed conscience, we first attempt to do good. The highest form of good is good will. To have good will, one must perform one’s duty for the sake of duty and for no other reason.
From this, Kant concluded that moral duty is objectively revealed through reason. Morality can be known by using reason and can be verified or falsified.
To quote Kant:
“To act morally is to perform one’s duty, and one’s duty is to obey the innate moral laws.”
“A good will is not good because of what it affects or accomplishes… it is good through its willing – that is good in itself.”
If only a small seed of Kant’s ideas are correct, it could answer the question of why religions in every comer of the globe have the same basic moral laws. Moral laws, however, are separate from religion. Religion is simply a vehicle for a moral code, since both religion and its commandments developed around the need to solidify and guide a society. Primitive man did not have courts. They had priests acting as judges.
So, why did this moral compass develop in humans? Possibly, it was due to a consequence of evolutionary pressures. Humans were weak, slow, hairless creatures in a world of beasts and natural elements. The only way to survive was to ban together. If a person went against the family, tribe, or group, he or she would be ostracized and would have to face the world alone. Loners did not survive well. Over time, those with the highest social quotient or teamwork flourished in the hostile environment. The good of the many won out over the good of the individual. This could be the beginning of our internal moral code. This code is at odds with the older code of individual survival. The greater imperative is personal survival at all cost. This impulse must be consciously overridden by communal cooperation. Herein lays the difference between what Kant describes and what we see in society. Some people are balanced one way and some another.
This code is wired in to our developing brains on a subconscious level. Meaning, the code could not be subjective since we had no way to “think” about it. However, it was made objective through the development of codified laws. Later, we grew and developed enough to intensely consider our laws, our conscience, and the internal battle within ourselves. 
Until the Axial Age, the focus of religion was external, particularly on rituals and ceremony intended to influence or control a god or gods to protect the family or tribe, bring rain, guarantee success in battle, and so on.
During the Axial Age, this changed and an internal search for god began. There may have been several influences driving this evolution. The world became smaller with migrations and the advent of transportation via horseback. Cities grew and developed, continuous warfare mixed gods as the conquered tribe adopted the beliefs of the victor, considering their gods as more powerful. The amalgam of tribes and formation of armies began the demise of tribalism and the splitting of families through death and conscription into military service. The shattering of tribes and families brought about the rise of individual focus. Previously, consequences of the action of one family or tribal member affected the entire family or tribe. With individuals separated from families and tribes, the consequences of an individual’s actions is now born only by that person.
Continual hardships of war, disease, and changes in societies caused people to question the efficacy of their traditional god and religious practices prompting them to look for alternatives.
In China, India, Greece, and Israel, the spirit of humankind awakened in a flash. Wise men, shamans, sages, prophets, philosophers, and scholars independently articulated their insights. The religious traditions they created or influenced are alive in the major religions of today. Confucianism, Taoism, Hinduism, Buddhism, philosophical rationalism, and monotheism arose as though they were orchestrated and coordinated by a single hand.
The insights common to all religious enlightenment of the Axial Age include the ideas of reciprocity, compassion, love, altruism, and the individual’s mandate to end the suffering of others. The idea of compassion and reciprocity are summed up at once and together within the Christian ideal of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” In turn, the newly awakened Judaism translated that ideal, which has evolved into a monotheistic religion in which members seek communion with God.

In the years centering around 500 BCE, great advances in religion, philosophy, science, democracy, and many forms of art occurred independently and almost simultaneously in China, India, the Middle East, and Greece. Today, humanity still uses the spiritual foundations laid in that ancient time. In those times of social upheaval and political turmoil, spiritual and religious pioneers became the standard-bearers of a new religious, cultural, and social order. Great religious leaders rose up in various areas of the world attracting many followers, thereby changing many sociological, cultural, economic and spiritual beliefs.
In China, many individual thinkers, such as Confucius, Lao-Tse, and Mo Tzu, began to reflect on the ethical and spiritual implications of human existence. In time, their teachings became known throughout the world. Confucianism, Taoism, and Jainism are only a few.
In India, the authors of the Upanishads expanded the scope of their explorations to include metaphysical thinking in the search for the ultimate truth and the meaning of life and death.
India experienced a dramatic social and intellectual transformation, and produced the teachings of the Buddha and Mahavira. Like China, new teachings ran the whole gamut of philosophical schools of thought, including skepticism, materialism, sophism, and nihilism.
In Palestine, the prophets Elijah, Isaiah, and Jeremiah made their appearance. Although the law and moral code of the Israelites dates back before this age, and may have been influenced by the code of Hammurabi of 1750 BCE, the prophets reached beyond the law and called believers into a relationship with Yahweh.
In ancient Mesopotamia, cultural developments were relatively close to those in ancient Israel. However, concepts including the belief in a transcendent creator God did not materialize.
In Greece, developments were more philosophical than spiritual. Greece witnessed the appearance of Thales, Xenophanes, and Heraclitus who regarded all existence to be in a state of flux, exemplifying his concept by stating, “one cannot step in the same river twice.” Parmenides commented on the nature of permanent “being” as opposed to the impermanent phase of “becoming”. Democritus devised the first atomic theory of nature, which later gave way to the scientific nature of matter and atoms.
These philosophers influenced and fed the minds of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. They explored and examined the very nature of existence, life, and thought, itself.
Each philosopher and thinker forced his or her culture to question and reinterpret previously devised cosmologies. Until that point in time, every cosmology was a cosmology put forth by a religious myth.

Even as philosophers were dividing science from religion, mystics were emerging from crystallized religions of old to seek the real internal world that lay beyond the senses.
Buddhism propagated the preaching of the eight-fold path. Right View and Right Intention are the wisdom factors of the Noble Eightfold Path. Right Speech, Right Action, and Right Livelihood address ethical conduct. Right Effort, Right Meditation, Right Concentration address mental cultivation. The wisdom factors continually affect ethical conduct and mental cultivation.
This leap became the source of major and lasting cultural traditions enduring to the present time, giving way to a secondary stage or influence of spiritual transformation in which religions such as Judaism spawned the world’s two major religions of Christianity and Islam.
The almost simultaneous changes in China, India, Palestine, and Greece seem too remarkable to be accidental; especially considering the lack of influence one movement could have had on another, seeing the countries are widely separated from each other. The only example of intellectual communication among these countries appears to be the conjecture that in the 6th century BCE the Greek poet Alcaeus may have known the prophecies of Isaiah.
Religions began to influence and build on each other within different countries. Some religions became opposed to killing, while others value all life. Ideas and beliefs of Jainism influenced a newly developing Hinduism and the new religion of Buddhism. The dualistic idea of good and evil contained within Zoroastrianism would influence the Jewish ideas of good and evil and the notion of Satan. The new face of Judaism would give way to Christianity and Islam.
The idea of an “Axial Age” has no specific timeline. It is a general idea based around a broad period of time wherein a global awakening occurred. Figures such as Jesus and Muhammad came after the Axial Age. However, Jesus and Muhammad both reaped the rewards of the spiritual awakening. This spiritual awakening within Judaism was the foundation that took the religion into a search for communion with Yahweh. Jaspers’ concept of the Axial Age is an observation and not a law of history. Yet, there were mighty spiritual changes taking place within the “Axial Age.”
Possibly, Zarathustra, the founder of Zoroastrianism, lived before the Axial Age. The history of Zoroastrianism varies widely. Some sources say the founder appeared around 1200 BCE in what is now Iran. Perhaps Zoroastrianism emerged from a prior religion in a common prehistoric Indo-Iranian belief system dating back to the early second millennium BCE. According to Zoroastrian tradition, Zoroaster was a reformer who exalted the deity of Wisdom, Ahura Mazda, to the status of Supreme Being and Creator, while demoting various other deities and rejecting certain rituals.
Zoroastrianism only enters recorded history in the mid-5th century BCE. It was within this period that the religion came into its own.
In the Middle East, Judaism was undergoing a tremendous upheaval. Recent studies and archeological excavations reveal that the Jews were not only polytheistic, but may have been in the midst of changing deities, from the war god El, to the god Yahweh, who invited them into communion and protection. Although the Jews vacillated between the two differing deities with differing personalities, the change began.  
In the late 18th century, Bible scholars refined their abilities to follow the wording and phrasing within the Old Testament and determine that it was the result of several writers and an editing process that took place in successive layers over centuries. Each writer’s contribution brought current events and their individual spiritual or religious viewpoints which drove the evolution of Judaism.
Scholars in Germany noted that in most of the duplicated stories, one set described God using the Hebrew word Elohim (usually translated "God"), while the other set used God’s name of Yahweh (written as the tetragrammaton of Y-H-W-H with the Hebrew letters of yodh, he, waw, he.) Evidently, there were at least two different authors. The main authors used the label “E” for Elohim and the other called “J” (German for Y), for Yahweh. YHWH is also seen as YHVH. This because W and V is reversed when pronouncing the name or letters in German. Thus, YHWH becomes YHVH and yields the name, Jehovah.
Later, closer and more precise analysis of grammar, vocabulary, and writing style within the Old Testament revealed evidence of two other authors. There was a writer obsessed with laws and genealogy called “P” for the Priestly author. His hand is seen most clearly in Leviticus. The other is called “D” for the Deuteronomist, since the book of Deuteronomy is grammatically and politically different from the earlier books. The multiple-author view is now called the "Documentary theory."
Later, an editor, called the Redactor, combined the four different books. Sometimes, the Redactor put different authors' stories of the same events in succession, for example, the creation stories. Some he interwove, such as the two stories of Noah's Flood and of Joseph's mistreatment by his brothers. Evidence of varying stories of the flood has been uncovered, but the story in the Bible seems to weave many of them into a single narrative. The Redactor also added transitional phrases such as, “and it came to pass,” “and it was so,” and “in the fullness of time” between sections to tie them together.
Armstrong indicates, at this point, the shift from legalism to compassionate equality as evidence of Axial Age spirituality.

The Next Step In The Evolution of God and Man

In the beginning, the church was a fellowship of men and women centering on the living Christ. Then, the church moved to Greece where it became a philosophy. Then, it moved to Rome where it became an institution. Next, it moved to Europe, where it became a culture. And, finally, it moved to America where it became an enterprise.
Richard Halverson

Christianity is no longer a spiritual state. It has become superficial and narcissistic, a diluted religion that has lost its roots of love and forgiveness. Modern Christianity has become so bogged down in doctrine and church laws that it is now legalistic and judgmental by nature and impudent in force.
We are coming to a second Axial Age. What it will entail, no one knows. While leaving the arena of the fatted, red-faced preacher yelling beratement, fear, and guilt to the congregation, we are rejecting the priestly protected pedophile. We now seek a higher path, an inner, personal path, and a mystical path.
What is a mystic, and what is the meaning of “mystical”? To say glibly that religion will give way to the individual mystical experience serves no purpose if the term is not fully defined. Ah, but there’s the rub. Such a word is impossible to define since it is uttely deep, personal, and spiritual. We have no terms for the experience. We may define it, and still not fully understand it. So, let’s first define the terms as best we can, and then explore the writing of the mystics along with descriptions of their experiences so that we may gain insight into the future of human spirituality in the next Axial Age.

mystic |mistik|
a person who seeks by contemplation and self-surrender to obtain unity with or absorption into the Deity or the absolute, or who believes in the spiritual apprehension of truths that are beyond the intellect.

mystical |mistikəl|
1 of or relating to mystics or religious mysticism : the mystical experience.
• spiritually allegorical or symbolic; transcending human understanding : the mystical body of Christ.
• of or relating to ancient religious mysteries or other occult or esoteric rites : the mystical practices of the Pythagoreans.
• of hidden or esoteric meaning : a geometric figure of mystical significance.
2 inspiring a sense of spiritual mystery, awe, and fascination : the mystical forces of nature.
• concerned with the soul or the spirit, rather than with material things : the beliefs of a more mystical age.

What is a Mystic and what is the Mystical Experience?

There was once a path that was above the organized church and the stone-heavy, lifeless doctrine. The Christian mystics, the desert fathers, and those who sought God without and beyond the rules forged it long ago. It is to this path I believe we will return. Thus, I wish to end this work with a discussion on Christian mysticism. Although I hold to the path of the Christian mystic, I leave open the possibility, and pray it is true, that all contemplative paths lead to a single destination. Whether Buddhist, Jew, or Christian, the inner and earnest search for God will lead us home.
It is possible the demise of contemplative worship in the West is a direct result of an ever-accelerating lifestyle of greed and selfishness. We now live in a world where there are more people living in greater personal isolation. We have turned away from intimate, face-to-face, conversations and replaced the eloquent, heart-felt letters of the past with sparse abbreviations of instant messaging. We text, Twitter, Facebook, and email snippets of thoughts, never becoming connected or close. Since it is more difficult to lie and cheat those we know, our society has begun to fall apart because our separation allows for ease of mutual destruction. Sadly, our lifestyle has influenced our worship, giving rise to drive-in churches and an ever-growing detachment from the deeper journey.
We seek entertainment, not connection. Our fast-food religion focuses on one or two exciting hours a week. There are no more voices crying in the wilderness, because the wilderness of the heart is left unexplored and there are none who dare venture into the dark regions of the soul where God awaits in the quiet, lonely darkness. Each church has substituted its own group of rules in place of the real journey and awakening. Like a committee following “Robert’s Rules of Order,” we try to live within the rules, but that does not allow us to meet the author. What shall we do?
The future of Christianity may lie solely in the mystical tradition, which demands a direct and personal relationship with God. Any hope of true salvation and personal growth in Christianity hinges on the depth of our relationship with God himself. The entire Christian faith is based on a direct and unique connection between the individual and God. In this aspect, Christianity is a mystical and dynamic faith. The Christian faith demands union and communion with the creator, wherein He teaches us, guides us, and loves us. Through gratitude, meditation, adoration, and prayer, we are joined with Him and transformed from within. Such love and transformation engendered by this relationship can reunite Christians with the power, grace, glory, and love meant for all who seek the living God.
With most people, and sadly, with most Christians, a crucial gap remains between God and man. We do not need more teaching of doctrine, law, or church tradition, or any social or moral message. We need a heart-to-heart dialogue with God. We need and long for a relationship with our creator in which He loves and teaches us as a father would a child. The modern church has forgotten the path to their father. It is still there, beneath the hedges of religion, rules, and pride. The hedges and briars of laws and church doctrine must be cleared away to find the path.

Jesus said:
Matthew 5:3 Blessed [are] the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5:4 Blessed [are] they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Matthew 5:5 Blessed [are] the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
Matthew 5:6 Blessed [are] they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
Matthew 5:7 Blessed [are] the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Matthew 5:8 Blessed [are] the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
Matthew 5:9 Blessed [are] the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
Matthew 5:10 Blessed [are] they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5:11 Blessed are ye, when [men] shall revile you, and persecute [you], and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
Matthew 5:12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great [is] your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.

How have we gone from meekness and love to this modern mess where everyday church members leave more wounded than when they arrived?
The formula of the worship of today is equal parts of emotional gratification, superficial study of scripture, and adherence to rules of denomination. We have neglected the one thing that stands as the banner of Christianity - a relationship with God through Christ our Lord. The Christian faith is the only religion in which God seeks out man. God seeks to engage man in a relationship that is personal, emotional, and unique.

Arguably, the Jewish faith encourages a relationship of this type. However, in Christ, we have a God who has shed his heavenly state in order to seek out man. He extends his hand to us so we may know that He understands us. God demonstrates this by living as we live, suffering as we suffer, and experiencing life as only man can. He does this in order that He, might have compassion (a word meaning to suffer together) on us and empathy (meaning to feel the same thing) with us, so that we may know that He knows us and can have a personal relationship with Him. For, if God is omniscient, He would have already known what it was like to be man, but we could not have conceived of His knowledge.
In Christ, we have the hero-God-king who relinquished everything including His life in order to seek, love, and save His people. There is nothing left emotionally undone in this formula God has given us. It is in the church of today that the formula becomes incorrect. Denominationalism has supplanted Scripture, and following a set of rules has become more important than love and forgiveness. It is essential to seek and know God if we are to be changed by His love into His image. Only in this marvelous transformation can we hope to come close to doing what He has asked: “Love God with your whole being. Love your fellow man as yourself.” It is foolish to think that doctrine and Scripture could keep us on any path. If that were the case, Christ would have not needed to come or die. Theology serves to clarify ones’ beliefs in order that they may be articulated, but declaring a belief is not that same as living it.
We may become theologians, but to no avail. The study of theology does not serve to edify man. It seems arrogant to endeavor to study He who is omnipotent and omniscient. Learning scripture and points of doctrine serves to enhance our knowledge, but not our heart. We may seek to gain insight into God’s patterns and personality through study. This is admirable to a point; however, time may best be served by being in His presence. To know Him is always better than to study Him.
There are two states in a man’s life – to love, and a call to be loved. We seek unconditional love because only through this God-like love we rest assured of being accepted with all sins and shortcomings that haunt us every waking hour and as well as in our nightmares. It seems right that we would seek to deliver this kind of love to those closest to us such as our children, spouse, and friends. This kind of love flows from the heart of God through us to others.
During the 1300’s, a school of Christian mystics arose. From that school a book came to us as an explanation of the mystical life. “The Cloud of Unknowing,” written by a young man entering and practicing the life of a monk within the mystical community. The book gives us insight and instructions in this meditative life.
Simply stated, if something can be sensed, tasted, felt, smelled, heard, or seen, it is not God. All that can be imagined or experienced is not the creator, but only a creation. To find the creator, one must eliminate everything else from the mind and heart. What an agonizing path! Yet, this path is not unlike what some monks in other faiths and in vastly distant parts of the world choose to travel.
Thomas Merton was a Catholic monk of the Trappists order. In the 1950s, Merton became fascinated with mysticism and other religions. He came into contact with the Japanese scholar on Zen, Daisetz T. Suzuki (1870–1966), who was greatly responsible for introducing Zen Buddhism to the West. They corresponded, and subsequently, some of their writings became the essay collection "Zen and the Birds of Appetite”, a discussion of the similarities and differences between Zen Buddhism and Christianity. Gandhi was also influential upon Merton in saying that one can find the deeper roots of one’s own religious tradition by becoming immersed in other religions--and then returning “home” to see one’s own heritage in a transformed way, with a transformed consciousness.
On October 15, 1968, with Merton aboard, a jetliner lifted off the ground in San Francisco bound for Tokyo and the Asia beyond: Joy. We left the ground--I with Christian mantras and a great sense of destiny, of being at last on my true way after years of waiting and wondering and fooling around. ... May I not come back without having settled the great affair. And found also the great compassion, mahakaruna… I am going home, to the home where I have never been in this body. “ (Asian Journal, pages 4-5).
Merton would return to home, to Our Lady of Gethsemani monastery in Kentucky, very differently than when he headed east that day to a monastic conference in Bangkok, Thailand. Very different. Paradox, freedom, compassion, contemplation, emptiness and mysticism all played a role in Merton’s Asian homecoming. He began advocating for inter-religious dialogue, especially between Buddhists and Christians. Merton’s Catholicism had become more and more universal in its scope of possibilities for experiencing spiritual wisdom.
The Trappists were an order of monks focusing on living in a community of monks under the prescription “God Alone” and the motto “pray & work.” Their way of life had changed little over the past 700 years. In this harsh environment, Merton developed a contemplative mind. This contemplative attitude and practice would later link him, at the root level, with Buddhists that he met.

The 1950s was a time of crisis for Merton. He awoke to the notion that monastic life was not an isolated enclave of holiness, separate from and superior to other ways of life. Individuals in most churches, most denominations, and certainly most orders believe that their belief and way of life are superior. It is likely because of the heavy personal investment it takes to commit to those things.
Merton became involved in worldly affairs of war and suffering. He began writing on the social issues of nuclear proliferation and the Viet Nam War. His religious superiors forbade him from further engagement in such things. However, Merton felt compelled to share his views. He felt his insights gained through Christian mysticism were of value, and he might have something positive to say about suffering in the world.
This was the time of Vatican II and the church began to open up to the idea that there may be something beyond the church walls and ways. A decree from the holy meeting came down to the priests and people:

"The Church therefore has this exhortation for her sons: prudently and lovingly, through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, and in witness of Christian faith and life, acknowledge, preserve, and promote the spiritual and moral goods found among these men, as well as the values in their society and cultures (NA 2)."

Merton plumbed the depths of his own mystical experience and found an ancient teaching that he started to take very seriously in his study of Buddhism. Ambrose, a 4th century Christian bishop of Milan, had said that “all that is true, by whomever it has been said, is from the Holy Spirit,” which can be related to the Buddhist Bankei’s “the farther one enters into truth, the deeper it is.”
In the preface to "Mystics and Zen Masters," Merton says that he has attempted not merely to look at these other traditions objectively from the outside, but in some measure at least, to try to share in the values and experience which they embody. In other words, he is not content to write about them without making them, as far as possible, “his own.” Merton was able to “see” Buddhism and to be a Buddhist. His contemplative knowledge and experience of mysticism resonated with the Buddhist meditative experience.
Call to mind the instructions given to the mystic in the book, “The Cloud of Unknowing.” If you clear from your mind everything that can be experienced or imagined, that which is left is God.
The great Zen Master, Dogen, said, "To study the Buddha Way is to study the self, to study the self is to forget the self, and to forget the self is to be enlightened by the ten thousand things." Thus, both types of meditation seek to clear the mind of everything and find what awaits us in the calm pool of our minds.
The mystics will tell you that this is not an easy path. As we clear the mind and reach toward God, again and again we get in our own way. In anguish, our soul cries out to God, but He does not answer. In despair, we sit alone and empty, in search of Him. We wish to die for Him. We wish to die to self. Our stubborn carnal hearts keep beating. We died because we cannot die. That is to say, we die inside through sin and sorrow because we refuse to die to self. We struggled to lay ourselves down and pick up His Cross, His glory, and His life in us. But the old man resists, fighting for each spiritual breath. This “not dying” is agony. We long for Him, waiting for Him with each breath we take, trying to get out of his way. Yet, no matter how we move ourselves, we are still in our own way.
The soul cries out, but God seems not to hear. Our hearts cry out for the beloved, but He cannot be found. We are poured out like water. Our hearts are like wax, melted and running away. We have waited for Him, prayed for Him, meditated on Him, beckoned Him, cried for Him, wept for Him, hurt for Him, and now we are in agony for Him. He is behind the Cloud. We cannot see Him nor can we feel Him. How can one who is everywhere be so far away? But He is. With prayer and desire, we beat against the Cloud, the wall that keeps us from God. We cannot get through the wall.
There is no night darker than this. Sorrow is a knife cutting the soul deeper and deeper, and so it becomes a bowl, capable of holding more joy when finally there is the joy of His coming. There is no night more sorrowful…but Joy cometh in the morning. We can do nothing but to await the Son. If we endure, this sorrow… this most deep and personal tribulation… will give way to patience and stillness.

LUK 21:19 In your patience possess ye your souls.

Desire will die and obedience will take its place.

ROM 6:16 Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?

Grace will be shed on us in obedience to God, and our hearts will receive his fullness.

ROM 5:2 By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; 4 And patience, experience; and experience, hope: 5 And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. 6 For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. 8 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.

…with no other light or guide than the one that burned in my heart.
The Dark Night by St John of the Cross

Where have you hidden, Beloved, and left me moaning? You fled like the stag after wounding me; I went out calling you but you were gone.
Spiritual Canticle by St John of the Cross.

God, who is all perfection, wars against all imperfect habits of the soul, and, purifying the soul with the heat of his flame, he approves its habits from it, and prepares it, so that at last he may enter it and be united with it by his sweet, peaceful, and glorious love, as is the fire when it has entered the wood.
St. John of the Cross

What satisfies love best of all is that we be wholly stripped of all repose, whether in strangers, or in friends, or even in love herself. And this is a frightening life love wants, that we must do with the satisfaction of love in order to satisfy love. They who are thus drawn and accepted by love, and fettered by her, are the most indebted to love, and consequently they must continually stand subject to the great power over strong nature, to content her. And that life is miserable beyond all that the human heart can bear.
Hadewijch of Antwerp

Our task is to offer ourselves up to God like a clean smooth canvas and not bother ourselves about what the God may choose to paint on it, but, at every moment, feel only for stroke of his brush. It is the same piece of stone. Each blow from the chisel of the sculptor makes it feel -- if it could feel -- as if it were being destroyed. As blow after blow rings down on it, the stone knows nothing about how the sculptor is shaping it. All it feels is the chisel hacking away at it’s, savaging it and mutilating it.
Jean Pierre Caussadede

When God is seen in darkness it does not bring a smile to the lips, nor devotion, or ardent love; neither does the body with the soul tremble or move as at other times; the soul sees nothing and everything; the body sleeps and speech is cut off.
Angela of Floigno

The eyes of my soul were opened, and I beheld the plenitude of God, wherein I did comprehend the whole world, both here and beyond the sea, and the abyss, and the ocean, and all things. In all these things I beheld naught save the Divine power, in a matter assuredly indescribable; so that through excess of marveling the soul cried with a loud voice, saying, "this whole world is full of God!" ….
Angela of Floigno

Yet the creature does not become God, for the union takes place in God through Grace and our homeward turning love: and therefore the creature in its inward contemplation feels the distinction and the otherness between itself in God.
John Ruusbroec

Three parts of the Christian life, Worship, Study, and Prayer (communion) keep us in touch with God. Three strands making up the cord that ties us to God and keep us reaching upward to Him. They are Love, Praise, and Gratitude.
Worship is to seek and know the worth of God. What is He worth? What a strange question, you may say, but the answer underlies our actions. Is He worthy of praise? Is He worthy of our obedience? How about our study, prayers, love, gratitude… Are these areas in balance? One can love someone and not care to be with him. One can commune with someone and not love him. One can be grateful to a stranger. We can praise the actions of someone when we do not know their character. To get to know God, we have Worship, Study, and Prayer. To come into His presence, we have Love, Praise, and Gratitude. When all three of these attributes are brought to bear in one relationship there is fullness and joy.
For man, from the beginning of his creation, had been entrusted with the reins of his own volitions, with unrestricted movement towards his every desire; for the Deity is free and man had been formed after Him. (The Image of God in Man According to Cyril of Alexandria)

But, with a heart open and grateful to God we have joy and an enduring relationship.

PSA 100:2 Serve the LORD with gladness: come before his presence with singing. 3 Know ye that the LORD he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. 4 Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name. 5 For the LORD is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations. 101:1 I will sing of mercy and judgment: unto thee, O LORD, will I sing.

Out of gratitude and love springs charity. Charity flies forth from a heart filled with thankfulness and gratitude. All things are seen, as they are, a gift from God. We clearly see His love for us, and our hearts are joyous as we share God’s gifts to us with others. Charity is the result of gratitude to God and God’s love in us toward our fellow man.

COL 3:14 And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. 15 And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.

1 COR 13:13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

What is the secret of finding the treasure? There isn't one. The treasure is everywhere. It is offered to us at every moment and wherever we find ourselves. (In) All creatures, friends or enemies, it is ours abundantly, and it courses through every fiber of our body and soul until it reaches the very core of our being. If we open our mouths, they will be filled.
Jean Pierre Caussadede

Fickle and forgetful is man that he would trip over the truth, or through grace, fall headlong into it, and then rush off, forgetting all he had seen, learned, and felt in his deepest part. Not being reminded of the epiphany daily, man creeps into a mode of doubt and counts all of his communion and time with God as the dross of dreams and imaginings. In the dark nights of the soul, it is not knowledge that keeps us alive. It is faith, unshakable and tenacious. Faith trusts God is still there even if He cannot be seen. Faith knows God that is there, even if He cannot be felt. Faith sees the sun in the midst of night, and faith waits - for Joy cometh in the morning. Do you have knowledge of this faith? Is your heart fixed on God? Then the bridegroom will come and we will be one, transformed and conformed, we will be one.

PSA 57:7 My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed: I will sing and give praise. 8 Awake up, my glory; awake, psaltery and harp: I myself will awake early. 9 I will praise thee, O Lord, among the people: I will sing unto thee among the nations. 10 For thy mercy is great unto the heavens, and thy truth unto the clouds. 11 Be thou exalted, O God, above the heavens: let thy glory be above all the earth.

But what passes in the union of the Spiritual Marriage is very different. The Lord appears in the centre of the soul, not through an imaginary, but through an intellectual vision …, just as He appeared to the Apostles, without entering through the door, when He said to them: "Pax vobis" (peace be unto you) the soul, I mean the spirit of this soul, is made one with God, Who, being likewise a Spirit, has been pleased to reveal the love that He has for us by showing to certain persons the extent of that love, so that we may praise His greatness. For He has been pleased to unite Himself with His creature in such a way that they have become like two who cannot be separated from one another: even so He will not separate Himself from her. Teresa of Avila

... it must not be thought that the faculties and senses and passions are always in this state of peace, though the soul itself is. In the other Mansions (i.e. those mansions which are exterior to the central one in which the soul now dwells) there are always times of conflict and trial and weariness, but they are not of such a kind as to rob the soul of its peace and stability -- at least, not as a rule. …for it is difficult to understand how the soul can have trials and afflictions and yet be in peace... Teresa of Avila
... in this temple of God, in this Mansion of His, he and the soul alone have fruition of each other in the deepest silence. There is no reason now for the understanding to stir, or to seek out anything, for the Lord Who created the soul is now pleased to calm it and would have it look, as it were, through a little chink, at what is passing. Now and then it loses sight of it and is unable to see anything; but this is only for a very brief time Teresa of Avila

And I am quite dazed myself when I observe that, on reaching this state, the soul has no more raptures (accompanied, that is to say, by the suspension of the senses), save very occasionally, and even then it has not the same transports and flights of the spirit. These raptures, too, happen only rarely, and hardly ever in public as they very often did before. Nor have they any connection, as they had before, with great occasions of devotion... Teresa of Avila

It is the nature of the Holy Spirit that I should be consumed in him, dissolved in him, and transformed wholly into love. … God does not enter those who are freed from all otherness and all createdness: rather he already exits in an essential manner within them… Meister Eckhart

God is always near you and with you; leave Him not alone. …I continued some years, applying my mind carefully the rest of the day, and even in the midst of my business, to the presence of God, whom I considered always with me, often in me. Brother Lawrence

... And the latter (union) comes to pass when the two wills -- namely that of the soul and that of God -- are conformed together in one, and there is naught in the one that is repugnant to the other. And thus, when the soul rids itself totally of that which is repugnant to the Divine will and conforms not with it, it is transformed in God through love. Saint John of the Cross
In thus allowing God to work in it, the soul ... is at once illumined and transformed in God, and God communicates to it His supernatural Being, in such wise that it appears to be God Himself, and has all that God Himself has. And this union comes to pass when God grants the soul this supernatural favour, that all the things of God and the soul are one in participant transformation; and the soul seems to be God rather than a soul, and is indeed God by participation; although it is true that its natural being, though thus transformed, is as distinct from the Being of God as it was before... Saint John of the Cross

I am not engaged to Christianity by decent forms, or saving ordinances; it is not usage, it is not what I do not understand, that binds me to it -- let these be the sandy foundations of falsehoods. What I revere and obey in it is its reality, its boundless charity, its deep interior life, the rest it gives to my mind, the echo it returns to my thoughts, the perfect accord it makes with my reason through all its representation of God and His Providence; and the persuasion and courage that come out thence to lead me upward and onward.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, sermon, Sept. 9, 1832

1TI 4:13 Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. 14 Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. 15 Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all.

PSA 63:6 When I remember thee upon my bed, and meditate on thee in the night watches. 7 Because thou hast been my help, therefore in the shadow of thy wings will I rejoice. 8 My soul followeth hard after thee: thy right hand upholdeth me.

PSA 77:12 I will meditate also of all thy work, and talk of thy doings. 13 Thy way, O God, is in the sanctuary: who is so great a God as our God? 14 Thou art the God that doest wonders: thou hast declared thy strength among the people.

At first glance, there is no difference between the meditation techniques of the Zen Buddhist masters and those of the Christian mystics. Both demand the mind be still, quiet, and focused. Both demand we lose ourselves. Both demand patience and dedication. However, there is a great distinction between the two as to where the mind is placed. The teaching of the Eastern mystics directs the student to “go within,” “empty themselves,” and “center the mind.” Concentrate on the center of the body or on the breath. First there is focus on sound or breath, then on the center where the breath arrives, and then even that disappears into nothingness until nothing is left, not even the self; not even nothingness. The students reach inside until in the depth all disappears into all and into nothingness.
For the Christian mystic, enlightenment is an ongoing and ever-changing, living relationship between God and man. As in any healthy relationship, we attempt to learn from and take the better part from the other into ourselves. Thus, God as both father and beloved, leads us, guides us, and teaches us. It is not only the mind, but the heart itself, that is focused on God. We do not seek to disappear, however, we seek union with Him, who is the creator of all, both Him and us together as lover and beloved. It is a great and total difference between seeking nothingness and seeking God’s presence.
It is important to still the mind and stop the chaotic ramblings of thoughts so that we may be fully attentive to God. We may find it necessary to implement techniques, which will help us clear and fully focus our minds. This is where the two mystical communities of east and west break. The Christian mystics use the same centering techniques of breath and sound to still and center the mind, but the sound is a prayer or word that is meaningful to us in our relationship to God.
After the mind is brought under submission, there is a great difference in what happens next. The Eastern mystic focuses the mind inward or more specifically on nothing, while the Christian mystic begins to reach toward the heart of God. There is an immense yearning to be one with the spirit of God. It is a longing greater than life. Our heart is a room, a temple built for Him. We are waiting for the guest. It is the longing that does the work. We empty out our ideas of God and of ourselves. We want God to be who He is, not what we think He is. We want His fullness, not our limited idea of His fullness. No idea or imaginings can contain even the slightest portion of Him.
We reach for the Spirit without shape or form. We open wide the gates of our heart in anticipation of the arrival of the beloved. We keep the flame of our heart lit and burning, as one would light a candle to bid someone that we love to enter. We wait. We wait. We wait, and we reach. We reach until we find our limit. We reach until we find our hearts held down and captive under the cloud that separates us from God. It is then that we begin to beat against the cloud with all of the ferocity of a lover held inside a room, against their will, away from the beloved. We have reached as high as we can reach. Like a child who holds up his arms for his father, we wait for God to come, reach down, and pick us up. We wait to be gathered into His arms.
Christian Contemplative Prayer is the opening of mind, heart, and soul to God. It is beyond thoughts and words. It is bringing God in us closer than thinking and feeling. The root of all prayer is interior silence. Only mundane and common prayer is of thoughts or feelings expressed in words. Contemplative Prayer is a prayer of silence, an experience of God’s presence in us and we in Him. It is experiencing God which transcends the study of Him. Love is an experience.

SON 1:13 A bundle of myrrh is my well-beloved unto me; he shall lie all night betwixt my breasts. 14 My beloved is unto me as a cluster of campfire in the vineyards of Engedi. 15 Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair; thou hast doves' eyes. 16 Behold, thou art fair, my beloved, yea, pleasant: also our bed is green. 17 The beams of our house are cedar, and our rafters of fir. 2:1 I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys. 2 As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters. 3 As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste. 4 He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love. 5 Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples: for I am sick of love. 6 His left hand is under my head, and his right hand doth embrace me. 7 I charge you, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, by the roes, and by the hinds of the field, that ye stir not up, nor awake my love, till he please. 8 The voice of my beloved! behold, he cometh leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills. 9 My beloved is like a roe or a young hart: behold, he standeth behind our wall, he looketh forth at the windows, shewing himself through the lattice. 10 My beloved spake, and said unto me, Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away. SON 2:11 For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; 12 The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land; 13 The fig tree putteth forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender grape give a good smell. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away. 14 O my dove, that art in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the stairs, let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice; for sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is comely.
He is illusive. Our God, our lover, entices us to higher levels as we run after Him, seeking Him. We must keep Him in our hearts day and night. When we sleep, He is our breath and the beating of our hearts. When awake, we are ever watchful. With every fiber of our being, we anticipate our next encounter. We wait and our hearts long for Him. The longing draws us to Him.

SON 3:1 By night on my bed I sought him whom my soul loveth: I sought him, but I found him not. 2 I will rise now, and go about the city in the streets, and in the broad ways I will seek him whom my soul loveth: I sought him, but I found him not. 3 The watchmen that go about the city found me: to whom I said, Saw ye him whom my soul loveth? 4 It was but a little that I passed from them, but I found him whom my soul loveth: I held him, and would not let him go, until I had brought him into my mother's house, and into the chamber of her that conceived me.

We do not turn our minds off, nor do we seek to disappear into nothingness as the Eastern mystics do. We seek Christ, the beloved. We still our hearts and minds to listen for the rustle of His footsteps. We sit quietly, yearning for His approach, His breath upon our face, His fragrance as He enters the room, the mist we see covering His presence, the thin blue mist that surrounds Him. Our minds are turned outward to Him. The more quiet our hearts and minds, the sooner we will recognize Him whom we seek.

“The pursuit of God will embrace the labor of bringing our total personality into conformity to His. I do not here refer to the act of justification by faith in Christ. I speak of a voluntary exalting of God to His proper station over us and a willing surrender of our whole being to the place of worshipful submission, which the Creator-creature circumstance makes proper... Let no one imagine that he will lose anything of human dignity by this voluntary sell-out of his all to his God. He does not by this degrade himself as a man; rather he finds his right place of high honor as one made in the image of his Creator. His deep disgrace lay in his moral derangement, his unnatural usurpation of the place of God. His honor will be proved by restoring again that stolen throne. In exalting God over all, he finds his own highest honor upheld…We must of necessity be servant to someone, either to God or to sin. The sinner prides himself on his independence, completely overlooking the fact that he is the weak slave of the sins that rule his members. The man who surrenders to Christ exchanges a cruel slave driver for a kind and gentle Master whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light.” A. W. Tozer

Let the remembrance of Jesus be present with your every breath. Then indeed you will appreciate the value stillness. John Climacus

As we begin our time of meditation and prayer, we must be careful. We must, first, still and focus the mind. This first stage, called centering, is somewhat like techniques used in Eastern mysticism. However, objects or words used in our Christian technique should be kept completely Christ centered in their representation. As we sit in meditation and prayer, many times, we find our minds in turmoil, with thoughts chasing themselves like a pack of monkeys. We must first have a way of clearing the mind of such thrashing. Before we can pray clearly, we must be able to think clearly. Before we can think clearly, we must stop the mind from running amok. Even in this preliminary stage of centering, it takes about twenty minutes to still the mind.

Excerpts from “Five Types of Thought” By Father Thomas Keating

“The most obvious thoughts are superficial ones the imagination grinds out because of its natural propensity for perpetual motion. It is important just to accept them and not pay any undue attention to them…. Sometimes they reach a point where they don't hear it at all…”

“The second kind of thought occurs when you get interested in something that is happening…This is the kind of thought that calls for some "reaction."… It is important not to be annoyed with yourself if you get involved with these interesting thoughts. Any annoyance that you give in to is another thought, and will take you farther away from the interior silence…”

“A third kind of thought arises as we sink into deep peace and interior silence. What seem to be brilliant theological insights and marvelous psychological breakthroughs, like tasty bait, are dangled in front of our mind's eye… If you acquiesce to a thought of this nature long enough to fix it in your memory you will be drawn out of the deep, refreshing waters of interior silence.”

“As you settle into deep peace and freedom from particular thoughts, a desire to reflect on what is happening may arise. You may think, "At last I am getting some place!" or "This feeling is just great… If you let go, you go into deeper interior silence. If you reflect, you come out and have to start over…. As soon as you start to "reflect" on an experience, it is over...The presence of God is like the air we breathe. You can have all you want of it as long as you do not try to take possession of it and hang on to it.”

“Any form of meditation or prayer that transcends thinking sets off the dynamic of interior purification.…one may feel intense anger, sorrow or fear without any relation to the recent past. Once again, the best way to handle them is to return to the sacred word.”

“Once you grasp the fact that thoughts are not only inevitable, but an integral part of the process of healing and growth initiated by God, you are able to take a positive view of them. Instead of looking at them as painful distractions…” Five Types of Thought: By Father Thomas Keating

It is not that we take a “positive approach to the unwanted and noisy thoughts, but we will acquire a passive approach to them. We will learn to dismiss them like twigs on the trail. We will keep walking without as much as noticing them.

“...the mind should retire into itself, and recall its powers from sensible things, in order to hold pure communion with God, and be clearly illumined by the flashing rays of the Spirit, with no admixture or disturbance of the divine light by anything earthly or clouded, until we come to the source of the effulgence which we enjoy here, and regret and desire are alike stayed, when our mirrors pass away in the light of truth. “ Gregory of Nazianzus

Before we begin the first steps of meditation, we must find a comfortable and undisturbed place. Sit quietly. Close your eyes and relax. Find in your heart a sacred word. In your heart and soul, it must have a direct connection with Christ. Let the word be something special to you. Let it be grace, peace, love, hope, charity, or some word that connects you with Christ himself. Or, you may pick out some sacred object such as a cross or painting which you know will draw your heart to Him. Focus your mind and your heart upon this sacred word or object. Do not let it waiver and do not let it go.
It is common that after only a matter of moments your mind will start to wander. You'll find your focus lost, and your mind chasing itself and swirling like a storm. Your thoughts will become scattered and chaotic. Do not fret or worry, this is very common. It is the first obstacle to overcome in order to fully pray and meditate upon Him. God waits on the other side of chaos in our minds and hearts. This is the first step in the process of stripping away all of those things that stand in the way between our Lord and ourselves. The mind will protest and complain. It is like a stubborn mule which strains and complains against the bridle. But, we must bridle our minds. It will take infinite time and patience simply to learn to quiet and control our minds so that we can pray and meditate wholly on Him.

“Why does this little prayer of one syllable pierce the heavens? Surely, because it is offered with a full spirit, in the height and the depth, in the length and the breadth of the spirit of the one who prays. In the height: that is with the full might of the spirit; in the depth: for in this little syllable all the faculties of the spirit are contained; in the length: because if it could always be experienced as it is in that moment, it would cry as it does then; in the breadth: because it desires for all others all that it desires for itself....” St. John of the Cross

There are only two things in existence, the creator and created. As our minds become more still and quiet, we must continually push out all of the things that try to enter in. We must allow room only for God in our hearts and minds. Whether it is height, depth, blackness, emptiness, or nothingness itself, all things, save for God, must be pushed out of the mind and heart.
These two things exist -- God and creation are all there is in the universe. Everything that is not God, is creation. If we empty our minds and hearts of everything created, what is left will be God.
As we focus our minds' eye sharply on the attributes of the ineffable Godhead, we see it as existing beyond everything created. God transcends all intellect and all beings, and is wholly outside any imagined appearance, knowledge and wisdom. "dwelling in light unapproachable."

“ is the easiest exercise of all and most readily accomplished when a soul is helped by grace in this felt desire; otherwise, it would be extraordinarily difficult for you to make this exercise. Do not hang back then, but labour in it until you experience the desire. For when you first begin to undertake it, all that you find is a darkness, a sort of cloud of unknowing; you cannot tell what it is, except that you experience in your will a simple reaching out to God [a naked intent unto God]. This darkness and cloud is always between you and your God, no matter what you do, and it prevents you from seeing him clearly by the light of understanding in your reason, and from experiencing him in sweetness of love in your affection. So set yourself to rest in this darkness as long as you can, always crying out after him whom you love. For if you are to experience him or to see him at all, insofar as it is possible here, it must always be in this cloud and in this darkness.” Excerpts from The Cloud of Unknowing (James Walsh trans., New York : Paulist Press, 1981)

God is unapproachable light. We cannot gaze on him. We see "in a glass darkly and know in part" (1 Cor 13:12). Deity, God, the Godhead then, is wholly incorporeal, without dimensions or size, and not bounded by shape nor perturbed by them.

ROM 8:38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, 39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

1 TI 6:16 Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen.

1 COR 13:12  For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

PHI 3:6 Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.7 But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. 8 Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, 9 And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: 10 That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; 11 If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.

True “religion” is to love and seek God, love and have compassion for others, and to express God’s love to a dark and hurting world.
Never let the heart cease its cry. Never let it cease its reach for its creator. Day after day this process must be repeated. As we become accustomed to this toil of forgetting all things created, we must continually reach for God with our hearts and with every breath we take. Knocking, no, pounding with our heart’s cry on the door that stands between God and us. This is called “praying without ceasing.” Because there is a separation between God and us, it is a great mystery and paradox. Even though He is with us and in us, there stands a veil of “unknowing” whose only key is grace and only door is faith. God himself must lift the veil as He wills.

1TH 5:16 Rejoice evermore. 17 Pray without ceasing. 18 In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. 19 Quench not the Spirit. 20 Despise not prophesying. 21 Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. 22 Abstain from all appearance of evil. 23 And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

“In the inner wine cellar I drank of my beloved, and, when I went abroad through all this valley I no longer knew anything, and lost the herd which I was following.” St. John of the Cross

“Now I occupy my soul and all my energy is in his service. I no longer tend the herd, nor have I any other work now that my every act is love.” St. John of the Cross

“I want to deliberately and zealously encourage a mighty and ongoing longing for God. The lack of it has brought us to our present low estate. The stiff and wooden quality of our religious lives is a result of our lack of holy desire. Complacency is a deadly foe of all spiritual growth. Acute desire must be present or there will be no manifestation of Christ to His people. He waits to be wanted. Too bad that with many of us He waits so long, so very long, in vain.” A.W. Tozer

MAT 13:18 Hear ye therefore the parable of the sower. 19 When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side. 20 But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; 21 Yet hath he not root in himself, but endureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended. 22 He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful. 23 But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.

Starting this journey may be easy; finishing is not. It takes tenacity and a unique stubbornness to complete what is started. The world has tribulations and enticements to sway us from our course. Our roots of desire for God must go deeper than our roots in the world. Although the above passage is usually related to salvation, it shows the trials we will go through and has within it a warning. Many fail. Be prepared to endure and push on! Knowledge of God is not the same as acknowledging God. Accepting God in our lives is only the beginning of our journey. Many do not make it to the starting line.
They hear the word and do nothing with it. Then, there are some who receive the word of God and become saved by believing in Jesus Christ. Salvation fully equips us to meet the Lord in heaven, but now, while in this world, we must decide how high up the mountain we wish to climb. Most will start this mystical journey and grow tired of judging themselves. They will fatigue in seeking God. They will become distracted by the world. They will not endure the Dark Night of the Soul. They will hide their emptiness in the pursuits of this world. They will rest at the foot of the mountain. As for me, I wish to climb the mountain and touch the face of God. It is a costly journey. It will cost time, patience, and finally it will demand from us all we are. But, think of what we will have if we can give it all away.
Most who start this journey will repeat the same step over and over. They will begin, grow weary, fail, wander, come back, and begin again. They are caught in the midst between the emptiness they feel and the price they think they must pay to overcome. Like a seven-day fast, they abort after the first day; they will walk the same rutted road again and again. This does no good. It gets us no farther than the time before. Let us make a choice before we begin. After the journey is begun, it is either mysticism or recidivism.
Where is wisdom? Where is the path to God? How much has been discarded, covered, or destroyed by the church? Was it all in the name of power, greed, or control? Where is God in all of this?
We have discussed the making of canon. We have seen there were hundreds, if not thousands of books that were rejected. Many were rejected because they were not compatible with the doctrine of the emerging church power. Others seem to be spiritually sound, yet were dismissed because they invited too much personal freedom of faith. Too much personal freedom of faith would lead to an erosion of the much-coveted control sought by the Emperor and the church hierarchy.
Knowing that books may have been set aside for such political reasons raises a heretical question. Should we look outside the Bible in our search for God? In a word, yes.
Truth is found in a pinch of clay, as well as in the pages of some books. But only some have this truth. Others are simply stories devised for entertainment or for the expansion of nonsensical ideas no more true that the fables of the Titans. How then do we discern the difference? If we allow the spirit of God to judge what we hear or read, how can we go wrong?
We are holy vessels of a holy God. We are filled with His presence, and that presence communes with us moment by moment. Trust the Holy Spirit within you to guide you to truth. Use those things you know to be perfect and good as a signpost.
Look now at a few lines of one book that was rejected. Quotes below are from The Gospel of Thomas.

“Jesus said, If those who lead you say, “See, the Kingdom is in the sky,” then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, “It is under the earth,” then the fish of the sea will precede you. Rather, the Kingdom of God is inside of you, and it is outside of you.

Those who come to know themselves will find it; and when you come to know yourselves, you will understand that it is you who are the sons of the living Father. But if you will not know yourselves, you dwell in poverty and it is you who are that poverty.

Jesus said: Recognize what is in front of your face, and what has been hidden from you will be revealed to you. For there is nothing hidden which will not be revealed (become manifest), and nothing buried that will not be raised.

His Disciples asked Him, they said to him: How do you want us to fast, and how will we pray? And how will we be charitable (give alms), and what laws of diet will we maintain?
Jesus said: Do not lie, and do not practice what you hate, for everything is in the plain sight of Heaven. For there is nothing concealed that will not become manifest, and there is nothing covered that will not be exposed.

Jesus said: I have cast fire upon the world, and as you see, I guard it until it is ablaze.

Jesus said: I will give to you what eye has not seen, what ear has not heard, what hand has not touched, and what has not occurred to the mind of man.

His Disciples said: Show us the place where you are (your place), for it is necessary for us to seek it.
He said to them: Whoever has ears, let him hear! Within a man of light there is light, and he illumines the entire world. If he does not shine, he is darkness.

Jesus said: I stood in the midst of the world. In the flesh I appeared to them. I found them all drunk; I found none thirsty among them. My soul grieved for the sons of men, for they are blind in their hearts and do not see that they came into the world empty they are destined (determined) to leave the world empty. However, now they are drunk. When they have shaken off their wine, then they will repent (change their ways).

Jesus said: I-Am the Light who is over all things, I-Am the All. From me all came forth and to me all return (The All came from me and the All has come to me). Split wood, there am I. Lift up the stone and there you will find me.

Why was the book, “The Gospel of Thomas”, banned? One reason may be that it gave a directive to the individual to seek the kingdom of God within oneself. In this simple statement, there is no room left for clergy or church to intrude or control.
Although statements like the one above may lead the reader to believe that this author considers the church to be evil by nature, this is not the case. Man, himself, has a propensity toward evil, and the church can be no better than those in authority. Thus, the church must constantly guard against all sins that befall men.
At the time the bible and doctrine were being established, there was an emperor who sought authority, and used the church to focus his control over the empire. At the same time, an emerging political church structure sought to establish and spread its authority over the world of Christendom.
In short, the political climate at the time may well have affected the books and doctrine selected out of the many available. God spoke to men in various ways and at different times. Protestants have chosen sixty-six books, written by around forty men. Were there no other spiritual leaders in the world? Of course there were.

His Disciples said to him: When will the Kingdom come? Jesus said: It will not come by expectation (because you watch or wait for it). They will not say: Look here! or: Look there! But the Kingdom of the Father is spread upon the earth, and people do not realize it.