Monday, November 21, 2011

History of Religion

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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. The church of the dark ages allowed no doubt or discussion, but condemned to hell all those who would challenge it. Modern Christianity is little better and has become so bogged down in doctrine and church laws that it is now legalistic and judgmental by nature and impudent in force. It eats reason alive by asking us to accept as truth things that have never happened – restoration of limb or life.
We are coming to a second Axial Age. We must. 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. We will rid ourselves of our sedentary pride.
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.