Thursday, May 19, 2016

Longing for the moment when in prayer one can "creep into God"...not only for mystics?

Soren Kierkegaard wrote: Just as in earthly life lovers long for the moment when they are able to breathe forth their love for each other, to let their souls blend in a soft whisper, so the mystic longs for the moment when in prayer he can, as it were, creep into God.

The first half of the comparison is so obvious and true that for any who are yet to experience that moment, there is great hope, and also great sadness that it has not yet become an extremely memorable part of your experience. In fact, parents and teachers, doctors and nurses, clergy and social workers would do well to abandon their pursuit of their behavioural, objective and virtually CYA (Cover Your Ass Professionally) “treatment plans” and commence a radical shift in direction, by putting the pursuit of love at the heart of their engagement with their clients/patients/students/parishioners. Of course, the church’s trashing all notions of love, outside of marriage, as evil, coupled with the roaring fire of private enterprise that champions sex as power and sex as titillation, and sex as pornography, and also sex as primary sales strategy together these two thrusts have effectively rendered such a sweeping conjecture as both heresy and blasphemy, not to mention completely outside the bounds of objective, professional, and “safe” relationships between professionals and vulnerable clients. (And while it says here that there is a complex connection between the church’s puritan ‘take’ on sexuality and the public square’s steroidal deployment of all forms of sexual enticement, that is a subject for another space and time.)

It is the second half of the quote, the mystic longs for the moment in prayer when s/he can, as it were, creep into God, a moment analogous to the lovers blend (as one) in a soft whisper. Kierkegqaard’s linking of the two highly intimate and highly engaging, without being enmeshing, activities, the one between lovers, and the other between a mystic and God is both poignant and challenging. We have, as a culture, been so remiss in objectifying our relationship with God, in following some rules said to be directives from God, really what ‘inspired’ humans wrote as their intuitive and imaginative picture of the expectation God might have for a species created in His own image. Whether anthropomorphised or not, God is and always has been eminently approachable, regardless of our testy and nervous and even perhaps falsely modest attitude that might be expressed in these words: ‘What would God want with me? Or perhaps, ‘Why would God want to have anything to do with me, He being so perfect, immaculate and unblemished, and me being so soiled and sullied in my iniquity? There is a well-known question in some spiritual circles: A person says, “I feel so far away from God” and the answer comes back, “Who moved?” (The implication being that it was not God who moved!)

Creeping into God evokes images of humility and a kind of confidence and imaginative perspective that stretches beyond the perceivable and the rational, scientific, stretching so far as to include a warm and receptive and welcoming heart (being, sacred space, universe, cave, cocoon, or perhaps even cloud or an enveloping branch of an old oak tree, wherever it might feel safe, and totally understanding) into which to creep, open to our creeping and welcoming of our surrender and self-awareness of a higher relationship to God than that contained in such platitudes as “thou shalt,” and “thou shalt not”..... Mysticism itself, and of course all who consider themselves mystics, along with all those writers and thinkers who have considered many of their spiritual mentors be mystics, are usually rendered delusional, out of touch with reality, and therefore suspect with regard to their mental and emotional stability and maturity. Even to move to a place where “creeping into God” is a phrase worthy of serious consideration, as a direction for our spiritual pilgrimage would evoke derision and dismissal in many so-called Christian quarters, and certainly in many seminaries where men and women are allegedly ‘in formation’ for ministry. We are, as a culture, fixated, even obsessed with extrinsics, numbers of people and dollars, and growth in our religious institutions, to the point where a question about one’s spiritual life, even to a bishop, brings such a mundane response as “I think he is ‘red book’ or “I think she is green book” (in a tradition in which contemporary liturgy is inside green book covers, and traditional worship planning lies in red book covers.) “Creeping into God” if uttered among religious adherents, would be heard by many as “creepy” and even potentially sinister, evil and strange.

“Creeping into God” as a prayerful experience, accessible at all moments of every day, by every person, holding out the promise of a different way of being human invites us to rise out of a somnabulance, out of a boredom, out of a dashed dream, out of a deep and profound loss. Rather than learning the rules, and the punishments for breaking those rules, (criminal, social, familial and cultural) and then learning how we might complete our detachment from all things intuitive, emotional, insightful and even mystical so that we “fit into” the classroom, the family, the school, and eventually the job/profession, we might better open ourselves to a different set of perceptions, expectations and possibilities! We have become slaves to an ethic that defies our humanity, our emotional truth and reality, our capacity for compassion and our capacity to create new ways of being in relation. Being in relation does not mean merely being social, and competing for an finite economic trophy or trophies, or joining some corporate “team” all members of which are dedicated to enhancing the profits and the dividends of their investors and their executives. Being in relation with another, and with God, and with our authentic human peers cannot and must not be reduced to the transactional analysis of consumer/supplier, or of doctor/patient, or of teacher/student, or of clergy/client, or of social worker/client. We are capable of so much more empathy, connectivity, understanding, sympathy and support than merely writing cheques by the millions after a fire scourge like the one that hit Fort MacMurray recently. We have constructed systems, organizations and role guidelines that obstruct, impede and actually crimp and restrict our full humanity. It is as if we have to live a double life: the one that we offer to the public, no matter who comprises our specific public, and the one that we offer to our spouse, or our children, or our colleagues. And there is so little of each of us in the script that is required to fulfil our role(s) in these public encounters. (Of course, this is not an argument for sexual encounters gone awry, proliferating in all offices, classrooms, sanctuaries, court rooms or even board rooms. And therein lies our great fear, and also our great collective shared denial. It might be expressed this way:

Our current culture, based on rules, expectations, inculcation and absorption of those rules through training, punishment, and judgement, can be considered (as it is here) a perversion of the universe envisioned by a Creator God, even after the myth of the Garden of Eden. Gaining knowledge of the difference between good and evil is not necessarily a premise for a social and cultural ethos in which our sins are our defining attributes, especially in the eyes of the religious among us. Worrying about whether we are, have been or will be “chosen” as one of the “preferred” who have earned a passport into Heaven is not, has not, and will not in the future, supply human beings with a foundation for a healthy approach to their needs, their relationships, or their capacity and willingness to discern appropriately when large questions of meaning, purpose and morality come into our face. Omniscience on God’s part, has already provided the Deity with a perspective so epic, and so compassionate, and so generous and so magnanimous that our tiny and grovelling hair-shirt mentality is almost ironically completely at variance with an attitude and a faith that remains both open and courageous especially when it is challenged by serious threat. And, we need to prepare for such serious threats, not by cowering before some Panjandrum or regal God who seeks to punish, but by opening ourselves to the beneficence and the beauty and the opportunities to “creep prayfully into God” that are our’s for the taking.

Try to imagine a culture in which each of us is hopefully and earnestly praying to ‘creep into God’ as an integral activity in our spiritual journey. Such a priority among a large number of humans would generate a far different and more stable and more sustainable world in which to live and to fulfil our highest dreams, hopes and ambitions. Imagine a place where men and women grow up liking and respecting each other, where parents are not competing for the attentions and affections of their children, where teachers can and do hug their students and students get to express all of their emotional responses not only to the literature they are reading, but also to the situations in which they find themselves. Included in this alternate universe, are conversations about real thorny issues, between friends in real time, inside the structure of their respective lives, in which secrets are not withheld for fear of embarrassment and of public ridicule and scorn, but rather shared as a common and expected norm. Doctors might even fall in love with their patients, but likely only if and when their own relationships are so unfilling as to prompt such exploration. Lawyers might fall in love with their clients, as might nurses and teachers, without all this hypocritical pretending that we are above all that, or at least the “good” ones are. We disclaim false modesty; why do we not disclaim false pretense of our true emotions, requiring the reciprocal and responsible response either of engagement or of rejection, in a humane and open manner. Under an umbrella of such a foundational concept as “creeping into God” as a primary guiding principle of our individual and family life, as well as of our public interactions, we might begin to bring to consciousness, along with an unconsciousness, of an intimate relationship with and connection to God that inspires our every thought, response and attitude. If we were open to the invitation from the mystics even to consider “creeping into God” as the central goal and purpose of our lives, we might be more enabled to hold ourselves gently, to hold each other more gently and compassionately, to hold our neighbourhoods and our institutions more empathically, and also to hold our shared universe and eco-systems more reverently. Of course, we would have to set aside, through a dramatic shift in our priorities, separating ourselves from the mass-culture that engulfs millions of lives, those shibboleths that currently entrap millions in downward spiralling lives of desperation, depression, failure, judgement and reduction to mere function. All of which is both preventable and worthy of our conscious choosing.

Guided by signs in heaven, inspired by images of beauty, uplifted by sounds of harmonies in concertos and in wind blowing through the pines, warmed by greetings of real appreciation of our presence, both offered and received...all of these spiritual manuscripts of symphonic inspiration, if and when fully absorbed, integrated and entered, without worry of social acceptance and confirmation, could and would in the long run, replace our proclivities for besting the other, for judging the other, for trashing the moment in favour of our own pursuit of power and dominance, and would ultimately and inevitably disarm even the most compulsive support of the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons. The Quakers have a phrase in their ‘process’ guidelines, “be humble yet bold”...a spiritual, psychological, emotional and even intellectual guidepost for a culture and an individual to shift away from our current clinging to conflict, to competition, to our consideration of the human component in our “enterprise” as little more than raw materials, like iron ore, or like crude oil, and a shift toward an honourable honouring of the poetic, the mystic and the divinity which comes to each of us with our birth.

If we can imagine living within a persistent, continuing and prayerful longing to “creep into God” as an act to which all aspire, and even enter, regardless of the religious “dogma” surrounding our teachings about the Deity, we surely can and could and would be willing and able to open our eyes, ears, hearts, minds and spirits to a possible culture in which freedom is not defined by how much we can afford, how far we travel, how much we thumb our noses at the law, including the taxman, how much we hold it over others whom we consider inferior, (by education, income, social status, house size, car brand or wardrobe). We already, almost involuntarily and most likely universally, prayerfully enter into God when we learn of a new birth in our families, when we also learn of an extremely ill person returns to a normal life like a candle that refuses to be extinguished, and when we experience the death of a loved one. These moments enhanced with deep emotions and the experience of ultimate and infinite reality are often turning posts in our lives. Silently, at such moments, many actually engage in a prayerful moment that could readily and feasibly be aligned with something called “entering into God.” We are at such moments, neither embarrassed, nor afraid, nor reticent nor even awkward in our prayer. Would that we could and would graft onto such a moment, and many others, a belief and a wish and a prayer to “enter into God”. And if we could then begin to refer to such moments and others of inspiration and of awe in a similar prayer, we might enlarge the potential scope not only of our prayer life, but also leaven the universe with an attitude and an approach that seeps through our anger, our disappointment, our angst and our feelings of inferiority.

 And to perhaps live in a culture in which “creeping into God” is not merely an option open to the mystics, but a legitimate option shared by everyone would inevitably generate fewer cardiac arrests, fewer criminal arrests, fewer melanomas and sarcomas, far fewer broken relationships, and a significantly reduced appetite for the Rolls Royces and the Jaguars and the BMW’s and an profoundly enlarged public appetite for green spaces, for poetry, for music, for care of each other and the planet.

And no corporation could or would own the culture, nor the tax system, nor the armaments, nor the power to deceive and to dominate. And of course, this utopia is conceivable only in the most naive and the most innocent and the most immature imagination like that of your scribe!  

  If our lives were able to be described and defined as searching for and finding pathways through prayer, in order to enhance our potential and our opportunities to creep into God, imagine the energy such a spiritual discipline would generate, the creativity and the forgiveness and the unfolding and opening of so much human spiritual potential, that would find even more and more creative pathways into the divine, to which we are already said to be connected by our own inner divinity.
It was Tolstoy who reminded us, “The Kingdom of God is Within You”!!! Was his voice in vain, or prophetic of a vision to which we continue to learn and hope to aspire.

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