Thursday, 11 August 2022

A Testing Time

It's clear that we are in the middle of a serious spiritual examination. We will increasingly be given options and we will have to decide which side to align ourselves with. It will be a question of appearance and reality, with the good choice often seeming to the untutored eye to be the wrong choice, even the bad choice. And vice versa. This will work on the simple worldly/spiritual level but then it will become more refined. As you get through one fork in the road you will be faced with another. What sort of spiritual path do you choose? Why do you choose the one you choose? Your motive will be examined. Is it love of God, love of truth, or is it the wish to receive something, some spiritual possession, talent or power? Are you prepared to tread this path alone or with minimal support? You had better be prepared for that because it is what will be asked of you. In the later stages certainly but even at the beginning to an extent.

The point of the testing is twofold. Firstly, to see how the heart inclines and then to see how you are able to express that inclination. It's no good opting for God and then doing nothing much about it. I don't mean we should all go out preaching but our beliefs should translate into how we live our lives, whether that be on a large or, more usually, a small scale. It's the old demand for both faith and works, the inner connection must follow through to outer action even if that just means, as it will in most cases, living your normal daily life in the light of the reality of God rather than that of the world. Sometimes this may mean looking foolish in the eyes of the world. Sometimes it may even mean looking wicked.

As we do this we will be tested again. We believe in God, we live our lives according to the word of God and in the light of his truth. Most people don't do that and even some that think they do don't really. We see this. How do we react? With pride that we are the elect? That is very tempting even when we are intellectually aware of the trap. The only thing that will save us from this pride, which I must say is a perfectly normal and natural human reaction, is sincere love of God. That and watchfulness. And prayer. That's three things! The worm of pride lurks in every human soul. You can't escape it but you can be aware of it and being so aware will bring it out into the light where it can more easily be dealt with. But, as I say, the only thing that will really deal with it is raising your whole mental focus and attention up to God where it will shrivel and die. Obviously, I speak as someone still engaged in this process and certainly not as someone who has achieved it.

In the past salvation could be a collective thing. You belonged to a church or religion, you believed and you behaved according to that religion. Those days are past. This is another test. The spiritual path is much more of an individual thing now. In many way it always was as it must be since an individual is what we fundamentally are. However, that aspect was less emphasised. Now it is right up at the forefront of the spiritual endeavour. You cannot just join a collective, a church or religion, and hope to be taken along with it. You must forge your own path, make your own connection to God. Again, this was always the case to a degree but now it is paramount.

Look at what is to come as an opportunity. It's a chance to clear out the worldly trash and get our spiritual house in order. If our priorities are right this won't be too much of a challenge, and if they aren't it will help make them so!

Saturday, 6 August 2022

Behold, I Make all Things New

Egypt was once the centre of the highest spirituality on Earth but then it descended into a concern with magic and power and became the oppressive nation we know of from the time of Moses. Israel was once the focus of God's attention, a chosen nation that was the ground from which the Messiah was born, but then it too descended into materialism, corruption and legalism. Christianity was a religion that gave the believer direct access to the Son of God but it gradually lost power as too many of its leaders succumbed to this world, and now its outer structures remain in place but the fire burns low.

Nothing lasts in this world and that is truer than ever in our day which is a time of increasing destruction. There is no outer spiritual body that will save you if you put your trust in it. The time has come when all aspiring souls must strive for truth within themselves. They can still use the outer forms but they must not allow themselves to be restricted by them. I know there is a verse in the Bible in which Jesus says the gates of Hades will not overcome his church but almost immediately afterwards he calls Peter, Peter the rock on which he will build that church and whom he has just praised fulsomely, Satan! I don't think we can build an entire spiritual edifice on one verse particularly when it can't be certain what Jesus meant by the word 'church'.  And given the recent arguments about inner discernment and outer authority we should also note that Jesus commended Peter for knowing he was the Messiah because he had had that revealed to him not by flesh and blood (outer authority) but by his Father in Heaven (inner knowing). 

I have to say that some people seem to mistake the lamp for the light. You can have a beautiful lamp, made of gold and adorned with jewels and with finely polished glass so that it allows the light to pass through clearly and without obstruction. But it is still the lamp. What is more, the glass can get dirty unless it is regularly cleaned, even replaced when it gets old. When that happens those who look for light in a pure form may have to look elsewhere. Some light may still pass through discoloured glass but it is less than it was and to pretend otherwise will help no one. Those who look elsewhere may still value the lamp for its beauty and the light it continues to transmit but what they really seek is light and they will look for that wherever it may be.

Why do we come into this world? If it is just to obey an outer authority we could do that better in the higher worlds. But if it is to learn to become a real divine being then we have to reach inside ourselves to find the living God there. The church serves supremely as a bastion of tradition and authority but it is like a mother. The growing child cannot stay clinging to its mother or it will never grow. Naturally, it will always love and respect its mother but if it is to become a mature adult it must start taking responsibility for itself.

Those designated Romantic Christians merely believe that the sabbath was made for man not man for the sabbath. They see the Christian religion as a living thing but living things either grow or start to decay. No one is saying the church should adapt to modernity because that is tantamount to saying it should secularise itself which is more or less what the Church of England has done to its catastrophic loss. But that is changing in a negative sense. There is positive, creative change too that reflects a deeper engagement with spirit (rather than accommodating to the world) and that is all the Romantic Christians are interested in. Speaking as one who may be said to fall into that category, I would say RCs (no pun intended) love and respect the church but their real love is for Christ and they will seek him everywhere.

Wednesday, 3 August 2022

More on Different Spiritual Priorities

 I am going to wade into turbulent waters again because I feel the need to say something about the ongoing disagreement between those who put their primary faith in intuition and those who put their faith in a church. Ideally there should be no disagreement because in a perfect world these would be exactly the same. Inner and outer would reflect each other completely. But this is not a perfect world. It's a fallen one and the fallen nature of the world corrupts both intuition and outer institutions. There is nothing perfect in our world. That is just a fact and one we have to deal with.

What this means is that we must have checks and balances for both the inner and the outer. This is as it should be. God wants us to grow but he wants us to grow properly. You know those little fences one puts around young saplings to make sure they grow straight and upright? This is tradition and authority. Without that fence the tree might not grow properly. But what if you leave the fence on too long? Then the tree won't grow properly either. It might be hemmed in and stunted. This analogy can't be pushed too far but what it means is that spiritual growth must be guided but it must also come from within.

Regarding churches, I must mention the accident of birth problem. Might it not be that those who are currently ardent upholders of Religion A might have been equally ardent upholders of Religion B had they been born in a different time and place? I have met Hindus and Muslims, especially the latter, who speak in very similar language to that used by the church Christians. They would say heaven or enlightenment or whatever they call it is only gained through adherence to certain customs and rituals belonging to their religion. I'm not saying all religions are equal because I don't believe that but this tendency of human nature should give us pause for thought. 

Romantic Christians, that is to say those who feel unable to give full allegiance to any outer church because they search for what to them is a more fundamental connection to God within, have been described as enemies of Christianity. All those I am aware of merely think that outer forms cannot contain the full measure of spirit and that the modern age is one in which that is particularly true. They see spiritual life as an evolutionary thing, growing and unfolding, not a static once and for all revelation that will never develop beyond where it is now. Of course, they acknowledge Jesus Christ as the foundation on which all truth rests but they do not necessarily think that Christianity, especially modern Christianity, contains all that Christ is. Do traditionalists think it does? They might counter that official Christianity contains enough of Christ for us here and now and that to look beyond it risks falling into deception. That is true enough as far as it goes but I firmly believe that Christ wants us to know as much of him as we can. He calls us to that. What lover is satisfied with just part of his beloved?

This looks like being another sad story of believers fighting each other instead of seeing that there are bigger fish to fry nowadays. If I were an atheist I would be having a good laugh. I might even feel my opinion validated. And I'll tell you something else of which I am absolutely sure. This debate is irrelevant to God because he looks at the heart. If the human heart is open to him and then seeks an honest and loving relationship with him, he is satisfied. It's all too easy to get distracted from that basic element of the spiritual life and focus on side issues.

The bottom line is that no one in this world has all the answers. We are all struggling and growing or should be. We also all have the tendency to spiritual pride and I don't say this lightly. We all do, but as long as we measure ourselves against the reality of Christ and strive to follow him in our hearts and minds then outer disagreements should not be so important. Certainly some disagreements are fundamental and cannot be overcome. Peace at any cost is no answer to anything. But I also think each side in this debate should acknowledge the sincerity of the other even when they disagree with them. After all, no one proposes a radical reassessment of the great bulk of what Jesus taught. It really just boils down to couple of verses of the Bible, Matthew 16:18-19, and whether to take them absolutely literally. To me to do that seems almost totalitarian and not like the Jesus of the rest of the gospels at all. I could be making a mistake but if I am it is motivated by a desire for truth so I would hope to be forgiven.

Monday, 1 August 2022

On Romantic and Church Christianity

 There has been some to-ing and fro-ing online about the differences between so called Romantic Christianity and traditional Christianity. I haven't followed it all but I think this boils down to whether inner discernment trumps outer authority or vice versa. My first reaction is to say that both are necessary. There probably wouldn't be much inner discernment if we had no tradition, no scripture and no religious teaching to bring it out and help give it form. On the other hand, following authority without bringing that alive through inner discernment leads to dead legalism.

I personally don't regard Romantic Christianity as fundamentally different to traditional Christianity but it follows the way of John more than that of Peter. I fully acknowledge the risk of heresy with a more mystical approach that prioritises inner awareness but I think that is a risk we have to take if we are concerned with theosis as well as salvation. Christ calls us to become like him. This really does demand going beyond outer authority and treading the inner path. That in turn requires a correspondingly greater degree of honesty and humility to avoid going off the spiritual rails but it is somewhat similar to swimming when out of your depth. You have to take your feet off the ground for which read the support of traditional authority. That is still there but if you are really going to be a good swimmer then you have to strike out on your own.

From the real spiritual point of view, where is authority located? In the church or in God? Don't tell me they are the same because they really are not. The church may have authority from God to save souls but it does not begin to contain all that God is and it can, as we have surely seen recently, lose connection to the Holy Spirit. It is that connection that the Romantic Christians wish to establish in their own hearts and minds. Yes, the church is the custodian of sacred truth and it preserves that for all humanity but is it not possible that an excessive adherence to the body of Christ can, at certain times, lead to a loss of connection to his spirit? I believe this is one of those times.

Having said that, I sympathise with both sides in this debate. I see this matter as a question of balance, balance between inner and outer though, probably because I was brought up a Protestant, the outer for me is more scripture than a church. I also believe that this argument is not so important to God. He looks at the heart. If this is correctly oriented to goodness and truth in the form of Jesus Christ then outer differences, even (hold your breath) certain (not all, of course) heresies don't matter.

People who should be natural allies in the face of great contemporary worldly evil can disagree but should not fall out. Religious history is scarred by believers fighting among themselves. Absolutely one must defend truth as one sees it but we should also be able to tell if someone is spiritually at fault or merely intellectually so or even just focusing on a different aspect of truth which inevitably is far greater than any one of us can encompass. Can those who see faithfulness to the church as primary not see that others, equally faithful to God, might need to establish the inner connection we spoke of above and treat that as fundamental? Equally, can the latter not see that heresies and false spiritualities abound, particularly when spiritual seekers go freelance, and that part of the function of tradition is to defend humanity against that? It's all about balance, I tell you.

Friday, 29 July 2022

Saints, Then and Now

In this piece I am using the word saints simply to mean individuals who are serious about leading the spiritual life. I do not refer to those who might be considered perfected in holiness but those who, like myself and I presume anyone reading this blog, are souls walking the path to God who regard that path as the true meaning and purpose of life but who have some way to go before reaching its end. So, really just believers but true and sincere believers. Disciples or aspiring, but certainly not realised, saints in the more conventional use of the word.

There have been times in human history when religious practice demanded great feats of asceticism and devotion. In ancient India the rishis performed prodigious feats of tapas which were harsh spiritual practices of austerity and penance that deprived both body and mind of any worldly comfort. The early Christian martyrs gave up everything for their faith, up to and including their lives. In the context of the times this may have been necessary. Life was much more physical then and sacrifice was therefore more focused on the physical and material. Spiritual growth and discipline always involve sacrifice of some sort. It is the renunciation of the worldly part of our nature in order to allow the spiritual to come through. Just because this can be taken too far and seen as important in itself does not mean it is not necessary to some degree.

These times are not like those of the past. The martyrs and the ancient yogis in their different ways suffered and were tested physically. I once met a man in the jungle in India who had remained standing for 20 years. He had a bar to lean on but he never sat or lay down. I found this impressive but pointless. I hope he benefited in some way but it's hard to see how. In 7th century Northumbria St Cuthbert would wade out into the bitterly cold North Sea every night until the water reached up to his neck. There he would chant hymns to God until dawn. In earlier times this may have been a way of conquering the worldly nature for a heroic temperament but now the battle has moved to the mind. That is not to say the battle was not always focused in the mind but it may be that the mind could be overcome by overcoming the body in those days. That is not the case now which is not to say we should not be abstemious in our habits and behaviour. But we need not go to extremes.

Earlier times also saw mystics and seekers of God engage in prayer and meditation for very long periods. This again was a way of conquering the worldly nature and attuning the soul to higher things but I don't believe it is necessary or even desirable nowadays. Perhaps on a retreat but not as a way of living. The present time is just so materialistic, meaning both the mainstream attitude to it and the actual environment itself, that living in this way is not really possible. We should try to keep God in mind as a subliminal presence at all times but for those of us living in the world full and complete focus during all waking hours is not really possible.

Nonetheless, we are being tested and we are being asked to perform feats of mental endurance. The test is psychological in nature and it is a matter of discernment. The endurance is in resisting the extreme spiritual evil of the present time. We are bombarded with anti-spiritual messages from every side but we have to find the mental and spiritual resilience within to counter this. We may have some help from outside, from scripture, from tradition, from religion, but these on their own will not be sufficient. We cannot rely on them alone because the world is such that it can co-opt them to its side. Not really, of course, but it can put up a good impression of having done so which may well deceive us unless we are alive to the truth within. Outer structures can help but they need positive reinforcement from our own inner connection to God so that the truth within them can grow and blossom in our hearts as it should. 

Think of religion as a musical score. To make the music in that score audible we have to learn how to read music and also how to play an instrument. The musician needs the score but he also needs to know how to play. This is the balance we require now between outer and inner, between tradition and personal awareness. Of course, a good musician goes beyond just reproducing the notes to make the music come properly alive. This is what the saint is trying to do with the soul.

Saturday, 23 July 2022

A Body of Slag

 Bruce Charlton recently pointed me towards an article by the philosopher Jeremy Naydler in which he describes what he calls the emergence of the Eighth Sphere. This is based on an idea of Rudolf Steiner's concerning the evolution of the Earth. The details are complicated but for our purposes here one just needs to know that, according to Steiner and other esotericists too for that matter, our planet has descended from a pure spiritual state to ever denser forms in which matter has 'hardened' until we have arrived where we are now. This all accompanies, indeed it facilitates, the evolution of consciousness which gradually separates out from unconscious oneness with the whole to a more individual form before returning to the source but with the fruits of the journey which would include freedom and creative ability. 

This is broadly in line with what I believe though my belief takes a simpler form. The whole spiritual path concerns re-ascending from matter to spirit though life first had to be brought to the point at which it could do this of its own volition and in full consciousness which means the descent to matter was all part of the evolutionary journey. There would have been times in the distant past when a form of materialism was actually conducive to overall evolution. One can see the mystery of sex as part of that. These times, needless to say, are long past and any return to those ways is atavistic in the extreme.

Now is the time of greatest immersion in matter. It's the nadir of the arc which means reascending is critical. However, it is not inevitable. The reascent can take place either individually or collectively. It should take place on both levels but we can only control the former. This is now an extremely important time in the ongoing evolutionary cycle of the Earth. If enough people reject materialism and turn to the divine we, the human race and the planet as well, can begin to spiritualise ourselves. The environment will respond to that and change, becoming more rarified. On the other hand, if we, or enough of us, do not do that the descent will continue until in Naydler's words 'a "body of slag" will be cast off from the Earth as the latter transitions to a higher spiritual state". What this implies is a kind of split in planetary consciousness with those who are open to God ascending in one purified planetary environment while those who cling to their materialistic ways will descend to a more materialistic, denser environment that reflects their own consciousness. It is a parting of the ways. What matters here is not simply a matter of good and bad as we consider those qualities now. Selfishness is certainly part of it but it is also a materialistic attitude to life. Many who see themselves as upright decent citizens will descend if they remain closed to God. Some sinners will rise if they are sincerely open to God.

Think of human life as a stream moving towards a rock. Part of that stream will go to one side of the rock and continue on its way to the sea. The other part will go to the other side and enter a crack in the ground from where it will descend to a subterranean lake. The rock is becoming visible. We need to start getting ourselves in place so that we do not consign ourselves to the body of slag for note this. Nobody or nothing does this to us. Our own consciousness will determine our external environment.

Slag is the waste product that is separated out from metal ore when it is refined. It is a chilling description for human souls that don't make the grade but while God is love he is not sentimental. The essence of the human condition is that we are free. If we advance a small way towards God he will come a long way towards us but we have to make the initial approach. If we don't we cannot be forced. I would not compare the body of slag to hell, though it may be hellish, because I believe that there will be opportunities to rise again even from that state. But it will be much harder. Souls that find themselves there will be that much further separated from real goodness and truth. Everything will be heavier, darker, duller. The time is coming when the rejection of God will have profound consequences.



Wednesday, 20 July 2022

In Praise of the Esoteric

 There's a fair amount of Libra in my birth chart - Mercury and Venus are both there as is Neptune. Maybe that's why I usually try to look at both sides of a question. With that in mind this post is going to be about the importance of esoteric understanding if one wants to make real spiritual progress. It is neither sufficient nor necessary for salvation but it is very helpful and, though the intellectual mind is not the key to unlocking the door of spiritual truth, it can certainly guide the key to the lock.

Faith and knowledge are often separated and regarded as almost in opposition but I see them as twins with each one both complementing and deepening the other. Without faith knowledge is dry and spiritually sterile. Without knowledge faith can be impotent and immature and rooted in ignorance. Ignorance is never good. It will likely lead to error and then becomes faith in what is false. What use is that?

Esoteric teachings are simply a guide to the higher aspects of the human being, where we have come from, where we should be going and how we get there from here. Then they describe the spiritual structure of the universe. They are, properly considered, the knowledge aspect of religion and so are a form of spiritual science. Like material science they can be abused but in themselves they are good because they are founded on truth though I would add the strict proviso that any teaching calling itself esoteric needs to be subjected to the rigour of intuition, common sense and cast in the light of the reality of Christ. If it conflicts with the latter, it can be rejected.

There may have been a time when knowledge of the higher worlds was relatively unimportant for the work we need to do in this world to grow and develop spiritually but now human beings have evolved their minds and the mind needs to be catered for. It must have food. If it does not have real knowledge it will have false knowledge and it will act according to that in ways that would not have been possible before as it has more agency. Therefore, you could say that esoteric understanding has become more important. A developing mind has to have something to know. 

Moreover, there is a God-given impulse in the mind pushing it towards growth. We need to understand. We are in fact obliged to understand and esoteric teachings provide some form of understanding. They are not perfect because we are still very limited beings but we are growing towards the light and esoteric teachings can be a kind of fertiliser that help us to grow. As long, that is, as they are balanced by growth in the spiritual and moral sense. I refer back to the previous post.