Born in the late 1950’s, I am a child of the Enlightenment.
Unlike my children’s generation, my primary influences growing up were Enlightenment sensibilities. Consequently, a religion (like Reformation Christianity) that followed Jesus in rationalist ways was a good fit for me. I had a burning desire to connect to the Divine, and my religion fed that desire. It taught me to study the Bible, pray with my mind and my words, and do good deeds with my body. All very good for a devout Enlightenment boy.
I would probably have stayed with this version of Christianity but for two things that happened to me (and to our society as a whole).
First, reality changed when I wasn’t looking.
For 500 years, Newton’s precise, mechanical way of explaining our universe had been the unquestioned foundation of Western thought. But that reality began to erode as the new physics continued to discover how the world around us really works. Reality is much less certain, less mechanical, less precise, less predictable than we thought. Einstein’s and Heisenburg’s reality began to seep into culture and into me. The universe became a relative place, an uncertain place, and an illusory place. I learned that the table that had always been solid… was not. It looks solid. I put my computer on it so it acts solid. But I know it is not solid. Reality shifted. Perceptions I used to think were real, became in fact, only illusion.
And if the table is illusion, you and I must be illusion as well. And for goodness sake, what else is? Is my solid view of God and Jesus and the Bible illusory? And my sense of Truth and Beauty… Is it illusion too? Is it relative to where I’m standing at the moment I experience it?
When our reality changed, a religion of certitude stopped working. My religion; accessed primarily through my brain, through study, understanding, learning; stopped working. I had approached God through certain “biblical principles,” or “absolute truths.” I had approached my spiritual life with a sense of precision and certitude; the same way I worked a geometric proof. If I do this, God does that.
This religious mindset became out of step with my new reality. It happened to me. It happened to us.
And as we’ll explore in future posts, meditation works with this shift. Contemplative spirituality works in an illusory, uncertain, transcendent universe.
The second thing that happened to me (to us), was Vatican II.
I have enjoyed your series on meditation and can relate to the journey you are describing here. I do have a few questions.
Table example. For all intent and purpose the practical reality is that the table is solid. That is how I relate to it. If I were to look at it through a microscope I would see it at a molecular level and see the activity of the molecules and notice that it isn’t exactly solid. However, the way I practically relate to the table is in solid form.
Now concerning God, God is spirit and God is community so it is difficult to say He is this or that especially if you were looking at God from a omniscient spirit i.e. microscopic level. However, God has been expressed to us in the person of Jesus Christ. Although Christ is in the spirit now yet we can relate to God in Christ by the spirit.
These are just some brief thoughts and would like to hear your comment concerning the substance of my response here.
a pleasure to meet you, and i really appreciate the thoughtfulness of your comment.
yes, it’s true that you and i relate to the table before us in a functional way as a solid thing. we put our cup on it, and trust that it won’t fall to the floor. however, as quantum reality sinks into our awareness, we realize the illusory nature of that most basic human experience. it doesn’t change where we put our cup, but it does change how our brain navigates the experience. it changes our world; makes the trustworthiness of our 5-sense-discerned reality seem suspect.
which is what the quantum scientists are doing, not just to physics, but to reality – making the 5-sense reality we have built for ourselves more and more suspect.
so, when we try to imagine an unimaginable god, our new brains are getting more and more comfortable with the idea of god’s ineffability – god’s incomprehensibility.
but two things about how this affects our view of jesus as a functional-god image.
first, we have some deeply held “hammered-out-when-the-5-senses-were-king” instincts about jesus (how’s that for torturing grammar).
check out this resource i made for our church. it helps us realize what is going on in our brain when we say “jesus is divine,” or “jesus is the visible expression of the invisible god.” (http://www.rethinkingourstory.com; click on the “jesus” link on the menu).
second, i’d suggest that even as central as jesus is to our tradition, it limits our view of god when we make jesus a functional substitute for god. any image we have of god – even the person of jesus – is a reduction of god.
better, i’m coming to believe, is to allow ourselves ALL the god-metaphors of our tradition; the person ones, the non-person ones, the jesus one…
and then, to give ourselves and one another permission jump from one to another on an as-needed basis.
sounds crazy, i know…
what do you think?
also, i found your blog and subscribed.
again, thanks for the thoughtful comment.
You’re a breath of fresh air! I wish more Christians are like you.. willing to shift, willing to change, willing to discuss, evolve… eekk.. that E word. lol.
How does a garbanzo bean Christian like me, explain meditation and contemplative spirituality to Christians who still approach their faith with a sense of precision and certitude? Who still want to know which commentaries were used, which verses, what translation, etc. My faith is messy and relational. It’s not exact. I tell my friends, what is faith if we know all the answers? They just think I’m crazy. That is why I’m thankful for you and your blog. In this space, i don’t feel crazy! Yeah! 🙂 I’ll have to get your book and read it. Hope there’s a Kindle version.
Love Ya Doug.
ours is a rare moment in history.
momentous shifts of this magnitude take 1-2 centuries to go through together. and we don’t all go through it at the same pace. consequently, it behooves us to have patience and understanding for our “precise/certain-faith” friends. they can be forgiven for holding on to a faith that has worked very, very well for many, many centuries.
transition moments in history are hard to spot.
my advise: give your friends a break. smile at them. love them. try not to poke a stick in their religious eye. maybe they will wake up to the weariness they feel carrying their old-worldview religion around like a burden. if they do, you will be there to show them a better way.
in moments like this there is a role for the outspoken zealot. in this faith-transition, there are a lot of people taking on that role (and taking the hate-hits for doing it). that means that others of us can come at the process of change in a kinder/gentler way. the zealots are getting the word out (good for them!), but reactionary christian folks aren’t listening to them. a complementary change strategy is the patient, friendly, life-sharing approach.
the gay movement made a strategic decision some decades ago. be nice! be friends! let people know you and what it is like to live your life. the zealots in the movement had been getting the word out for decades before that. the word was out. however, the kinder/gentler approach has softened the heart of the reactionary folks, and has changed the heart of our nation.
that seems like a good idea for us in our moment of religious transition.
Well I vote for you to be our Zealot Doug!! And I’ll take on the kinder/gentler approach 🙂 Thank you for your wisdom. I’ve started reading your book and it’s amazing. Life changing. Mind blowing. Thank you for writing this momentous book. I feel there’s now a chance for my faith to grow and breath. More importantly, I feel I now have a better idea of how to pass on this faith to our kids and our community. A faith that’s living and passionate and not constraint by old, ineffective, “bad stories’. Thanks to your idea, I’ve started to share my meditative ideas on FB. 1st one out today… I’ve tagged you on it. I’d love to hear your thoughts. 🙂 Keep up the great and important work Doug. Much love.