Saturday Afternoon, The Theater at Avalon Island, Downtown Orlando. The speaker shared his insights into what he called the seven concentric circles of spirituality or mysticism. I’m usually leery of anything that looks like a kind of spiritual “system.” But then as I listened I was reminded of my first year of university, at LMU, taking a class on Christian mysticism, and how surprised I was to discover that my conversion experience as a teenage could be understood as a mystic or mystical experience. And all these 30-years later I’m left with the term, Das Heilige, which encapsulated the idea of an encounter with The Holy that is both internal and Other.
Because of my religious upbringing I translated my experience of the Holy in Christian terms and that drove me in the direction of digging much deeper into the traditions and texts, to the point of crossing over from my Catholic background to Fundamentalist Christianity and earning a BA in Biblical Studies from Biola University. But I never quite fit in the confines of Fundamentalist Christianity. I was too intellectual for my Calvary brethren and too “Holy Ghost” for the traditional Biola crowd. While never questioning the reality of my experiences with such things as “speaking in tongues,” I clearly saw the psychological aspects to the practice. For me the psychology of non-verbal utterances didn’t invalidate the spirituality. Yeah, the Christians I knew didn’t want to hear about the psychology and the Intellectuals thought it was all mumbo-jumbo. Then after Biola I went to Fuller and absolutely loved the academic/intellectual study but faced a growing irrelevancy because neither my wife or my church cared one wit about what I found fascinating. When the marriage dissolved, I couldn’t make a working whole of all of these parts of myself and decided to walk away from my religious heritage. Having crossed the religious divide several times along the way, I found no need to declare the previous system a Lie or go on at great length about it being “all wrong.” I just pretended that it didn’t exist and would only revisit it when I was feeling nostalgic and then I’d put on a Mark Heard or Sam Phillips CD. Why does my story always return to this part of my history? My guess is that one thing I should learn from those 15-years “away” is that I cannot simply just ignore this part of myself. Thus, the continuing interest in Das Heilige.
My counselor during my separation and divorce, a Christian counselor, Dr. Carpenter, warned that he thought that I had the kind of personality that I could convince myself of nearly anything moral or immoral. My thought about that was I never attempted to bend the Bible to my own preferences as I’d seen many a wayward Christian do. Thus, while I felt connected to it and felt like it was part of my moral compass, I also recognized that I didn’t agree with the Apostle Paul’s condemnation of homosexuals as a whole, for example. I recognize the destructive nature that unbridled illicit sexuality, hetero- or homosexuality, can have for communities, but in drawing the line in the sand as he has, the tendency has been to condemn the whole group and the warning of illicit behavior gets lost. And while we’re on the subject, I’m not so found of this, largely classical Greek notion, that I am a tripartite being (body, soul and spirit), I am more draw to believe that I am one whole entity, that my mind and soul are materially biological, that they came into being and developed after I was born and will cease when I biologically cease. Note that I most definitely believe that something deeper is going on here beyond mere chemical reactions (which in itself are pretty miraculous). But I cannot play this game about what effects me biologically doesn’t effect me mentally or spiritually (gnosticism), or that I’m somehow not connected to what goes on around me in the physical world. I thought that it was a central teaching of the Master that when the King returns if he sees that we’ve neglected or abused the world that he entrusted to us, that there would be no reward afterwards. And how did that teaching become stripped of it’s stewardship of our relationships to all living things and become just about making converts?
I have to add that I am concerned that my friends from my previous community, City Lights Church, or my lifelong friends going all the way back to the Jesus-People days, would be disheartened at my opening disagreeing with the Bible. One dear friend said, as a joke, that she felt that I’d been led astray 20-years ago when I exposed myself to all that liberal stuff when I was a theology student at Fuller Seminary. It concerns me that my meandering heart can cause discomfort for those whom I’ve been close to, those I’ve prayed with, served the community with and revealed my personal struggles with. But this is who I am. I wish sometimes that I could be like one of my best-friends from high school who has kept to the self same faith that we professed as 16-year-olds, 34-years ago. I’m not that child any longer, but I’m still the curious one who can easily get lost in the beat and repetition of a good song but also has fond memories of reading Kierkegaard and putting my own spin on the Book of Daniel while in seminary. So, right now I have my doubts that I will ever find a “fellowship” with whom I could really be myself while at the same time feeling like I need to apologize to those whom I’ve worked with over the past five-years. I know this is not what they expected or would want from me. One good part is that the story isn’t over. Who knows what might happen next. Damn, is this what my counselor warned about, as far as my personality being too… liquid? Fuck it, if that’s who I am, I’ll own up to it. Next stop, Buddhism… Just kidding (I hope!). JBB
Music: “Take Time” by Lenny Kravitz from his “5“ CD