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Prayer.Bliss.Light

Like many who early in life started asking hard questions about the religion of their upbringing, I spent years and years receiving less than adequate answers. Asking questions was often viewed as an act of alienation, a sign of faithlessness, backsliding or apostasy.

At some point, I realized that the discomfort caused by my questions was related to the fact that no one really knew the answers – other than to (basically) say, “The Bible tells me so.” I would then ask, “How do you know that the Bible is true?” The answer would always, of course, circle back around to, “Because the Bible tells me so.”

Period.

Beyond questions about the existence and nature of God, the veracity of the Bible, the mystery of the Trinity and so forth… what I really wanted to know was, “Where is the direct experience of God in all this?”

Crickets.

So, I determined to leave the religion of my upbringing. I stopped going to church and watched football on Sundays instead. I got jobs, made friends, went to concerts and Dodger games, parties, bars, softball leagues, bowling leagues, bookstores, coffee shops, etc., etc., etc. – all the things that offer an illusion of individuality. I honestly thought I’d left all that church stuff behind – except when I paused to notice that a vestige of “all that” remained intact.

This vestige was, I now know, the presence of God – the common LIFE-NESS that animates and breathes into all existence, perfectly, mysteriously, miraculously.

I may have sought a direct experience of God through spiritual traditions outside that of my upbringing, but my own sense of the Absolute never changed. I may have been reading the Bhagavad Gita, Yoga Sutras  and Upanishads, but when I looked inside of myself, I found that these writings pointed to the same direct apprehension of “God” that I’d always known. Same thing with Buddhism, which purports to be a system without God. When the Buddha talked about jhana/samadhi, which is self-arising bliss, joy and ecstasy, it was the same bliss, joy and ecstasy I’d always felt when the presence of God was most undeniably upon me.

Fact is, no matter how far afield I strayed from the religion of my upbringing, the more stark the realization that God is omnipresent.

Many years after leaving the fold, while putting the pieces together through a renewed pursuit of answers, it occurred to me that, if God – the presence of self-arising bliss, joy and ecstasy that is a constant reminder of the Infinite – is omnipresent and has never abandoned my field of awareness – shouldn’t I stop running and open a line of communion with the LIFE-NESS of all existence? Wouldn’t this be the direct experience I’d always desired?

They call this line of communion “prayer.”

I’m not talking about the rote recitation of thanksgiving over dinner – although that’s a wonderful and healing thing to do. I’m not talking about the conditioned imperative to ask for forgiveness so that one’s transgressions may be wiped clean – although, of course, this provides a profound sense of relief, as we humans are always transgressing in this way or that, followed by a burden of guilt whether acknowledged or not.

For me, prayer is a conscious availing to That which is always nudging from within, the Great Soul that lives inside all of us and is just waiting for our attention. Prayer is a form of surrender that says, “I’ve been acting like a separate entity all this time, pretending that I can – in and of myself – find ultimate contentment and satisfaction… but now I realize that my consciousness is just a minuscule fraction of the One Consciousness, and the wisest choice is to align with That.”

When we clear away the theological inquiries, the metaphysical riddles and the myriad practices that flood the spiritual marketplace, we are – in my opinion – stranded in a loneliness that feels like checkmate. We possess all this knowledge and witnessing of sages, saints and scholars who have either found their way Home, or who seem to know the path – but what does this knowledge get us? Does it bring us any closer to God? Or does it provide yet another diversion from a direct experience of God?

At a certain point, our prayer, meditation and/or contemplation must put us into immanent union with the Ultimate – with God – and it must provide a constant remembrance of our true relationship with That. Further, it must lead us to utter surrender – even when it means years and years of struggle (Dark Night of the Soul), as our false sense of separateness is whittled to the bone.

In the end, a life of prayer leads to genuine relinquishment, where all false beliefs go to die.  Constancy in prayer, meditation and contemplation provides the intelligence, power, guidance and communion that alleviate the utter loneliness that meets me at every turn. I cannot ultimately rely on myself, nor can I rely on other flailing humans – but I can rely on the LIFE-NESS that was, is and always will be in and around me, making Itself available as the Answer to the deepest questions I could possibly ask.

All that is required is to continually die to myself, either through conscious letting-go or through kicking and screaming every step of the way.

This is my notion of prayer.

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Gary keeps after it, engaging the “war within Christianity” as to whether God sends sinners to eternal torment… or do we find salvation at some point along the soul’s journey?

Hebrews 4:12: For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

Albert Barnes says about this verse:

It is to show that we cannot escape the notice of God; that all insincerity, unbelief, hypocrisy, will be detected by him; and that since our hearts are perfectly open before him, we should be sincere and should not attempt to deceive him.

Why do we act like God won’t see into our hearts? Why do we live as though God can’t see us?

After all:

James 1:18: Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.

None of us is truly separate from our Creator.

We may as well acknowledge this truth, and live each moment accordingly — as best we can, giving to the effort all that we have.

Karl Barth's 14-Volume Church Dogmatics

 

Barth’s impact on the study of theology is immense, not only in his systematic and dogmatic constructions, but also in his construal of the history of church doctrine. One of Barth’s legacies was the inauguration of generations of historiography that sought to distinguish between the core insights of the Reformation and in the Barthian judgment the scholastic trappings that shrouded Calvin and to a greater extent the succeeding generations of Protestant orthodox theologians. Jordan J. Ballor

My wife and father teamed up to buy me Karl Barth’s 14-volume English translation of Church Dogmatics, making this (my 48th) one of the more meaningful birthday celebrations since childhood.

I’ve already situated the set on my desktop shelves, right here in front of my laptop, just above my Collected C.G. Jung.

I know, I know — my enthusiasm will not be shared by most.

For me, however, to be confronted daily by this much intellectual virtuosity, knowledge, synthesis and insight is a mystical boon — and if you’ve ever read the prose of either Barth or Jung (even in translation), you know what a stream-of-consciousness psychedelic experience it often is.

Now, the most amazing part.

This set is priced at the publisher’s website for $995.00 US. At Amazon, they’ve got it for $671.62.

But… at Christianbook, you, too, may receive this theological treasure for the low, low price of… $99.00.

Or… if you’re really into this thing, you can cough up $395.00 (down from $1095.00) at Christianbook for a paperback Church Dogmatics Study Edition 31-volume set, from T&T Clark International. For the extra bucks, you get the original German beside a revised English translation — and, hey, it’s only money, right?

As for me, I couldn’t be happier than to receive this handsome Hendrickson hardback set, into which I am about to dive headlong.

Yippee!!!!!!!

This post is offered in mindful acknowledgment of my new friendship with Peter J. Walker, who is an up-and-coming voice within the Movement….

From Wikipedia:

The emerging church (sometimes referred to as the emergent movement or emergent conversation) is a Christian movement of the late 20th and early 21st century that crosses a number of theological boundaries: participants can be described as evangelical, protestant, roman catholic, post-evangelical, anabaptist, adventist, liberal, post-liberal, reformed, charismatic, neocharismatic, post-charismatic, conservative, and post-conservative. Proponents, however, believe the movement transcends such “modernist” labels of “conservative” and “liberal,” calling the movement a “conversation” to emphasize its developing and decentralized nature, its vast range of standpoints, and its commitment to dialogue. Participants seek to live their faith in what they believe to be a “postmodern” society. What those involved in the conversation mostly agree on is their disillusionment with the organized and institutional church and their support for the deconstruction of modern Christian worship, modern evangelism, and the nature of modern Christian community.

Here is the Movement’s home base:

Emergent Village is a growing, generative friendship among missional Christians seeking to love our world in the Spirit of Jesus Christ.

Here is one of the Movement’s Big Poobahs:

Brian D. McLaren is an author, speaker, pastor, and networker among innovative Christian leaders, thinkers, and activists.

He is a frequent guest on television, radio, and news media programs. He has appeared on many broadcasts including Larry King Live, Religion and Ethics Newsweekly, and Nightline. His work has also been covered in Time (where he was listed as one of American’s 25 most influential evangelicals), Christianity Today, Christian Century, the Washington Post, and many other print media.

Born in 1956, he graduated from University of Maryland with degrees in English (BA, summa cum laude, 1978, and MA, in 1981). His academic interests included Medieval drama, Romantic poets, modern philosophical literature, and the novels of Dr. Walker Percy. In 2004, he was awarded a Doctor of Divinity Degree (honoris causa) from Carey Theological Seminary in Vancouver, BC, Canada.

[…]

Brian has been active in networking and mentoring church planters and pastors since the mid 1980’s, and has assisted in the development of several new churches. He is a popular conference speaker and a frequent guest lecturer at seminaries and denominational gatherings,nationally and internationally. His public speaking covers a broad range of topics including postmodern thought and culture, Biblical studies, evangelism, leadership, global mission, spiritual formation, worship, pastoral survival and burnout, inter-religious dialogue, ecology, and social justice.

Another Poobah:

Tony [Jones] is the author of The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier and is theologian-in-residence at Solomon’s Porch in Minneapolis. He is the author of many books on Christian ministry and spirituality and is a sought after speaker and consultant in the areas of emerging church, postmodernism, and Christian spirituality. Tony has three children and lives in Edina, Minnesota.

Poobah the Third:

Hi, I am Doug [Pagitt]. Thanks for visiting my site. When it comes to these sorta-formal, non-personal, psueo-professional introductions I like to refer to myself as a social and theological entrepreneur (something I would never do if we were to meet in person).

My work-life has a few aspects to it.

* * *

I have not read any of the Movement’s books, but I’ve been reading associated blogs and listening to various podcasts (like this one, which is really fun — lots of beer, clinking glasses, laughter and other assorted bar sounds).

My impression is that there is very, very little organization going on in this movement, by design. There is an aversion toward top-down hierarchical control, and an admirable recognition of myriad social justice issues that inform emerging theology in ways that I respect.

Part of me wonders, where the hell were these people in 1982, when I left the church in disgust? Where were the “homebrewed Christians” who love to unwind with a cold alcoholic beverage while discussing the Five Points of Calivinism?

Another part of me notices that I went through my “busting out” phase a long time ago, such that partying has long-ago been replaced by the self-arising bliss, joy and ecstasy of a rigorous contemplative lifestyle — and I now long for a Christian movement that recognizes and honors Christianity’s ecstatic beginnings:

1When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

5Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. 7And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? 9Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” 12And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.”

No, we don’t have to run around speaking in “other tongues.”

From direct experience, however (as reflected in many Eastern scriptural and teaching texts), the spiritual gifts spoken of in 1 Corinthians 12-14 are alive and well in the experiences of rigorous and skillful contemplatives, many of whom offer mutual support in peer environments here and here. Beyond the institutional Church, there are many (like me) who grew up as Christians, who continue to experience a direct and profound connection with Jesus Christ… but who have encountered varying levels of demonization, repression, aggression, avoidance, disdain and marginalization by “the priesthhood,” such that they had to look elsewhere for succor, understanding and guidance.

The obvious question, then, is whether or not the Emergent Movement offers a place for exiled Christians whose devotional practice has given rise to ecstatic phenomena and are looking for biblical grounding, spiritual fellowship and safe harbor — in short, something resembling the scene created by first century Christians.

Is the ecstatic — which has been traditionally persecuted within most major religious traditions, including Christianity — even part of the conversation… and, if not, would someone like me be welcomed to engage such a conversation within the Movement?

Can I be in the club…?