“Dimension of the divine”.

“And the goal… is not to pray to God or have God tell you what to do, but to realize that you have been, all along, contrary to all of your illusions, a dimension of the divine. And in moments of heightened spiritual awareness, the boundary line… momentarily is erased, momentarily is blurred, and it’s no longer clear where you end and God begins.”

– Lawrence Kushner, scholar-in-residence at Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco, from his conversation with Krista Tippett on On Being

 

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I AM

Fact: when Jesus spoke to the crowds of people that gathered to listen to him, he the spoke in an ancient Semetic language called Aramaic. Another fact: the English language version of Jesus’ teachings that we have access to today were not translated from Aramaic, but instead translated from Greek after first being filtered through Greek philosophy and greek language.

Consequently, much of the modern English canonical gospels are a representation – and sometimes a downright manipulation – of the teachings of Jesus that best supported the Greek culture and worldview at the time.

That’s a hard one to swallow if you have been living your life according to every single Greek-to-English word of your NIV, KJV, NLT, ESV, or even AMP version of the Bible. Nevertheless, it’s important – and I think that every serious Christian, and every serious spiritual seeker should be well-informed about this.

Because here’s the thing: if you attempt to throw that translation process into reverse, and get as close as you can to the original meaning of the original words that Jesus spoke, you wind up getting confronted with some pretty significant challenges to the fundamental ideology of a lot of modern, western Christian thinking.

For example,

“In Aramaic, the word that is later translated as ‘I am’ is really ‘I-I.’ Aramaic doesn’t have a ‘being’ verb. You can’t actually say ‘I am’ in ancient Aramaic, nor can you do it in ancient Hebrew, as far as that goes. So really what Jesus is saying is, ‘I-I.’ [In other words:] The connection of the small self, which in Aramaic is called ‘nafsha’, is the self that is growing, evolving, learning through life. And the connection between that and the greater self, or what would be called the ‘only I’, ‘the only being’, ‘Alaha’, or ‘the One’, or ‘God’.”

– Neil Douglas Klotz, from his interview on Insights At The Edge via Sounds True.

I cannot tell you how many times some well-intentioned Christian person has reminded me that Jesus once said “I am the way, the truth, and the light”, as a way to justify their idea that belief in the person of Jesus is the only legitimate path to heaven.

It gives me no satisfaction whatsoever to spoil anyone’s worldview in a painful way, but is of great significance to me that the word(s) “I am” would not have been linguistically available to Jesus in the language in which he was teaching at the time. Furthermore, if what he actually said was something closer to the Aramaic word for “I-I”, this piece of Jesus’ message – and it’s theological implication – becomes quite transformed.

Curiously, in many other religious, psychological, and philosophical disciplines the idea of a relationship between a “small self” and a “greater Self” – as indicated by this Aramaic word “I-I” – is a common theme. This is more common in far Eastern spiritualities, where concepts of “Buddha nature“, “Atman and Brahman“, and “Tao” invite it’s practitioners to seek spiritual enlightenment by liberating oneself from a “small-self only” orientation towards oneself and the world, and uncover a connection to the [choose your favorite word for the divine, i.e. God, Source, the One, Only-I, etc.] within.

Western psychology also has a way of conceptualizing this phenomena. The notion of the “small self” would probably be best described as “ego”. Ego, in psychological terms, is understood as the part of ourselves we experience as limited by time and space, and contained within a physical form. Ego, or small self, is something I’m confident we can all identify with; it’s the part of ourselves that worries about whether people like us, if we will be able to pay the rent, whether we will be happy, or what might make us happier.

Additionally, there are transpersonal psychological theories that discuss the idea of a “greater Self”, and often point to this concept as a fundamental part of psycho-spiritual health. In Jungian psychology for example, there is this notion that self-realization is available only through the development of an ego-Self (as in, greater Self) axis, or the ability to get your ego and the divine part of your consciousness talking to each other on the regular.

So, here’s what the phrase “I-I” means to me: “The way, the truth, and the light” is accessible to everyone. There is no dogma that can dictate this path, and there is no governing body to decide how it must be done. There is just you-YOU. You, the vulnerable human being subject to all the vicissitudes of your daily experiences. And YOU, the you that’s got a direct line to God.

Perhaps Jesus was saying, “Look, if you can get these two aspects of yourself – the human and the divine – communing with one another”, well … that is the way, that is the truth, and that is the light of human existence.

 

Maybe

Sweet Jesus, talking
his melancholy madness,
stood up in the boat
and the sea lay down,
silky and sorry.
So everybody was saved
that night.
But you know how it is

when something
different crosses
the threshold — the uncles
mutter together,

the women walk away,
the young brother begins
to sharpen his knife.
Nobody knows what the soul is.

It comes and goes
like the wind over the water —
sometimes, for days,
you don’t think of it.

Maybe, after the sermon,
after the multitude was fed,
one or two of them felt
the soul slip forth
like a tremor of pure sunlight
before exhaustion,
that wants to swallow everything,
gripped their bones and left them

miserable and sleepy,
as they are now, forgetting
how the wind tore at the sails
before he rose and talked to it —

tender and luminous and demanding
as he always was —
a thousand times more frightening
than the killer storm.

By Mary Oliver

The Religious Right

“Jesus never asked anyone to form a church, ordain priests, develop elaborate rituals and institutional cultures, and splinter into denominations. His two great requests were that we “love one another as I have loved you” and that we share bread and wine together as an open channel of that interabiding love.”

― Cynthia Bourgeault, The Wisdom Jesus

I left the church in 2005 because of an absolutely irreconcilable conflict between the moral code I found in the pages of gospel, and the values I saw being paraded out by the institutional church in America. (Not everyone; not every church, but still far too many).

Ten years later, I am trying to go back to church, and hoping to find people who take the actual example of Jesus seriously by loving one another well. Period. No other agenda.

A lot of my Christian friends talk with me about their feelings of grief over the way the loudest, most extreme “spokespersons” for their faith behave. I feel the same way, which inspires me to sympathize deeply with the sincere practitioners of Islam who must simultaneously watch their faith become so grossly misrepresented by groups of terror-inciting extremists.

So, why does it always happen this way?

It seems to me that the MINUTE the religious institution gets in bed with any branch of the government, we might as well brace ourselves for deep spiritual loss.

The history of the church in this country is complex, and I have no interest in romanticizing it. But there was a time when the church was brand new – just Jesus and his crew – and it was exceedingly good. Compassion and humility were the moral cornerstones of that community, and a belief that “Heaven” could be realized when we are able make peace with ourselves and each other in the *present* moment.

TELL ME, PLEASE: how did we get so far away from that?

The following video is offensive in many ways. I wish it weren’t. I wish it were less satire, and more documentary film. I wish the woman delivering the message could communicate the information in it without having to make fun of some of the people featured in the clip. Samantha Bee may be one of the funniest people on late night TV right now, and I really appreciate a lot of her work. But I also appreciate that her humor is often mean & biting. (I guess we just can’t all be Ellen, the good-person saint of comedy).

Nevertheless, Bee is able to use comedy to expose something fairly underrepresented in the more mainstream media, and grossly underrepresented in church, and I think it’s worth sharing in spite of it’s tone.

You can watch the video by clicking this link: The Religious Right.

I believe that this is why the church has such a negative image in America. This is why people with moral sensibilities about how to treat others who are different than themselves, and how to treat the planet we all inhabit together wind up leaving and loathing the church.

It’s a big deal. We have to confront it. I’m doing my part. Sam Bee did hers, I guess, too.

“Quick to listen, slow to speak.”

“The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists in listening to them. Just as love to God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them.

Christians, especially ministers, so often think they must always contribute something when they are in the company of others, that this is the one service they have to render.

Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking where they should be listening. But he who can no longer listen to his brother will soon be no longer listening to God either; he will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God too.

This is the beginning of the death of the spiritual life”.

– Deitrich Bonhoeffer, from Life Together

Sodom

Did you know that the biblical story of Sodom’s destruction is really a referendum on inhospitality? (Hint: not homosexuality).

#true.

Here’s the story: A man named Lot is the protagonist in this tale, and is described in this story as a “servant of the Lord”. He lives in Sodom, which happens to be an aggressively hedonistic town. According to the tale, the people in it are consumed with reckless greed and lust, which often times turns violent.

One day, Lot (our main character), sees two angels (i.e. living, breathing, divine messengers) walking up to the city gates of Sodom. He rushes towards them, and begs them to come stay in his house – in order that he might protect them from the violence of the city. They agree to this, and all is going well for a brief little moment.

Not terribly long after their arrival at Lot’s house, however, “all the men from every quarter” of the city surround the house and start yelling for Lot to surrender these heavenly visitors to them so that they can rape them. [Short hand: Some drunk, belligerent, and obviously violent men want to rape God’s angels, whom Lot has taken personal responsibility for by agreeing to house them.]

Soooooo, Lot goes outside and pleads intensely with the men at his door to leave them be, and even goes so far as to offer up his virgin daughters to the men in exchange for the angels. Of course, this is all kinds of troubling to me, but it’s also important for us to understand that at this time in history women were regarded as significantly less valuable than men (property), and humans as less valuable than angels, I imagine.

You tracking with me? Because this part is supremely critical: LOT IS NOT OFFERING HIS DAUGHTERS TO THE MEN OUTSIDE HIS DOOR BECAUSE SEX BETWEEN A MAN AND A WOMAN IS BETTER THAN SEX BETWEEN A MAN AND A MAN. Instead, he is offering his daughters to these men because he believes that allowing these men to abuse a piece of his own property is better than allowing these men to abuse two of God’s messengers.

Do you understand?

The Bible itself describes Sodom in this way:

“Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy”. – Ezekiel 16:49

Now, I do not see one single word about homosexuality in there.

Do you?

So, did I miss something? OR, is it just SO.MUCH.MORE.CONVENIENT for modern heterosexual Christians to convince themselves that homosexuality (something that doesn’t touch them personally) incurs the wrath of God instead of what the Bible actually says – i.e. arrogance, overindulgence, and indifference (something that may strike a bit closer to home)?????!

On behalf of every single LGBTQ+ person who has been needlessly tortured by their religious family, friends, clergy members, and law makers, I am sick and sorry about that.

Perhaps we can start making some progress here if we all understand the original story better.

Goddess

“We need Goddess consciousness to reveal earth’s holiness. Divine feminine imagery opens up the notion that the earth is the body of the Divine, and when that happens, the Divine cannot be contained solely in a book, church, dogma, liturgy, theological system, or transcendent spirituality. The earth is no longer a mere backdrop until we get to heaven, something secondary and expendable. Mat[t]er becomes inspirited; it breathes divinity.” — Sue Monk Kidd

I admit it. The word “Goddess” is a leap for me sometimes.

It’s so hard to redefine the concept of God we inherited in our youth. In fact, I think it’s often easier to simply reject God outright, rather than allow God to become truly expanded in our hearts and minds.

Nevertheless, this is what I am trying to do.

I am trying to discover all of the things that got left on the “cutting room floor” when my own religious tradition became canonized and organized. So, I pay attention to words like these because they confront me.

Reading this, I hear myself thinking “Ah, yes, that must be true. But, oh my, how uncomfortable too. I don’t know how to get there genuinely yet”.

…That’s all.