Tuesday, September 23, 2008, 10:39 PM
I wrote this in October 2004, when I really started finding myself spiritually. Rereading it now, it reminds me of how and why I started searching...and what I started finding.
371d36d75e05eda735858f8e467be99c"Let him who seeks not cease until he finds, and when he finds he shall wonder; wondering he shall reign, and reigning shall rest."
~ Saying 2, Gospel of Thomas
"Religion is a crutch for those who can't think for themselves."
~ Quote displayed on the bag of B.B., a fellow educator and former colleague
One of the biggest arguments in religious discussions throughout history addresses which writings should be considered "divine" or "inspired by God". Those that are considered inspired are included as part of "Scripture" or the canonical Bible. The Jewish scriptures have been stable for thousands of years - these are the books that Christians call the "Old Testament". After the time of Jesus, Christians added the canonical Gospels and the epistles (letters written by followers of Jesus). In the infancy of the Roman Catholic Church, eight more books were added to the Old Testament because they were deemed to be "inspired". Groups separated from this Catholic (meaning "universal") church mostly because those who were trying to establish this world-wide Christian church felt regulations and leadership were needed to ensure the proper practice of the faith. Many of these groups did not accept the eight books the Catholic church leaders added because they were not part of the original Jewish scriptures. Since Jesus himself relied on those original Jewish scriptures in his teachings, they did not feel men really had the authority to just add books in.
That thought leads to something much larger and more interesting. Does man have the ability to determine what is "divinely inspired" and what is not? A close examination of one well-documented argument in the early Church pushes this idea to its climax. It pitted Christian against Christian in a war over which apostle was right about Jesus' purpose here on earth. Those who won saw their apostle's writing accepted as part of the canon. Those who didn't saw their apostle's writing all but completely removed from the face of the earth.
John versus Thomas. Bring that up to anyone of a Christian persuasion in the first 500 years after Jesus and you'd be sure to get an emotional reaction. The Gospel of John is, of course, included in the canon, although almost all who have read all four canonical gospels would agree that John is the farthest removed of the four. The Gospel of Thomas was lost completely until the early 1900s, when fragments were found in the Oxyrhynchus Papyrus. A complete version was found as part of the largest discovery of texts written about the time of Jesus - the Nag Hammadi library, a set of 4th century manuscripts written in Greek and found near Nag Hammadi, Egypt. These manuscripts are believed to be translations of earlier documents translated from Hebrew by scholars (who at that time traditionally used Greek). The Gospel of Thomas is by far the most famous of these manuscripts, which also included gospels of Phillip (another apostle) and Mary Magdalene as well as several letters attributed to Peter.
Why is the Gospel of Thomas so famous? Simple. It was the source of major disagreement. Mark was the first Gospel written; Matthew and Luke came shortly afterward. All three of these are quite narrative in nature and have many similarities. Then there was John and Thomas. (If you want to read more about this battle, check out Elaine Pagel's book "Beyond Belief", which documents this very closely.)
So what did the "Johannian" Christians (who were more vocal in the leadership of the early Catholic church) have against the "Thomas" Christians? When one boils it down, there was one very obvious difference with Thomas' depiction of Jesus. Thomas' Jesus preached that heaven was here on earth, that God was inside of each of us and we only needed to search for Him to find peace. Thomas' Jesus encourages the questioning of one's individual faith. The early church leaders didn't like this much at all. John's Jesus was more up their alley - that God is outside of us and following the teachings of this human Jesus was the only way to reach Him and thus reach heaven. The early church leaders preferred the idea that people needed to listen to someone else in order to reach heaven. Well, leaders like to think that people need their leadership, so this makes perfect sense.
My point, though... the decision of what to include in the canonical Bible was made by HUMANS. Granted, they could have been acting on instructions from God. But how do we know that? I suppose that's where "faith" comes in. But is that faith in God, or faith in some other person's relationship with God? Could God have spoken to those who made those decisons? Sure. Did He? I don't know. Some argue that in a sense, God "wrote" the books that are included in the Bible by divinely inspiring the authors. Again, could that have happened? Sure. Did it? I don't know. I have no way of really knowing which texts are the ones to follow without listening to another person's opinion.
I'm not discounting the validity of the documents included in the Bible. I love what they say, obviously, because I quote them often. I live my life in many ways based on what I read in them. In fact, I carry a pocket-sized copy of the Gospel of John with me almost everywhere I go, and turn to dog-eared pages to read highlighted quotes for comfort daily. But who's to really say that the Gospel of Thomas and documents like it aren't just as good to read? I believe that if something you read inspires you to be a better person, helps you feel spiritually more complete, and leads to you setting an example of God's influence to those around you and helping others live better lives, then read away. To me, it's more important for a written text to be "inspiring" rather than "inspired".
As for the quotes above... that one from Thomas is one of my favorites, and it points out the whole problem the early leaders had with his writings. One has to look for answers - sincerely look, with an open mind - and when he does, questions will arise. As he continues his personal quest, he will be awestruck what he learns, and only through that quest can he gain true understanding.
The other quote is a popular saying among philosophers. The religion referred to is organized religion, not personal belief. Often people consider themselves religious because they believe what is written in the Bible or what is spoken by those they consider authorities. They live basically as they are told to live. And they live great lives, don't get me wrong. But they are accepting things told to them by others rather than reaching those conclusions on their own search for truth.
When I first started questioning my faith, I wasn't questioning the things said in the Bible. I still don't, really. I questioned why things happened as they did in my life. I looked to the Bible for answers, but the question remained. I started to think rather than just read. And when my mind opened, the questions grew exponentially (which is probably why people like the whole acceptance approach). Now I'm starting to put the pieces together, and I'm feeling more spiritually renewed and at peace than I ever have. I have to believe Thomas' second saying is right, no matter what the authorities say or how uncomfortable it makes people. My faith is stronger and deeper than it ever has been, and for the first time ever in my life I have felt it is strong enough to talk about with a passion to anyone willing to listen with an open mind.
Wednesday, September 10, 2008, 1:52 PM
Continuing from a previous installment...
I remember my first conversation with a true Gnostic. She was hesitant to even speak with me; after all, I was a researcher and certainly did not have "the spark". But she kindly went through the beliefs of Gnosticism for me.
The theory (which, by the way, don't ever mention the words "theory", "religion", or "philosophy" around a true Gnostic -- their way simply is the truth, and if you don't get that, than you simply "don't have the spark". You can't win with these folks.) is positively ancient, dating back to some of our earliest surviving texts. Even Plato mentions parts of the Gnostic legend. Many writers during the period of Enlightenment wrote about it, particularly Voltaire and William Blake. Gnostics claim the Book of Genesis as one of their primary texts, and as I read Genesis with an understanding of Gnostic thought, I can see why. The creator god (Yaldabaoth, in their belief system) is a flaw god and always separates himself from humanity by proclaiming his omnipotence and omnipresence. (The contrast between the OT God and the NT God had always bothered me. Their creator god was the flawed, angry god of the OT.)
An interesting note in the Gnostic belief system (well, interesting to me) is that while Yaldabaoth created Adam, Sophia (his mother and a completely divine Aeon) sent her daughter Zoe (also called Eve) as a teacher for Adam. This ticked Yaldabaoth off, and he sent angels to see what had happened. Eventually these archangels (who were also creations of the flawed Yaldabaoth, the creator god) impregnated Eve with Cain and Abel, and evil actually was spread through humanity from other flawed creatures. [from "On the Origin of the World" and confirmed in "The Hypostasis of the Archons", both found in the Nag Hammadi documents]
The whole Gnostic belief system is quite fascinating. It's very well developed and clear traces of almost every other religion are very clear within it....but when almost anyone in any other religion looks at it, they think it's one of the craziest things they've ever heard... until they really look at the parallels to what is already well known. Makes one wonder about EVERY organized religion and just how sane we all are, really.
Now, books such as The Gospel of Thomas and the recently found Gospel of Judas Iscariot are considered gnostic, but they clearly are not by the "Gnostic" definition (they don't propogate that belief system). And they possess knowledge just like any other book of the Bible, so they are just as gnostic as any other book. Therefore, they fall into the mysterious and flawed third category... those books claiming to have some secret knowledge of Jesus and/or God.
Judas Iscariot does claim at the beginning of his gospel that what he wrote happened in conversations between Jesus and himself in private (and therefore secret). Thomas makes no such claim; he simply says that the sayings were "secret" (said only in the presence of the apostles) and Thomas wrote them down. Mary Magdalene and Philip make no claims at all. So why these gospels are considered gnostic boils down to the fact that they possess knowledge of the time of Jesus... knowledge we didn't have before. And of course, gnostic now has a slightly negative edge to it.
A fascinating look at the Gospel of Thomas (and the four Canonical Gospels) is offered here: http://www.utoronto.ca/religion/synopsis/meta-5g.htm . This site has five separate windows, one with each Gospel. Each Gospel has a little book at the top, and each book is a different color. As you read a Gospel, you'll see the little books throughout them. For example, in the Gospel of Matthew, I see a little green book at the top next to the Geneology of Jesus. The green book signifies the Gospel of Luke. If I click on that little green book in Matthew, I'll see that the window with Luke (the third window over) will go to the place where the same topic is discussed.
I LOVE that site. It really started showing me that not all the gospels have the same info, yet some stories are in all four (and thus theoretically more reliable... or are they??? That's a different entry :) ). For the Gospel of Thomas, it showed me that it's really just as legitimate as the other four... it just says other things. I'll leave the Gospel of Thomas and its specific message for another entry as well.
So... more on "gnostic" texts to come.
Wednesday, September 10, 2008, 1:05 PM
One influence on my personal spirituality is the so-called "gnostic" texts. Both their contents and how I came to know them affected my inner search for peace.
One day about eleven years ago or so, I grabbed my husband's King James Bible (he's Lutheran) to look up a quote from the Book of Wisdom for a friend... only to find no Book of Wisdom. Perplexed by this, I wandered to my nightstand and pulled out my St. Joseph's Catholic and compared the table of contents.... and just about fainted. Not only was Wisdom (one of my favorite books, btw) missing, but Judith, Tobit, the Macabees twins, Baruch, Esther (omg, ESTHER!) and *insert gasps here* Ecclesiastes were also noticeably absent from the KJV.
My first thought after getting over the shock was... this is sooo gonna mess up the rap song we learned in high school to remember the books of the OT. My second thought was... what the.....?
Ah... my first encounter with the Apocrypha -- the eight books that Christians inserted into the canon of Scripture that were not already in the Hebrew canon of Scripture because they were deemed to be "inspired" by God. Later, Protestant churches removed these books with the thought being that since Jesus did not preach or pray from these books (as he was a Jew, he would have preached and prayed the Hebrew scriptures as they were), then they should not be included in the OT. The Roman Catholic Church defended their inclusion for the same reason the early Christians first put them in... and also simply because the first Christians put them in.
By "early Christians" here, we refer to the Latin authors, not the earlier Greek. Augustine, bishop of Hippo on the northern coast of Africa, was the first to include them (all but Baruch) in a list in the year 395... but more prominently, Pope Innocent 1, Bishop of Rome, issued a list with them included in the year 405 and they have been included ever since.
The Apocrypha led me straight to the so-called "gnostic" texts. If there were books in the Catholic Bible that weren't in other Bibles, then chances are there are other books out there that aren't included in ours... right?
My book club (thank you, QPB) provided the perfect answer with "The Secret Teachings of Jesus", translated by Marvin W. Meyer. I jumped on it; even had it delivered to school just so I could start looking at it over my planning hour when it came. This book contains four gnostic gospels: The Secret Book of James, The Gospel of Thomas, The Book of Thomas, and the Secret Book of John. I pounced. And I loved it.
After reading that book (in about a day's time), I ordered the complete translation of the Nag Hammadi documents, which includes many texts, many of which are considered gnostic (the gospels of Thomas, Philip, Mary Magdalene, and the Egyptians are all in there) and some of which truly are Gnostic in the theological sense. I also ordered the complete translation of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Elaine Pagel's book Beyond Belief. And I dove in.
So what can I share with you on this first entry about gnostic texts? There's so much. But let me start here. There are two main ideas of "gnostic". One is the simple idea of the word -- the lowercase definition. The word gnostic comes from the Greek word gnosis, which means knowledge. For something to be considered gnostic, it simply possesses or pertains to knowledge. So, for instance, a calculus textbook is gnostic in that it possesses knowledge of calc. A school is gnostic in that it pertains to the acquisition of knowledge. The word is most often used in relation to spiritual matters, however. In that sense, the entire Bible is gnostic, since it contains knowledge of spiritual matters.
The second, initial capital letter idea of the word is the philosophical, almost mythological concept of Gnosticism. Very few people know that this is an actual theory of creation and existence. I'll try to summarize it as best I can.
In the Gnostic view, there is one True God, a transcendant Being from which all else emanates. S/He/It does not create anything, but all is of S/He/It. Then there are intermediate beings called Aeons that exist between the one True God and ourselves (inferior deities, if you prefer). They, together with the one True God, comprise and reside in the realm of Fullness (called the Pleroma). Our existential state, by contrast, can only be called emptiness.
One of the Aeons, Sophia (Wisdom), emanated a flawed consciousness. This flawed consciousness, being half divine and half flawed, created the physical world and imagined itself to be the ultimate creator and the one true god.
As far as salvation goes... Gnostics believe that some people have a "divine spark" within them -- a glimmer, if you will, of the one True God rather than a focus on the flawed creator god. They believe that they (or those who show interest in their teachings) are those with the divine spark. And, of course, those with the divine spark are the ones that will be fine in the end... after all, the one True God has nothing to do with us.
When you sit down and discuss this philosophy with a true Gnostic, and you question him/her in any way, the person will merely smile and say something to the effect of, "It's ok. Perhaps you don't have the spark...in which case you may as well just leave. I can't explain it to you." In that sense, their knowledge is secret; they can't share because it wouldn't matter anyway.
Over time, these two very different definitions of gnostic have molded together into the third definition: people or texts that claim to have secret knowledge about Jesus and/or God that others cannot or do not possess.
(will finish tom)
Tuesday, September 9, 2008, 12:21 PM
As a churchgoing, religiously educated Catholic, I was quite the sheltered teenager...
I grew up in a household with a Catholic mother who was the organist at our local parish and the secretary at the Catholic elementary we attended. My father was a Lutheran who was a church elder and sometimes president of his congregation. (It worked; don't ask me how.) All of my siblings and I attended Catholic high school and still have the books of the Catholic Bible memorized. The Canon was drilled into us just as much as math, science, and history.
I paid my dues, passing every class with flying colors and graduating with very high honors. I still remember the only joke the priest who taught sophomore religion knew: "Make sure when you list the books of the New Testament that you have 2 Letters of Peter and 3 Letters of John... otherwise, you'll have too many Peters and not enough Johns." Oh, what a knee-slapper.
I distinctly remember when everything started changing for me.
I was a junior in high school. My best friend had asked to go to the bathroom while we were in Social Justice class. After twenty minutes or so, the teacher asked if any of us were close to her. I raised my hand, and she asked me to go check on her. When I walked into the bathroom, I saw my friend standing at the sink with a cup of water in one hand and a full bottle of pills in the other.
She looked at me, a look I did not at all comprehend at the time. Quite honestly, I thought she must have a really bad headache. You see, I had absolutely no clue. None. Not only no clue that she felt suicidal; I had no clue that anyone ever felt that way. That's when it started....when I started to realize that there was a world outside of the sheltered Catholic (with a sprinkle of Lutheran) world I had been in all my life.
That's about the same time I stopped going to confession (who needs a middle man when I can talk right to God?) and stopped listening to the sermon at Mass (did I really need someone else's interpretation of what was just read to me?). I went to Mass to keep my mother happy (wonderful woman, my mother). When I went away to college, I continued to go for three reasons: (a) my sister lived in the same town and would have ratted me out to my mom if I didn't go; (b) one of the priests at the church adapted one of the phrases in the Mass to read, "Deliver us from all useless anxiety", and I always thought the addition of "useless" was funny; and (c) the other priest at the church was REALLY cute.
That was as rebellious as I got. I know; it's an outrage.
Looking back, the interesting thing about it is that I didn't get upset and wonder why the God I was raised to believe in didn't protect my friend, or any of the stuff I probably should have been angry about. I was just... blindsided. Shocked that this whole other side of the world and emotions and life could even exist. And I wanted to know about it... but at the same time, I didn't know what questions to ask or how to safely go about investigating things. (I was a good girl, after all. Had to be safe.)
Within the next two years, seven people with whom I had close relationships had encounters with suicide. Two committed suicide -- my uncle and one of my friends who lived in the dorm room next to me my freshman year in college. One had an episode in the shower where she curled up in a fetal position screaming because the walls reminded her of the institution where she had spent so many days in her high school years for suicide attempts. I personally escorted one of my very closest friends to the campus counselors' office because she had been expressing suicidal plans to me. My boyfriend called almost every day with new plans, and I had to talk him out of it constantly. Twice I had to make road trips home to physically stop him. And my friend from high school attempted four more times (luckily all with pills, and her parents got to her in time to rush her to the hospital and have her stomach pumped).
The seventh was my own first attempt. My sophomore year in college was worse than those two combined.
When a person considers dying that seriously, she also must consider a purpose to life just as seriously.
Monday, September 8, 2008, 11:28 PM
I wish my best friend lived closer... or actually, that we lived closer to her.
I wish my husband would understand.
I wish those papers were graded.
I wish I would have gone to bed two hours ago. I could have.
I wish I didn't have to get up at 4 am to get out the door at 6:10.
I wish I had more time to write and do artwork.
I wish I could take a day off tomorrow. Teachers can't do that like other people can.
I wish I could talk about religion without getting myself into trouble eventually.
I wish the dishes were done.
I wish tomorrow wouldn't come as fast as I know it will once I go to sleep.
I wish my best friend had the time to check her email more often.
I wish my best friend's husband understood how important "girl talk" is.
I wish my husband was here.
I wish my dog was here (he's with my husband).
I wish there was no such thing as wishing... because it's quite depressing to think about what would be cool to have rather than what one has to face.
Monday, September 8, 2008, 10:34 PM
Well, this all probably takes quite a bit of explaining, really. But I figure if anyone's going to keep reading, I ought to just lay some things right out on the table.
I always feel better writing about spiritual issues in brown. Strange to some, I suppose. I think it's probably reflective of the simplicity of what I believe...but then, when I try to explain it, it never seems as simple to anyone else as it does to me.
Let me preface this by saying there will be more installments with background info, influences, questions I encountered, experiences that disturbed me and "enlightened" me, and all that fun stuff. So if that's of interest to you, just check back now and then or subscribe.
The basics of what I believe:
- I do believe there is a "higher power", as some might say. However, my version is more like a perfect spirit that exists on the same plane that our spirits exist. It is this perfect spirit that is the difference between a living organism and a lifeless object -- it is That Which Is Life, so to speak. When I hear the phrase, "God created man in His image," I take it in the sense that the human spirit is that which is the likeness of the perfect spirit. Since we are quite obviously living beings, God (for lack of a better term, but still speaking of said perfect spirit) exists within each of us. The Perfect Spirit also exists within trees and animals; it is just not as symbiotic with those spirits as it is with ours.
- I believe that since our minds are in the way, we cannot ever fully understand the nature of the spiritual plane... and therefore cannot fully understand the nature of that perfect spirit or our own spirits. I also believe that children are the closest to that perfect spirit because their minds aren't in the way as much when they are that young. (This leads to the sense of enlightenment from Buddhism, which in my version is basically as close as one can get to understanding and existing mostly on the spiritual plane.)
- I do not believe in the concept of evil; only the complete absence of good.
- As you might guess, I believe in a dual nature of humans: mind and spirit... and I believe that at most times, the two are at conflict with each other. The mind tries to control the spirit, and the spirit is trying to be free of the mind. When they are in some sense of balance (or shall we say, controlled compromise...like a balanced teeter-totter), things work at their best. When the mind takes control, the spirit is stifled and stress results. When the spirit takes complete control, other people might consider one crazy (or brilliant, depending on what one produces). When the spirit fights extremely hard and the mind fights back, one finds oneself in a state of mental crisis...and possibly mental illness.
- I believe we must nurture our spirits and our minds in order to keep that crucial balance. When we sense them fighting, we must analyze which is in control and which is getting beaten...and level the playing field.
- I believe we all enter this earthly life with immature spirits. The goal of this life is to give our spirits time to grow to a level where they can exist solely on that spiritual plane and hold their own. Every experience -- those that nurture our spirits and those that beat them down -- adds maturity. When our spirits are ready, they will break free from the mind and body and enter the spiritual plane alone, reaching full union with the perfect spirit (as well as full freedom).
That's a lot, as I look back at the words. But when I read it, there's not a lot to it, really. It flows to me. It makes sense... each follows and is closely connected to the other, and everything else I've run across seems to come back to those ideas in some way. That's kinda why I'm settled where I am: when I run across a spiritually troubling situation, I can always find the answer (at least for me) in these core beliefs.
A few other thoughts on some things, since I'm laying myself out right now...
- I believe Jesus of Nazareth was either the human manifestation of the perfect spirit or the closest human spirit to the perfect spirit. I don't know which; it really doesn't matter much to me. I also don't know if he was married to Mary Magdalene and had kids; I don't know if he really rose from the dead three days after they crucified him; I don't know if he was an angry type of fellow or if he was all smiles. In any case, he said a lot of things that comfort me, so in my book, he's a pretty cool dude.
- Mohammad (pbuh) was also a pretty cool dude. So were Guru Nanak Dev Ji, Siddhartha Gautama, Abraham, and several others that I'm missing because it's 9:30 pm after a long day.
- I believe each individual, at some point in his/her life, will reach a sense of personal spirituality deep within. It may be early in life (resulting in rebellious teenage years) or it may be on one's deathbed. But it will be beyond the mind -- beyond merely following the rules of an organized religion.
- I believe organized religions are adaptions humans have made to satisfy their minds in the search for answers. I'm not saying the answers organized religions propose are incorrect at all; only that they are human in origin (ducks from flying objects) and nurture the mind rather than the spirit. However, organized religion can offer solace in many ways, and many may find that sense of deep spirituality rooted in or even mostly in tune with one particular faith.
[For anyone reading this who hasn't read my posts in the "Spirituality and the Mind" thread on Beyond Blue (which shouldn't be many at all), just a quick note: my background is Christian (Catholic, to be precise) and I have a masters' in religious studies...because it fascinates me and I got bored.]
More to come... if anyone has questions or thoughts, feel free to throw them at me in the comments or in an email anytime.
Friday, September 5, 2008, 4:20 PM
"Who is more important, you or others? The conclusion is clear; even if minor suffering happens to all others, its range is infinite, whereas when something happens to me, it is limited to just one person. When we look at others in this way, oneself is not so important." ~ the Dalai Lama
An infinite range of suffering... what an interesting way to look at the world of others. Quite true; we aren't so important in such a world.
Monday, September 1, 2008, 9:54 PM
This weekend, we moved my husband into an apartment in Kentucky where he is working...while we continue living in Missouri and I fulfill my teaching contract -- 400 miles away.
I despise the apartment. I was so utterly and completely uncomfortable there that my skin literally crawled the entire time. It's a nice place; don't get me wrong. But it's a place where he lives. Without us. Away from us. We'd go out and buy things -- like trash cans, a dish rack, a toothbrush holder -- for this... place that he shouldn't be.
THIS is our home. We designed it; we built it believing we'd be here raising our kids for years to come. It's surrounded by woods; the deer and wild turkey walk through our yard often. We have seven acres of woods, actually. The "neighborhood" is quiet but friendly. And it's five minutes from my parents, who are very helpful but getting up in age, where soon the help will have to flow the other direction. I am the only one of their four children that lives within forty miles of their house.
Things change; I know that. Kentucky is beautiful, and there is a wonderful opportunity for me to move ahead professionally there.
But I can't deny that I despise that apartment.
I realized this weekend that my emotions are completely shut down. I moved only with thorough purpose. I slept when some purpose wasn't clear to me. My kids, who of course bring out the most emotion, irritated the begeebers out of me -- probably because I was subconsciously trying to keep all the emotions safely inside and they threatened that the most. My best friend, who lives 1200 miles away and who I've been dying to see, called to say she might be able to come soon... and I felt nothing. No excitement, no flicker of anything. (That really shocked me, though I know it will change if it actually comes to pass.)
And I know it hurt my husband. I left with a weak hug and could barely speak with him at all today. I did tell him I hated the place, and I know he knows why. It's what it represents that I can't stand.
My parents called tonight to remind me that they are going out of town tomorrow until Sunday. So I'm truly on my own this week. No chance for a break from the roles I play... mom, teacher, mom, crash. Every night.
If I could, I'd take a time-out... a mental health day. I can't. Life keeps coming. So I'm shut down and going through each day like a zombie on human autopilot. It's no way to live, but if I turn myself back on I'm truly scared of the consequences.
Saturday, August 2, 2008, 11:49 AM
"Some years ago I met some scientists in the United States who said that the rate of mental illness in their country was quite high - around twelve percent of the population. It became clear during our discussion that the main cause of the depression was not a lack of material necessities but a deprivation of the affection of others. This is very sad. Humans are not solitary animals that associate only in order to mate."
~ The Dalai Lama
When I think of depression, I wonder... it's clear to me that it's definite a case of the (perceived?) deprivation of the affection of others and not material things. But it's also a case of being unable to give affection as well. It's retreating into "the cave", as all of us suffering from depression know. Isolation...so focused inward that we can't even see the affection that is out there for us.
Just...something I thought of when I read this. I'll chew on it for a while.
Monday, July 14, 2008, 12:30 AM
People aren't confused by the Gospel. They're confused by us. People don't need our religion, our denomination or our translation of the Bible. They just need God. We can be passionate about what we believe, but we can't strap ourselves to the Gospel because we're slowing it down. God is going to save the world. Maybe the best thing we can do is just get out of the way. ~ Mark Hall
This is one of my absolute favorite lyrical messages in Christian music. It's from the dialogue section of Casting Crown's "What This World Needs" (paraphrased very slightly). It captures my feelings on spiritual peace quite well.
I can't say I'm against organized religion. It doesn't suit me personally, but I do believe that for some it is good. I do believe, however, that many who participate in organized religion (who attend services/temple and fulfill all that would be required of said religion) often do so with spiritual blinders on. They do those things because they have been told that doing so is good and right and will bring them peace (whether that be through making their god happy, bringing them to enlightenment, etc). And yes, they can believe in those things very deeply...or at least as deeply as they can see within themselves.
The allure of organized religion is two-fold (imho):
One: It is routine. There are rules; some religions have more than others. Humans, as much as some might deny it, like rules. And if one doesn't like the rules of one religion, often one seeks out another religion where the rules are easier to swallow. But the concept of structure is still there. Humans, by nature, have no desire to float willy-nilly through life. The routine of organized religion gives people a safe harbor of sorts. (For me, that hour of church on Sunday mornings is my most peaceful time...even though I don't agree with 70% of what my church stands for.)
Two: It provides moral guidance. Again, humans by nature don't want to float through life. Organized religion provides a structure for the most basic building blocks (right and wrong) of all decision making in this life. Clergy are there to give voice to those who need to hear that guidance as clearly as possible. Laws and scriptures are there to provide written continuity and clarity on spiritual issues.
Basically, organized religion provides a nicely packaged roadmap through life... as long as one stays on the interstates.
Yet for all my years in church, following the rules and whatnot.... I have never felt the peace I feel when I lay in my hammock, listening to the crickets and staring at a starry sky. And I feel the spiritual arms of my creator spirit, the only perfect spirit, cradling me. I read my Bible or other scriptures and it's right there with me, helping my spirit feel the meaning of the words in my life. That perfect spirit clarifies everything...right and wrong, interpretation of scripture...everything becomes so clear -- and so peaceful -- in the presence of that perfect spirit.
Depression is a chemical illness for me, and it sometimes impairs my ability to feel that spirit. But at least I know it's there, waiting for me. Others can preach and quote...and if they have their peace, I am happy for them. I have mine.
I fully believe that people can easily slow down God's work. My message for those who are in a position to influence others in a spiritual way is this: Please consider that every person is put here in a different place, a different time, and on a different path. The interstates won't always work, and even if they help in the journey, there's bound to be some time spent on county roads that you have never been on. Each person's path is his or her own. As my admirable friend Bob (luthitarian) said, stand aside and be there to listen when needed.
Wishing you all a peaceful spiritual journey ~ Mica