Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom

Think Pyschologically; Live Spiritually

The Frightening Effects of Religious Change August 10, 2012

We live in a remarkable time characterized by revolutionary changes occurring in every aspect of human endeavor. Some are deeply disturbing, especially when they are accompanied by conflict and violence. But this does not necessarily mean the changes themselves are bad. It simply means the collective psyche has not yet grown mature enough to easily accept needed change or always accomplish it peacefully.

Take, for example, the need to enlarge our elitist and restrictive ideas about God.  Karen Armstrong, author of A History of God, says, “The very fact that, as a person, God has a gender is…limiting;  it means that the sexuality of half the human race is sacralized at the expense of the female and can lead to a neurotic and inadequate imbalance in human sexual mores.”  We have only to look at current events to see the horrific effects of this imbalance which has dominated religious thinking for over 5,000 years. And, of course, these effects are not restricted to religious matters. They pervade every societal institution and every psyche.

But change is afoot. A new psycho-spiritual awakening is inexorably seeping out of the collective unconscious and entering collective awareness. And it is beyond anyone’s capacity to stop it.  In 1987 Jean Houston wrote:

“Many of us in research and clinical psychology have recently witnessed in our research subjects and clients a remarkable activation of images of female principles, archetypes, and goddesses… The women’s movement may be the outward manifestation of what is happening on depth levels in essential, mythic, and archetypal space-time….all the evidence indicates that the feminine archetype is returning.

“Denied and repressed for thousands of years, the goddess archetype returns at a time when the breakdown of the old story leaves us desperate for love, for security for protection, for meaning. It leaves us yearning for a nurturing and cultivation of our whole being, that we might be adequate stewards of the planetary culture.”

Twenty-five years later, some people are still alarmed by this phenomenon which shakes the core of their faiths, and beneath the faiths, the dysfunctional self-images they validate. The immature ego’s resistance to integrating the feminine is the underlying explanation for how masses of “religious” people can turn their backs on injustices perpetrated against women. And not just women, but anyone whose empowerment threatens those in power. This does not just happen in remote locations and “other” religions. In fact many of our most hotly contested political debates are currently fueled by the same resistance.

So what are the highly-resisted changes that the return of the feminine archetype threatens to bring? I see two major ones.

First, there will be a gradual shift away from divisive cultural biases and toward universal compassion and social justice.  Despite the fact that so many believers do not yet comprehend the significance of these values, their souls intrinsically know them to be fundamental and will recognize them at the roots of every authentic religion.

Second, the burden of bringing psychological thinking and spiritual living into the everyday lives of the average person will be lifted from the shoulders of those committed theologians and clergy whose true passions lie in theory and not in the messy practical realities of everyday life.  With the guidance and wholehearted blessings of gifted spirit persons, the responsibility for spiritual development will be happily handed over to those to whom it truly belongs:   individual seekers who alone know what brings spiritual meaning to their lives and whose psyches contain everything they need to find it for themselves.

Scary stuff, huh? So why exactly do so many of us still resist religious change?

 

What is Mysticism? April 26, 2011

Marcus Borg is a Biblical scholar and best-selling author who sees God as both transcendent and indwelling everything, a perspective called “panentheism.” (Note the second syllable, “en.”) I’ve been a fan for a long time, so when he came to Orlando recently I couldn’t wait to hear him speak, especially about “Mysticism And Why It Matters.” This is not an easy topic to write or talk about, and I was hoping for some pointers. Not only did he provide some, but he handed out summaries of his lectures and encouraged us to borrow liberally from them! In what follows I have done so. Why try to reinvent the wheel?

Borg broadly defines mysticism as being “about union with the sacred. Mystical experiences are ecstatic experiences of God/the sacred/reality/isness.” He notes that ordinary people have been guided and nurtured by these experiences for centuries. As a result, for them the Sacred Mystery is no longer an article of faith, but an element of experience.

According to William James, author of the classic, The Varieties of Religious Experience, mystical experiences have two primary features. First, they bring a Sense of Union with God/the Sacred. In this non-ordinary state of consciousness the dualistic sense of being separated from the world softens, dissolves, or falls away and the world looks different. For example, it might have a radiant luminosity, or you might have visions or feel a strong inner awareness of the presence of the Sacred. The second feature is a Sense of Illumination. You might see a strange light, or feel profoundly enlightened, or have a sense of awakening from a foggy blindness, or feel that your eyes have been opened to see reality, the world, and your life differently.

James notes four additional features of such experiences: ineffability (difficulty describing them in words); transiency (they are usually only seconds or minutes long); passivity (you cannot make them happen; they just do); and noetic (meaning you have a knowing, not just a feeling.)

Because some scholars and religious authorities view mysticism negatively or consider it problematic or unimportant, it is rarely discussed. This, despite the fact that it is the foundation of the world’s religions! In Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam all the central figures — Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Elijah, the prophets, Buddha, Jesus, Peter, Paul, John, Mary Magdalene, Muhammad — experienced the sacred in personal, mystical ways and responded by creating religions that were in accord with the values of their particular cultures. Since then, the membership of each of these religions has contained mystics; many, quite well-known and respected even among the orthodoxy. Yet few people know it has relevance in today’s world.

The mistrust of mysticism derives from the fact that there have always been a few terribly unbalanced people whose mystical experiences lead them to do harmful things in God’s name. But know this: While the details and localized beliefs of religions vary widely, all authentic religions and Spiritual Warriors produce the same fruit: “love, compassion, a passion for God’s world.” This is the only test necessary for distinguishing between “diabolical” mystical experiences and healing ones which connect us to “what is” and empower us to help make the world a better place through love.  May we all experience more of this sacred mystery.

For more information, enjoy this video of wisewoman Jean Houston speaking about mystical awakening.

 

Sophia’s Way August 17, 2010

Sophia, the Wisdom of God, has always been acknowledged in sacred writings. In the Septuagint Old Testament, the oldest translation of the Hebrew Bible, she is a central figure in six of the seven wisdom books: The Wisdom of Solomon, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, and Ecclesiasticus. Although Sophia’s mystical path to inner knowing has not been preached to the multitudes for the past 2,000 years, today it is returning to our awareness.

In 1987 Jean Houston wrote in The Search for the Beloved, “Denied and repressed for thousands of years, the goddess archetype returns at a time when the breakdown of the old story leaves us desperate for love, for security for protection, for meaning. It leaves us yearning for a nurturing and cultivation of our whole being, that we might be adequate stewards of the planetary culture.”

As people who are finding Sophia for themselves can tell you, her Way is riddled with mystery and paradox. For example, each seeker, whether supported by a group or not, travels alone, yet increasingly experiences not separation, but reconciliation: between conscious and unconscious, self and other, mind and body, masculine and feminine, God the Father and God the Mother. Ultimately Sophia’s Way leads to union with everyone and everything, including the Mystery. Why? Because the essence of the sacred feminine is connection and relationship.

Here’s another paradox: As you move into your own unknown territory, the more lost you get the more found you feel. The inner path leads to a joyful reunion with the lovely sense of wonder, mystery, and meaning most of us had as children and lost as adults. This is a most extraordinary gift, especially during the second half of life, for against all expectations we find that while we were gradually losing our youth and physical power we were gaining something far more precious and lasting: the ability to live from our authentic Self. Why? Because to discover the sacred feminine is to discover the neglected and forgotten half of the Self.

A third paradox: As you grow more introspective on the inward spiritual journey, your perspective on life grows more expansive. This speaks to the common misconception that taking oneself seriously through self-study is somehow selfish, self-indulgent, or self-centered. In fact, the contrary is true: The better you know and love yourself, the more you feel and express love for others. Why? Because the sacred feminine’s form of love is not a mental ideal but a physical and emotional reality.

My latest discovery is that the more reverence you acquire for your internal, metaphysical universe, the more you experience the sacredness of the external, physical one. Why? Because Sophia is the sacred essence of life, both within and without.

The final paradox is that while we have to discover these truths for ourselves, we can claim absolutely no credit for them. As the Right Reverend Larry Maze says in Issue 17 of  The Rose, in an article titled “Jung and the Inner Mystic,” “…Wisdom that is truly Wisdom has always been Wisdom and will always be Wisdom…Wisdom is the stuff of being consciously alive in the world. Indeed, Wisdom is the universe being alive with meaning.”

I’ll have more to say about meaning soon. Meanwhile, you might want to ask yourself what gives your life meaning. I’d enjoy hearing your thoughts.

 

 
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