Evolution or Enlightenment?

IMG_4302cI’m still reviewing notes from Ch. 1 of Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth. The chapter, entitled The Flowering of Human Consciousness,  starts with an “Evocation” in which Tolle makes the suggestion that the first flowering plant appearing on the face of the earth might be considered as a type of enlightenment of the earlier life form: “we could look upon flowers as the enlightenment of plants.” (Tolle, p.3)

With the same idea in mind he compares the first bird to its reptilian progenitors, writing: “They didn’t become better at crawling or walking, but transcended crawling or walking… It is more than an evolutionary progression: it also implies a discontinuity … a leap to an entirely different level of Being… a lessening of materiality.”

And I think we ought to be properly astonished at the biological fact that these two beautiful and ethereal classes – flowers and birds – arose from the hereditary soil of non-flowering and non-flying ancestries.

It’s usually a mistake to press an analogy too far, but I think Tolle would agree that the state of human enlightenment can be quite unexpected by those to whom it comes. And I am not referring to “suddenness” – what is sudden in enlightenment is the final collapse of all the disinformation we have received about what enlightenment should be. I think it must be the beauty and simplicity of enlightenment which takes people by surprise. It is Spirit, it is Love, and just so, as some will tell you, you’ve really “had it in you” all along the way (as in, “the Kingdom of Heaven is within you”). But Spirit and Love are not only expansive, creative, productive, they are utterly non-coercive; they simply don’t come forth, don’t “flower” in unfavorable climes, in the presence of selfish me, etc., and my narrative of righteousness. Or so I notice.

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Survival Decisions – A New Earth

evidence-based-decision-making

Eckhart Tolle’s second book had been around for almost 15 years without my knowing it (when it was published in 2005 I had not yet read his first book, The Power of Now).

If someone had told me that A New Earth contains a warning that humanity must choose to “Evolve or die” (see last post), I might have mistaken it for a book about turning around the global environmental crisis. I do think that turnaround is necessary, but I experience those kinds of writings as an overload – they are too much for me, causing despair at the thought – “there are too many moving parts!”

But this book is not a blueprint for making the planet new again. It is more like a skillfully drawn map orienting us to the inner landscape of human nature. Its goal is to give us a glimpse of the changes in consciousness that are needed before the planet can be remade.

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The Good Doctor

New-Earth

“A significant portion of the earth’s population will soon recognize, if they haven’t already done so, that humanity is now faced with a stark choice: Evolve or die.” Eckhart Tolle (2005)

Eckhart Tolle reminds us early in his book, A New Earth, that our technological age has turned out to be an era in which the human condition described by the Buddha as “dukkha” (pain) has been increased rather than alleviated. There has been an intensification of what the Hindu calls “maya” (illusion). And there seems to be a proliferation of what the Christian refers to as “the old man” – the man who “misses the point” of life, who never fully awakens from his native selfishness, who is always unconsciously spreading the pain of social dysfunction which is sponsored by hereditary mind.

Everyone who believes that the evil lies with technology itself – please leave the room. 🙂

The problem lies within, says Tolle (and we concur). But “within” is also the home of the highest life available to the human soul. This life waits patiently – in every moment of every day – for increased realization in broader and higher experiences of creativity and love.

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Comments on Francis I, Urbi et orbi

Francis Urbi et Orbi

Last Friday night (March 27, 2020) Pope Francis I gave a  special homily and blessing, “Urbi et Orbi” (City and World) addressing the pandemic crisis, and he did so with his typical flair for the symbolic, speaking from the midst of an eerily empty and rain-swept St. Peter’s Square.

The Pope bravely called out both the causes and the effects of the “Thick darkness” that has settled over all our public squares, our streets and our cities. In addition to the obvious travails of illness and death, Francis identifies the evil of these times to lie chiefly in the fact that almost every form of community we have known and taken for granted has been emptied out (like St. Peter’s square itself), so that nothing seems left to us but “a deafening silence and a distressing void.”

Francis takes as his opening text “When evening had come” (Mk 4:35), and places all of us firmly in the gloomy context of the story of Jesus and the apostles caught in a storm on the Sea of Galilee.Throughout the gloomy tale, Francis remains firm in his hope in Christ.

My comment: let’s remember too, that the Jewish day begins at sundown. There are good grounds to interpret this text to say “A new day had come.” The Bible itself begins with a creative run of “evenings and mornings,” each of which spins darkness into light, and ends up being called “good” in the divine sight.

It is eternally true: every apparent night-fall, every clouding of vision, every limit on mobility, can be an open door. The difficulty is that we cannot see the door unless we look straight at the problem. To see the door aright is the same as taking the hint that our own errors did not begin with the confusion. Some of them have led us here. And we have to accept the call to leave our comfort zone behind in the way forward. Continue reading

Elyon and the ancient Hebrew poets

Elyon (‘God Most High’) is one of the biblical names for God. Not as common as Yahweh or El, but I think we need to look hard at the uncommon in the Bible – because rarities can characterize early as well as late texts.

This divine name, Elyon, always appears in the Bible in the most beautiful prophetic and poetic fragments; we never find it admixed with those tedious lines of racial narrative and high-priestly detail. I think poetry works better than prose to preserve a revelation in relatively unadulterated state. Its fixed structure is more resistant to redaction by later editors, because it is more difficult to adapt or change than a line of narrative.

The Elyon poetry is represented in strata of all three high watermarks in Israel’s recorded history of relation to God – from the time of Abraham (Gen 14:18), to that of Moses (Det 32:8), as well as David (2 Sam 22:14). It is used for God’s name in 11 of the Psalms. In fact the Elyon tradition extends down to the late Second Temple apocalyptic writings, where we read Daniel proclaiming that “the saints of Elyon shall receive the kingdom” (Dan 7:18).

And it doesn’t stop there; the evangelist Luke includes a tradition which identifies Jesus as ‘Son of Elyon’ (Lk 1:32) and the Baptist as ‘prophet of Elyon’ (1:76). Finally, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews ties is all together by linking the divine Son with the ‘order of Melchizedek’ (Heb 7:1). Remember Melchizedek was a bread-breaking and wine-sharing priest of Elyon who was ‘without generation’ – and we should not forget that he was the recipient of Abraham’s tithe (Gen 14:18).

So Elyon – the Most High – has a nice even spread of representation in the best poetic writing in the Bible. Like the more famous divine names, Jahweh and El, this Elyon takes its place as a distinct theological tradition of poet-prophets whose teaching stretched from the Patriarchal era to the days of the Savior himself.

The domain of Truth – Jacques Ellul

Before this summer I knew nothing of Jacques Ellul.  I discovered the late French theologian and social critic almost by accident, when I glanced into his book, The Humiliation of the Word, and heard a voice that, as they say, “spoke to my condition” (La Parole humiliée, 1981; ET Erdmans, 1985).

Jacques Ellul (1912-1994)

It’s no secret that philosophy adores the supreme importance of language.  But Ellul takes this principle much more seriously than most philosophers. For him the Word has become the sole provenance of Truth. Which means that Truth must be considered independently of all images and sense data.

“language … permits us to go beyond the reality of mere existence to… something different from the sensually verifiable universe.  Language is not bound to reality, but to its capacity to create this different universe, which you may call surreal, meta-real, or metaphysical. For the sake of convenience we will call it the order of truth. The word is the creator, founder, and producer of truth.” (1.2)

Ellul compensates for this wholesale dethronement of images and other sense data from the court of Truth by readily conceding to them the illustrious name ‘Reality.’

By differentiating Truth from Reality – and by relegating so much interesting stuff to ‘Reality,’ Ellul makes it clear he does not aim to dismiss the significance of images and sense data.  He is determined only to prevent all such categorically foreign elements from obscuring the search for Truth.

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In Germany with Hildegard

My one trip to Europe (October, 2000) comprised only a 5-day river cruise, Frankfort-Trier-Cologne. I was a guest of my parents, who arranged the voyage as a chance to spend time with their seven grown children. Wonderful reunion, great food and beautiful sights; but I confess I spent 25% of my daylight hours ashore and alone, visiting scenes from the life of the Christian ‘Sibyl of the Rhine’ -the 12th century Benedictine visionary and polymath  Hildegard von Bingen.

Ancient well at the Disibodenberg ruins

Hildegard’s experience marks an epoch in Christian history which has held a fascination for me since I heard her story 30 years ago. And a leisurely Rhine cruise turned out to be just the opportunity I needed to reach out and touch the memory of this wonderful woman. Continue reading

I might like Pete Rollins on the Apocalypse

Pete Rollins is planning a talk in Belfast in September to explain that The Apocalypse isn’t coming – it’s already happened.

“Fundamentalist Christianity has long expressed a view of apocalypse as some future event that will consume the present world and replace it with a new one. Yet while this is a bloody and destructive vision, I will argue that it is inherently conservative in nature… For those who hold to such a vision are willing to imagine absolutely everything around them changing so that their present values and beliefs can remain utterly unchanged.  In contrast I will argue that a Christian apocalypse describes something much more radical, namely an event that fundamentally ruptures and re-configures our longings, hopes and desires…”

This resonates with me, although I’m waiting to see where Rollins will take it.  If he has not forgotten his Greek, he will oblige us I hope with a vision of a true ‘apocalypse’ – not earth-scorching destruction but paradigm-shattering revelation.

In January I articulated my own growing sense that the Apocalypse is already history when I called out the folly of Harold (“I did the math”) Camping’s predictions of a Day of Reckoning for May 21 of this year.

The Sower – how bad theologies delay the Kingdom

The parable of the Sower as a critique of church and theology?  I was surprised at how easily one might use the text to implicate varieties of Gospel-preachers rather than Gospel-hearers.

“…some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them…” (Mt 13:4)

Listen again to those words, and hear Jesus saying, “Anyone preaching a Kingdom that sounds like humdrum or humbug might just as well be pitching birdseed on the Roman road” – the issue in this verse is lack of understanding, a problem which implicates teachers as well as students whenever man-made doctrines lack the flavor of Christ’s spirit, and come off spiritually or morally flat or unintelligible – and therefore misunderstood.

“Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they had not much soil…” (13:5)

Can it be that Jesus is saying, “On the other hand, if you use emotional hooks to frighten or entice the people with threats of Hell or promises of cheap grace, you are no better than the hardpan farmer who will not plow” – the issue here is lack of depth, and this implicates teachers as well as students if emotional appeals have cultivated shallow joyous puppets who are unprepared for the very tests of doubt and persecution in which their Savior must come to meet them.

“Other seeds fell upon thorns, and the thorns grew up…” (13:7)

Which is to say: “And it is just as big a mistake to pitch my own sublime cares and delights in terms which resemble too much the cares of the world and its delights” – the issue here is confusion of realms, and this implicates teachers as well as students where preaching strives to resemble the everyday wisdom of the world in so many ways that the Kingdom is confused for the world and the spirit is choked by unspiritual meanings and values.

New thoughts on providence in regard to evil events

What if a system of divine providence could be conceived in which a billion individual contingencies may be fully provided for without having to apologize for the fact that they are not specifically provided against in their minutest points?

I was helped recently by some lines from American poet Walt Whitman while contemplating problems of prayer and providence which I addressed in two posts earlier this year.

Warning:  Whitman is famous for his optimism (and often criticized for it), but I like to reserve judgment on the ‘optimism’ of great poets, because they sometimes enjoy the prospect of horizons that lie beyond our own poor curve of earth.   The theological critic especially should check for signs of the optimism of the Gospel – the metaphysical ground of all really good news.

It was in the poem Assurances that I found this:

I do not doubt that the passionately-wept deaths of young men
are provided for,

and that the deaths of young women and the deaths of little children are provided for,

(Did you think Life was so well provided for, and Death, the
purport of all Life, is not well provided for?)

I do not doubt that wrecks at sea, no matter what the horrors of them,

no matter whose wife, child, husband, father, lover, has gone down, are provided for, to the minutest points …

Leaves of Grass,  Book XXX)

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The gift of ears

“I will hear what the Lord God speaks within me”

Thus begins Book III of The Imitation of Christ (Book IV in some editions). The words are actually a paraphrase of Psalm 85:8 – restated by the author in the pure gold of personal inner experience. The Bible verse is more general:

“Let me hear what God the Lord will speak,

for he will speak peace to his people,

to his saints, to those who turn to him in their hearts.”

In my opinion, Book III of The Imitation is the spiritual heart of the whole work. It contains writing so high and unusually bold that it is easy to imagine that it was purposely placed after the admonitions and warnings in Books I and II – so that potential readers might be ‘screened’ for humility.

“Blessed is the soul that hears the Lord speaking within her, and receives from his mouth the word of consolation.  Blessed the ears that catch the pulse of the divine whisper, and take no notice of the whisperings of this world.” (Bk III, Chap 2)

I want to suggest that ‘the gift of ears’ ought to be among the spiritual gifts listed by Paul – which of course it is not. But I think the New Testament does much to suggest the importance of inspired hearing.

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On religious afflictions of the eye and ear

“Hearing, they do not hear …”

The hearing impairment to which Jesus referred, quoting Isaiah, was the same one which the Hebrew prophet had diagnosed in his own time – and it is no less prevalent in our day.

Diagnosis implies gnosis.  Jesus, like Isaiah, had a new truth (or more truth) to reveal to his listeners, but the words he had available for the purpose failed to penetrate the framework of every mind.  His choicest words were rejected as strange or irreligious in the context of old ‘tried and true’ principles which were in possession of their understandings.

The malady in question is worse than a physical ailment – with which Jesus had some success.  Instead it affects the listener’s inner attitude, the will, taking away the freedom with which they might break down the old shell of religious meanings from within. Continue reading

Albert C. Knudson – American theologian

The school of “Boston Personalism” which flourished in the first half of the twentieth century deserves a higher public awareness – their relative obscurity is significant for my thesis that Christianity’s best modern minds have been undeservedly “submerged” by historical forces which favored less worthy ideas.

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Adam and Zoey? – [Updated]

According to the first Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (produced about 200 years before Christ), the name given by Adam to “the woman” alleged to have caused all the trouble in the Garden of Eden was not Eve but Zoey.

The text is Gen 3:21 in my edition of the Septuagint (in some versions 3:20)

και εκαλεσεν αδαμ το ονομα της γυναικος αυτου ζωη οτι αυτη μητηρ παντων των ζωντων

“And Adam called the name of his wife ζωη because she was the mother of all των ζωντων”

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