I have followed Daniel Helminiak’s writings on spirituality in relation to other disciplines since his 1987 book, “Spiritual Development: An Interdisciplinary Study.” This present work seems to be something of his opus magnus, summarizing years of study, reflection and dialogue on topics as diverse as biology, physics, psychology, mind-body relations, spirituality, theology and spiritual transformation. Such an ambitious endeavor is possible because of his use of Bernard Lonergan’s writings on human consciousness, which equip him with the analytic tools to indicate the proper relationships between these disciplines.
One of the predominant themes running through the book is the contrast between intellectual and sensate/perceptual epistemologies, the latter characterizing many approaches to the question of mind-brain relations. Helminiak reviews the literature on this topic, pointing out the predominance and even bias toward physicalist explanations. The intellectual epistemology of Lonergan, he maintains, can broaden this understanding to include the unseen, unmeasurable “intelligibility” of reality. Using many examples to illustrate what he means by this, we come to recognize that the mind is essentially spiritual in that it is oriented to comprehend more than what can be grasped by the senses. A correspondence between the intellect and the intelligibility of reality exists, and Lonergan’s four levels of consciousness clarify how this spiritual aspect of our human nature functions. By being attentive, intelligent, reasonable and responsible, we are drawn into a journey of becoming fully human, authentic, knowledgable, and loving.
Some of the chapters seemed long and tedious, as Helminiak seemingly left no stone unturned in his review of the literature. But so it goes with an opus magnus; you don’t want to skip over anything of importance. Even so, his writing style is lively and he’s a good teacher. Where new terminology is introduced, he carefully provides examples to help the reader understand. Of course, illustrating intellectual intelligibility pre-supposes some level of what Piaget called Formal Operational thinking — the ability to grasp abstract concepts. So one gets it or one doesn’t, at least to some extent. There’s not much to be done about that.
As a spiritual director, I especially appreciated the chapters on spirituology (study of the human spirit) and theology. While distinguishing between psyche and spirit, Helminiak notes that healing the psyche frees the human spirit in its quest to know and understand. Likewise, by being more attentive, intelligent, reasonable and loving with regard to our own inner brokenness, we can facilitate psychological healing. Regarding God and spirituality, Helminiak, uses the approach of western theology to make a distinction between the human spirit, which is created, and the divine, which is uncreated. Thus he is able to critique the monistic approach of Hinduism and of writers like Ken Wilber while shedding light on the kinds of transcendent experiences that are possible without the intervention of supernatural grace. But the grace of the Holy Spirit, he notes, enables one to not only become a more authentic human being, but to participate in the very life of God. This “theotic” possibility is only briefly discussed, as it is not the core concern of the book, but I was happy to see it mentioned.
It took a friend and I several months to read and discuss this book, but I think we both benefited greatly. It’s a book to be read slowly, and savored — a true labor of love by a first-rate scholar.This message has been edited. Last edited by: Phil,
Helminiak is convinced that enlightenment is not an experience of God, but of human non reflecting consciousness. James Arraj believed that it is an experience of God. Phil, in your kundalini book you embraced the latter option, but quite often you incline to Helminiak's view. How do you see that from the perspective of years of practice?
Helminiak can account for enlightenment as an experience accessible to everyone without supernatural grace, and Arraj would have concurred with this, as he held that God was somehow "hidden" in the enlightenment experience as the Source of human consciousness. So they are not in disagreement at all. Helminiak, following Lonergan and the Catholic tradition, also recognizes that any experience by a creature implies its existence, which is from God. When Helminiak speaks of thematic transformation, he is acknowledging the reality of sanctifying grace/Holy Spirit, which is we do not create or control. As with many theologians, he recognizes theosis to be a possibility for non-religious as well as religious people -- a consequence of obedience to the Spirit.
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