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this is an interesting topic. I have to admit though the similarity between TM, Hinduism, and other Eastern forms of Meditation to some witchcraft(Wicca)and pantheistic philosophies such as Mathew Fox's theology leave me cold and hollow. I do not want be part of nirvana or the perfect whole I desire to be Jaan imperfect human and yes even fallen. The message of Christianity runs counter to most of these groups. A God who is seperate from us loves us each personally and whom we can have a personal relationship with cared for his creation so much that when man screwed up through rebellion he sent his son a part of himself in human form to live among us to live as a pauper and die a hideous death. The next part of the story is his ressurection. Jesus conquered death and lives with us and will come again in victory.
I love the writings of George MacDonald a Congregationalist Minister who gave me first peak at a beleif similar to purgatory. But his writings stress the fact that God does not want us to empty ourselves but desires to make us fully human.
Posts: 205 | Location: McHenry Illinois | Registered: 01 July 2003Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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All, I have read this thread with great interest and much appreciation for both the great generosity of your personal sharing as well as the significant depth of your reflections and exchanges. I am still on my late summer hiatus milking all of the time I can to be fully present to and available for my three college children, who'll return to school in a couple of weeks.

I will respond to this: Without formation in the exoteric realm, the esoteric/inner realm can pull one in all kinds of directions and this can wreak havoc on the psyche. With proper formation, one can expand and revise the paradigm to accommodate new experiences, ultimately settling on a paradigm that is open-ended.

Thomas Merton would agree with Phil on this. Prior to our later transformational journeys, we must undertake our earlier formative journeys, such as when we are humanized as infants, toddlers and young children, such as when we are educated and socialized throughout our youth and much of our adulthood, too. But humanization and socialization, and even early transformation, are very much exoteric aspects of the journey whereby we are being protected from what would otherwise be our own pervasively dysfunctional behavior - intellectually, affectively, morally, socially, politically, etc We simply couldn't function in the world, neither that of nature nor that of people.

These early sojourns are therefore necessary parts of the journey but they are not sufficient for later transformation. This sense of self that is formed by others and by our experiences and responses to others is something we must take possession of and then surrender. It must be surrendered because it is not our truest self in the sense that we must come to the realization that it isn't this self that makes us worthy of love, not God's and not others' love either.

It is in the discipline of solitude and silence, then, that we cultivate a sense of a self that is radically and unconditionally loved by God. It is in the certain knowledge of this love that we come to forgive others (and oursleves) PRIMARILY for not being God, Who, alone, loves us unconditionally.

In the Ignatian sense of having seen ourselves as God see us, we can then proceed toward the next discipline of the spiritual life, which is community , seeing others as radically lovable, too, and worthy of the same great compassion we have experienced. Thus we are led to the third great discipline of the spiritual life, which is ministry .

The disciplines of solitude, community and ministry are set forth by Henri Nouwen and they comprise the essence of the spiritual life, which has many accidentals, which is to say many different ways of being approached apostolically, monastically, cenobitically, eremitically, as lay, cleric or religious, including manifold and varied charisms such as are lived out in different religious orders and secular institues and such. If on the earlier journey we are provided an exoskelton by exoterica (intellectually, affectively, morally, socially), then it is to be cast off on the later journey after we've developed an endoskeleton via esoterica, but not until then. We cannot take possession of a self which is not formed. We cannot surrender a self which we do not possess.

The distinctions between form and content, style and substance, exoterica and esoterica, are useful. I like the distinction between the essential and the accidental and the maxim of St. Augustine that in essentials, there must be unity; in accidentals, there must be diversity; in all things, there must be charity. I also like the distinction between the essentialistic and the existential. Much of this discussion has been from the existential perspective, which is to say from the lived experience. We can also look at these issues from the essentialistic perspective, which is to say from the more detached philosophical perspective. I'll thus introduce some brief ontological riddles below as they might provide takeoff points for your continued discussion of monism, dualism, etc

Complexity Theory, or emergentistic perspectives are known for their description of the great chain of being, or the great circle of life, by their claim that, each reality represents something more from nothing but . For example, consciousness might be thought of as something more from nothing but neurons firing. Molecules are something more from nothing but a collection of atoms, then paricles, then quarks, etc At each stage of emergence, we note that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, which is to say that novel properties are to be expected even if they cannot be reliably predicted as to their possible shapes and forms and manners of reality.

Different approaches can be taken to what is going on, metaphysically, as we observe all of these something mores from nothing buts.

Science just deals with one discrete something more from nothing but at a time without concerning itself with the totality of the process.

When it comes to describing the process as a whole we are in the realm of metaphysics.

One can take a Buddhist approach and say: something more comes from nothing but ... ... [a respectful silence].

One can take a monistic approach and say something more comes from nothing but that which is essentially similar however otherwise different in appearance. The incentive to take this approach is to thereby avoid any causal joint paradox but this comes at the cost of introducing an infinite regress /circular reference paradox. [A causal joint paradox comes about if one claims that This Being, let's say a Creator, is wholly different in essence from that being, let's say a creature. The questions then arises as to how can one thereby affect the other in any way, so totally unrelated as they are in substance, etc.]

One can take a dualistic approach and say that something more comes from nothing but that which is essentially different however otherwise similar in appearance. The incentive to take this approach is to thereby avoid any infinite regress paradox but this comes at the cost of introducing a causal joint paradox. [An infinite regress paradox comes about if one claims that this comes from that which comes from that which comes from that ... never ending the process.]

What is going on, then, is that the way folks cognitively (and intuitively) try to halt an infinite regress is by the introduction of ontological discontinuity, so to speak, a different type of existence. This is what natural theologians do when they speak of an Unmoved Mover, cosmologically, of Unreceived Existence, ontologically, of a Consistent Comprehender, epistemologically, of an Eternal Lawgiver, axiologically, of an Intelligent Designer, teleologically. The way folks try to avoid a causal joint paradox is by immanentizing God and/or by transcendentalizing matter, so to speak denying any ontological discontinuity, but such a pantheism leads back to the infinite question begging scenario of having all Omegas and no Alphas, which is to say no secure starting points.

Still, one can take a holistic approach, and say that something more comes from nothing but that which is, in some respects, essentially similar however otherwise different in appearance, while, in other respects, essentially different however otherwise similar in appearance. The incentive to take this approach, which amounts to a sort of panentheism, is to thereby avoid both infinite regress and causal joint paradoxes but it comes at the cost of the introduction of a paradox of existence insofar as part of nature is permanently occulted, which is to say its essence is described as forever incomprehensible. That part of nature would of course be the Divine Essence.

Seems to me that most of humanity can live with this holistic option with less cognitive dissonance than that experienced by either the strict monists or the strict dualists, not that all paradox has by any means been banished. We remain immersed in ineluctable paradox and immense mystery. Neither Enlightenment nor Natural Theology removes mystery but they both suggest to us that Reality, taken as a whole, however forever incomprehensible, is still partially intelligible --- and intelligible as broadly conceived to include the knowledge from the head and heart, of truth and of beauty and of goodness, from rational, nonrational and irrational epistemic capacities.

This intelligibility places us in relationship to an ultimate reality that is mediated to us through natural revelation as we experience same impersonally and personally, apophatically and kataphatically, existentially and theologically, naturally and supernaturally. There are some Teilhardian takes on process theology, dating back to the Franciscan, Duns Scotus, that might be construed as predicting some type of incarnation. All of these considerations are preambular, then, to those who claim that there has been a Supernatural Revelation. The fact that Divine Revelation and natural revelation are so very consonant in so many regards might arouse the average person's suspicion? Wink

Well, that oughta hold ya 'til after Labor Day. I can't tell you how many miles I rode my bike putting together the disquisition above. Cool

Deep Peace,
Posts: 2881 | Registered: 25 August 2001Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Here, this is an essay I wrote a week ago that is tangentially related. The point is to embrace mystery, that the solved life is the diminished life. This goes for having certitude whether from rational or nonrational sources about issues whether spiritual or metaphysical regarding enlightenment or doctrinal religion.

While the quote below is from Eugene Peterson's The Contemplative Pastor , it could as just as well have been entitled the contemplative parent or spouse or teacher or minister of any type ? The italics and bold-faced emphases are mine.

"In running a church I solve problems. Wherever two or three are gathered together, problems develop... It is satisfying to my ego to help make rough places smooth.

"The difficulty is that problems arrive in such constant flow that problem solving becomes full-time work. Because it is useful and the pastor ordinarily does it well, we fail to see that the pastoral vocation has been surverted. Gabriel Marcel wrote that life is not so much a problem to be solved as a mystery to be explored. That is certainly the biblical stance: life is not something we manage to hammer together and keep in repair by our wits; it is an unfathomable gift. We are immersed in mysteries: incredible love, confounding evil, the creation, the cross, grace, God .

"The secularized mind is terrorized by mysteries. Thus it makes lists, labels people, assigns roles, and solves problems. But a solved life is a reduced life. These tightly buttoned-up people never take great faith risks or make convincing love talk. They deny or ignore the mysteries and diminish human existence to what can be managed, controlled, and fixed. We live in a cult of experts who explain and solve. The vast technological apparatus around us gives the impression that there is a tool for everything if we can only afford it. Pastors cast in the role of spiritual technologists are hard put to keep that role from absorbing everything else, since there are so many things that need to be and can, in fact, be fixed.

"But 'there are things,' wrote Marianne Moore, 'that are important beyond all this fiddle.' The old time guide of souls asserts the priority of the "beyond" over "this fiddle." Who is available for this kind of work other than pastors? A few poets, maybe; and children, always. But children are not good guides, and most of the poets have lost interest in God. That leaves pastors as guides through the mysteries." Eugene Peterson, "The Contemplative Pastor"

Also from :Moving From Solitude To Community To Ministry by Henri Nouwen: "[I]n the spiritual life, the word discipline means the effort to create some space in which God can act. Discipline means to prevent everything in your life from being filled up. Discipline means that somewhere you're not occupied, and certainly not preoccupied. In the spiritual life, discipline means to create that space in which something can happen that you hadn't planned or counted on.

1) Solitude is where spiritual ministry begins. That's where Jesus listened to God. That's where we listen to God.

Why is it so important that solitude come before community? If we do not know we are the beloved sons and daughters of God, we're going to expect someone in the community to make us feel that way. They cannot.

2) Within the discipline of community are the disciplines of forgiveness and celebration. Forgiveness and celebration are what make community, whether a marriage, a friendship, or any other form of community.

What is forgiveness? Forgiveness is to allow the other person not to be God. Forgiveness says, "I know you love me, but you don't have to love me unconditionally, because no human being can do that."

We all have wounds. We all are in so much pain. It's precisely this feeling of loneliness that lurks behind all our successes, that feeling of uselessness that hides under all the praise, that feeling of meaninglessness even when people say we are fantastic�that is what makes us sometimes grab onto people and expect from them an affection and love they cannot give.

3) Our ministry is to help people to gradually let go of the resentment, to discover that right in the middle of pain there is a blessing. Right in the middle of your tears�that's where the dance starts and joy is first felt.

In this crazy world, there's an enormous distinction between good times and bad, between sorrow and joy. But in the eyes of God, they're never separated. Where there is pain, there is healing. Where there is mourning, there is dancing. Where there is poverty, there is the kingdom.

Jesus says, "Cry over your pains,and you will discover that I'm right there in your tears, and you will be grateful for my presence in your weakness." Ministry means to help people become grateful for life even with pain.
Posts: 2881 | Registered: 25 August 2001Reply With QuoteReport This Post

Without sounding too effusive (although I am!) I want to ponder these insights over a week or so and return to this thread. I also want to comment on how impressed I am that people arne't shoving Christian theology down my throat. I have begun to invoke Christ in my prayers, see the necessity of Him to help me through this dark place where I am, memory suspended, thought very slow, inability to think/concentrate etc, inability to work, at times.

One thing that struck me immediately from your post, although it requires more reflection, is the emphasis you give (through theological works) of the need to cultivate solitude BEFORE one enters into community. This makes deep sense to me. I understand that one cannot renounce a self they don't currently possess--Merton puts this wonderfully, as well. And that self is only created when we are fully lived in God otherwise we (as you say) will unconsciously seek that love in groups and lose sight of our own helplessness and dependence on God. This I agree with and can contest that only Grace itself decending into our beings, into the roots of our nature, can create a viable self, as far as I understand. There are certain roles we play, to be sure, but my disposition has been the role of a devotee, and perhaps now a student! These roles ever change and perhaps aren't at odds with our true self formed in God's love, through spiritual baptism, emotional healing etc. But this True Self keeps moving me back to silence, to feel that my life is utterly meaningless apart from the Divine Grace.

At any rate, I WILL read these thoughts over carefully. But I just really popped in to thank you all...for not judging me.

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re: the need to cultivate solitude BEFORE one enters into community

Yes, I suppose the nuancing would go something like this: We do not in any way deny that we only invoke because we have been convoked inasmuch as our very nature is that of radically social animals. In biology we would say that humans are altricial as opposed to precocial, which means we require care and nurturance from parents for a comparatively long period of time.

Thus our early transformation from animalized critters to humanized critters and then to socialized critters takes place in an environment that is anything but solitude and that has everything to do with community. Such is the part and parcel of why we call it formative spirituality. In fact, we know that severe attachment disorders can occur when young'uns are not properly nurtured and physically caressed, and these disorders pervasively influence the entire developmental spectrum on into adulthood, riddling the person with mainfold dysfunctions.

So, the major thesis is that we are called as a People of God even as our responses are radically individual. There is to be no false dichotomizing between the social/relational nature of our existence and the individual, radically alone nature of our innate solitude. So the early socialization and education and catechesis, again, are necessary but not sufficient.

Thomas Merton says this better of course and it is my favorite quote of his:
"What is this (contemplative prayer) in relation to action? Simply this. He (and she) who attempts to act and do things for others or for the world without this deepening of his own self-understanding, freedom, integrity, and capacity to love, will not have anything to give others. He will communicate to them nothing but the contagion of his own obsessions, his agressiveness, his egocentered ambitions, his delusions about ends and means, his doctrinaire prejudices and ideas."
One thing we might keep in mind is that, often, we are discussing the journey in normative terms, which is related to the arithmetic expression of the norm , which further implicitly acknowledges that there are also outliers , or, if one prefers, exceptions to the rule. In trying to honor the innate dignity of my children as well as the dignity of my dialogue partners, when it comes to discussing norms and aphorisms, or more specifically those dirty words should and ought , I like to be quick to qualify that, when discussing norms, we are dealing with generalities and rules of thumb which may very well not apply in this or that particular case. I do typically advise my grown kids that, if what I once made obligational for them has not at some point become aspirational, in other words if they have not internalized a value of mine or heeded some advice of mine, I can understand and appreciate that, for perhaps very good reasons, it was not meant for them, in particular, even if it generally applies to the masses, in general.

I then observe that such departures from the norm should be undertaken with great caution due to the great peril that can often inhere in invoking oneself as an exception to the rule and I offer such a caveat out of deep compassion for each wandering soul. It would be my sincerest desire that any normative offerings made here not be misconstrued as unqualified shoulds or oughts and that no condescension is intended in the least. We are fellow pilgrims learning from one another and I have learned far more from the journal of abnormal statistics and from the exceptional souls than I have from the run of the mill variety, although, let me be quick to say, I view even the ordinary as flat-out astonishing and extra-ordinary. All of existence simply blows me away, at every turn and in every soul I encounter.

Deepest Peace and Gratitudes,
Posts: 2881 | Registered: 25 August 2001Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Allow me an irreverent moment, an injection of levity, which I often find as instructive as it is therapeutic.

And so there was this fundamentalist, visiting in India, interrogating the vedantist as to what he believed regarding the nondual nature of reality, and he observes: "Aw, this is nonsense. You ain't nothing but an atheist!"

To which the vedantist replied: "Well, yes, I was, until, however, I found out I was God."

Monism is the theory that anything less than everything is nothing.
A philosopher went into a closet for ten years to contemplate the question, What is life? When he came out, he went into the street and met an old colleague, who asked him where in heaven's name he had been all those years.

"In a closet ," he repied. "I wanted to know what life really is. "

"And have you found an answer?"

" Yes ," he replied. " I think it can best be expressed by saying that life is like a bridge ."

"That's all well and good," replied the colleage, "but can you be a little more explicit? Can you tell me how life is like a bridge?"

" Oh, " replied the philosopher after some thought, " maybe you're right! ."
The French existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre was sitting in a cafe when a waitress approached him: "Can I get you something to drink, Monsieur

Sartre replied, "Yes, I'd like a cup of coffee with sugar, but no cream".

Nodding agreement, the waitress walked off to fill the order and Sartre returned to working. A few minutes later, however, the waitress returned and said, "I'm sorry, Monsieur Sartre, we are all out of cream -- how about with
no milk?"
Big Grin
Posts: 2881 | Registered: 25 August 2001Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Be a Fundamentalist - ensure that the Fun always comes before the Mental. Realize that life is a situation comedy that will never be cancelled. A laugh track has been provided and the reason we are put in the material world is to get more material from that track. Have a good laughsitive twice a day, which will ensure regularity.

Remember that each of us has been given a special gift just for entering, so you are already a winner!

The most powerful tool on the planet today is Tell-A-Vision. That's where I tell a vision to you and you tell a vision to me. That way, if we don't like the programming we're getting, we can change the channel.

Life is like photography - you use the negative to develop. No matter what adversity you face, be reassured: Of course God loves you...

It is true: As we go through life thinking heavy thoughts, thought particles tend to get caught between the ears and cause a condition called "truth decay." Be sure to use mental floss twice a day, and when you're tempted to practice 'tantrum yoga', remember what we teach in the Swami's Absurdiveness Training Class: DON'T GET EVEN, GET ODD.

If we want world peace, we must let go of our attachments and truly live like nomads. That's where I no mad at you and you no mad at me. That way there'll surely be nomadness on the planet. Peace begins with each of us. A little peace here, a little peace there. Pretty soon all the peaces will fit together to make one big peace everywhere.

I know great earth changes have been predicted for the future, so if you're looking to avoid earthquakes my advice is simple: When you find a fault don't dwell on it.

There's no need to change the world. All we have to do is toilet train the world and we'll never have to change it again.

If you're looking for the key to the Universe I've got some good news and some bad news. The bad news: There is no key to the Universe. The good news: It was never locked.

Finally, everything I've told you is 'channeled'. That way, if you don't like it it's not my fault. But remember: Enlightenment is not a bureaucracy, so you don't have to go through channels.
Posts: 2881 | Registered: 25 August 2001Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Good to see JB and brjaan joining the discussion, which has begun to move in many enriching directions. Thanks for the levity, JB. Big Grin


I'll add a few focusing questions, here, attempting to try to help us pull some of these thoughts, ideas, and experiences shared in the direction suggested by the thread title and opening post.

1. Is the Christian message really distinct from all the other world religions?

2. What are some of the essentials of being a Christian? I.e., what must one do/believe to consider oneself a Christian?

3. What is the goal of the Christian life?

4. How do the essentials from #2 contribute to realizing the goal of the Christian life?

I know these are four very big questions, but I don't think the responses to them need be complicated.

Having reflected on these, or at least identified some of their distinctive features, we can see how they shape the spirituality of Christians. In doing so, we need to recognize from the first that spirituality is a much broader phenomenon than Christianity, including basically all people who are seeking to live an authentic life, especially in relation to the Absolute.

Onward . . . Smiler
Posts: 7539 | Location: Wichita, KS | Registered: 09 August 2001Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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brjaan, I have a book on tape by George MacDonald called "Getting to Know Jesus," and on the cover it says:

C.S. Lewis credits George MacDonald with being the one person who helped more than any other to deliver him from atheism into the hands of Christ.

Said Lewis of MacDonald's writings: "I have never written a book in which I did not quote him."

---High praise from a mystic philosopher Smiler


The Nicene Creed would define it for me, along with most evangelical, catholic or orthodox
believers. This would be the rallying point, I should think.


Are your grandkids going to call you gampa jonboy? Wink

You're back too soon, as I am only just beginning my Introduction to the Summa edited by Anton C. Pegis (Random House 1948) I know, you read it back in the sixties Smiler It's so darned embarassing being thick as a brick Frowner Wink



Posts: 2559 | Registered: 14 June 2003Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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There are other types of issues that came to the fore for me as I was reading the thread, some of which I may address later but which could be added to yours Phil.

1) I have come across one particular answer to the question Why seek enlightenment? that seems to be generally accepted and I am certain I must have posted it here over the years. Why seek enlightenment?

2) What does Teresa of Avila say about why we should occupy ourselves in prayer?

3) What does John of the Cross say about experiences in prayer, in general?

4) What does Ignatius teach regarding how we are to discern various periods of consolation and desolation?

5) What did Merton have to say about Bernardian love? and how might that be related to the above questions?

6) What do most scholars of interreligious dialogue have to recommend regarding the advisability of religious conversion, in general?

7) What did Tony deMello list as the three most important guidelines for our relationships with other people vis a vis their spiritual lives?

8) How might C.S. Lewis' Four Loves relate to these considerations?

9) One of the most insightful analyses of Christology in relationship to world religions can be found here: Religious Plurality and the Christological Debate and would contextualize my approach to answering Phil's questions.

10) Should the later Tony deMello have been censured by the CDF as radically apophatic ? Can one realy be too apophatic? or too kataphatic, for that matter? What does Thomas Keating have to say about this?

11) Should one seek infused contemplation? Is there really a difference between acquired and infused contemplation, or active and passive contemplation? How does one prepare or otherwise dispose oneself to the reception of various prayer and spiritual gifts?

12) Is sanjuanist contemplation normative , which is to ask whether there is anything we can learn from the great Carmelite doctors of the church that can be used to assess and critique such movements in the prayer life as might include Centering Prayer or even the unloading of the unconscious ? How might we compare and contrast the manner in which Basil Pennington, Thomas Keating and Jim Arraj might answer these questions?

13) What about Jacques Maritain's distinctions between a) mystical contemplation, b) natural mysticism, c) philosophical contemplation and an d) intuition of being? Where in this schema might we situate enlightenment?

14) At the level of philosophy and metaphysics, can we discern any common touchpoints between some Buddhist philosophy and that of the early neoplatonic approaches of the patristic period, such as in Dionysian mysticism?

15) Or from Merton's perspective:
a) in questions of metaphysics, on the natural over against the
b) in questions of ontology, on the immanent over against the transcendent;
c) in questions of epistemology, on the existential over against the
d) in questions of theology, on the impersonal over against the personal?

16) What about the norms of avoiding a) rationalism (over-emphasis of speculative and kataphatic), b) pietism (over-emphasis of affective and kataphatic), c) quietism (over-emphasis of affective and apophatic), or d) encratism (over-emphasis of apophatic and speculative)?

17) What about the avoidance of what has been called a) a false irenicism, b) a facile syncretism or c) an insidious indifferentism?

There is MUCH that can be brought to bear on this issue and I recommend East-West Contemplative Dialogue by Jim and Tyra Arraj as a good place to begin to get a grasp on the questions, much less the answers, especially their Christianity in the Crucible of East-West Dialogue , which is a book generously made available in its entirety online.

I also recommend using the Search Engine for the Shalomplace Discussion Board, using various terms as listed above as well as the names of various persons and authors listed above. Also, you may want to visit the old Shalomplace Disscussion Board for East - West Spirituality Issues. Finally, typing any of these words and phrases into Google with the following syntax, for example: +enlightenment +shalomplace will yield interesting results. Truth be known, I'm not sure I have come up with anything new regarding all of this stuff, lately, that we haven't hashed out many times before.

What is new and exciting and always so is when different spiritual sojourners come and share so depthfully and so generously in a genuine spirit of dialogue, which does include, btw, an authentic holding on to certain spiritual and theological core commitments. A group of Buddhist monks walked out of an interreligious dialogue session, once, when their Christian counterparts sat down and opened up with nothing but a severe critique of much of classical Christianity. There was nothing they figured they could learn from those who apparently would fall for anything never having really stood for something.

Happy Trails and may your trail dust be stardust!

Back later,
Posts: 2881 | Registered: 25 August 2001Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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I have a wonderful little book right here in my nicotine-stained fingers- The Way to Love by Anthony De Mello. Bantam Doubleday also publishes alot of New Age books. I'm not sure that it is a Christian book from my POV. I know that the Jesuits are fond of him, but I'm not sure that most Jesuits are really Christians from my POV either.
(See Malachi Martin's "The Society of Jesus and the Betrayal of the Roman Catholic Church."

Perhaps I am opening a huge can of worms,
but I must stand for something or I may fall for anything Wink


Posts: 2559 | Registered: 14 June 2003Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Upon my return, I am going to sift through this particular thread in an earnest compare and contrast exercise with this thread: Apophatic, Kataphatic, Schmataphatic: Is Enlightenment Mystical Union? , looking specifically for any novel insights and development in our collective hermeneutics. Or, Phil, maybe you could just do that for us? Any recurring themes? Any new directions? Anything old? Anything new? Anything borrowed? Anything blue? Big Grin

shalom, indeed
Posts: 2881 | Registered: 25 August 2001Reply With QuoteReport This Post
One more link, regarding Eckhart and "negative theology"
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Quote (Eckhart):

All creatures wish to speak God in all their works. They all speak as well as they can, but they cannot speak him. Whether they wish to or not, like it or not, even though they all want to speak God, he remains unspoken... God has many names in Scripture. But I say that if someone perceives something in God and gives it a name, then that is not God.

This is the same as Bernadette Robert's statement that God is everything but the self, right? And again:


Quote: (Eckhart)

Whenever the soul ... sees anything that is imaged ... then this is an imperfection in her. Even if she sees God, in so far as he is 'God' or in so far as he is something imaged or triune, this is an imperfection in her.


Quote: Stevens

The word 'God' itself becomes problematic and irrelevant, as do notions of theism and atheism, for theology must realise that 'its criticism of idolatry must begin with the criticism of itself as a form of ideology'.36 If the categories of theism and atheism are abandoned along with the relic of hyperessentiality, all that remains to the apophatic theologian is faith. The object of this faith can never be approached: if the denials are a circling around an unsayable truth, then this circle is one whose centre is everywhere, and whose circumference, nowhere.37

--Rebecca Stevens


This next quote is a point of view that an enlightenment experience can bring, because there is no means to get there and no practice, no prayer or petition that helps to abide in it. It is, as Roberts says, everything, but the self. Eckhart's and Derrida's approach remind me of "Neti Neti" (not this, not this) approach of the advaitans. What than is the value of theology when:


Quote Stevens:

This being the case, it is the nature of the via negativa that any writings on this theory must rely on paradox as the normal descriptor.13 Description in the apophatic text involves the paradoxical conjunction of affirmation and denial, so that no phrase is accorded any value; thus Eckhart disrupts the flow of sense with oxymorons such as 'the highest point of the elevation lies in the deep ground of humility'.14 Each style of language, whether, allegorical, metaphorical, or conceptual, is equally bound to fail. The apophatic theologian seeks to find a hyphen point between affirmation and denial, an unsafe slippery place. at best, so that the reader is never able securely to find a metaphorical resting place and must inevitably be led beyond language to silence. Eckhart makes use of the parasitic nature of the practice of deconstruction: as theory must necessarily lie in wait for 'discourse' to stake its claims before its own operation, he uses passages of deconstruction to provide a necessary counterpoint to his equally necessary speech about God, to guard author and reader from 'graven images, including that most alluring image of all, the image that we are beyond images'.15 Thus just as Derrida is aware that his diff�rance in its 'detours, locutions, and syntax . . . will resemble those of negative theology, occasionally even to the point of being indistinguishable',16 so Eckhart's evasion of closure in his discourse is indistinguishable from the praxis of diff�rance, in its conviction that the adoption of any referent is a form of spiritual materialism.17 He reminds us that those who seek to worship a locatable God:

[act] just as if you took God and muffled his head up in a cloak and pushed him under a bench. Whoever is seeking God by ways is finding ways and losing God.18


Ok now I have to brush my teethSmiler
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It seems like the above approach doesn't give consideration of the mediation of the Word with the world, or the trinity. It simply abides in the Father, as it were. Whereas another approach the enlightenment state is to see the emergence of the world (almost renact Genesis in ones own beingness). Reading the lives of some of these enlightened teacher's there seem to be two approaches after reaching this state:

1) BRoberts and Eckhart's approach of abiding in the Father/Void

2) Ramakrishna's approach is taking on a residue of self after reaching this state, in order to mediate with the world. This residue which could be called love (which is not so pertinent in the writings of Eckhart) is the holy Spirit which sees the world as a process of becoming, or the revealed Word resolving itself back into the Father/void. Therefore, the emphasis here, is transformation, sadhana, practice, Grace.

In approach 1, there is no practice, no way, no means, no-seeking, is emphasized. Simply abiding in a revealed silence. Whereas approach 2 takes into account that the world is in a process of becoming, or resolving itself back into the Void/Father.
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Just to note that the church is described as the body and the bride of Christ, implying love, unity, intimacy, organic functioning, all watched over by the Holy Spirit. Being a Christian means being part of this body, every part being responsible for the growth and edification in love of the whole. This then is a lot more than observing outward forms and rituals but is, rather, a response in love to Christ's command to love one another thereby loving him. It involves service and humility, becoming the lowest in the kingdom of heaven.

The idea is to grow up in all things into the head - Christ. Christianity means growth, change, transformation, resurrection, awakening of spirit - all precipitated by personal relationship with the Saviour. Christ in us; completion and fulfillment in Christ.

Interesting to note that St.Paul talks about the eyes of our heart being enlightened.

I tried a lot of Eastern style meditation when I first came to all this. Found it quite successful. Then I realised I didn't want it. I could, perhaps, reach enlightenment tomorrow but I found the void I was being led into guarded not just by my own subconcious darkness but by demonic and astral connections I didn't want, and indeed I was being led away from the object of my desire - Christ. Phil talked about the revelation of God in Christ as opposed to enlightenment, which is, after all, only one perspective on reality. I couldn't agree more. The revelation is beautiful, and now when I meditate, I look up and outward to Christ, spontaneously, focusing on Him, aware of His presence and the heavenly realms He inhabits. I wonder then about meditaive techniques. I've been torn between an inward looking focus on breath, body and word in a Christian context and a concentation on Christ's person as distinct from my being, where words are expressed sponateously rather than repetitively and awareness is of something outward(with the occasional glance at the body, breath or focus on the name of Jesus). I find the later much sweeter and productive and truly imbued with Christ's presence; the latter has its benefits but doesn't invoke Christ's presence and is probably more akin to Eastern enlightenment style meditation. Wonder what others think?

The relationship with Christ concerns the whole man - we are complete in Him. Thus He is no dead master as many would suggest, but risen and ascended and alive in the church, His body. These truths and certain fundamentals need to be adhered to. They are part of the revelation of God in Christ and not just dogma. Doctrine is essential as it reveals the nature of the incarnation and God's subsequent plan of salvation and indeed are part of the revealed Word in bodily form. Doctrine cannot be separated from the person of Christ. He is the Word. He is the theology.
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I see Michael and Stephen have replied to the questions I posed, and I think your responses are good ones. JB has added numerous additional questions, any of which would be a good thread in itself--some of which already are, on this forum: e.g. de Mello issues. And Asher has introduced Eckhart, who is a good spokesperson for a radical Christian apophatic mysticism.

1. Is the Christian message really distinct from all the other world religions?

Yes. That's why it branched off from Judaism and hasn't been merged into others. Christianity is not different from other religions for semantical reasons, but because it posits a significantly different message from them.

2. What are some of the essentials of being a Christian? I.e., what must one do/believe to consider oneself a Christian?

Belief in the Christian mysteries--e.g., credal statements; see the Christian Mysteries forum for another approach. Christianity is a theism, but a very specific type, with an emphasis on Christ as the incarnation of the Word, or Second Person of the Trinity, whose life, death, resurrection and ascension has brought the human race into a new relationship with God. This relationship is entered into by faith in Christ and is lived out in the context of Christian community.

3. What is the goal of the Christian life?

"To know, love and serve God, and to be happy with Him forever." (Baltimore Catechism). We might also say the goal is union with God.

4. How do the essentials from #2 contribute to realizing the goal of the Christian life?

There are a wide range of spiritualities encompassing the active lay apostolate, monastic life, eremetic lifestyle, thus honoring the reality of different personality types and different calls. What is Christian about these spiritualities is their focus in Christ, belief in the Christian mysteries, and a sense of identity in Christ, including here, membership in his mystical body, the Church. If there is one word to describe the essence of Christianity, it is relationship. Even in its most apophatic manifestations, Christian spirituality is understood to be about a relationship between human creatures and God.

I know these replies are almost shamefully simplistic, but I think they help to identify some of the characteristic features of a Christian spirituality.

Having done so, I think it is obvious that enlightenment is not the goal of the Christian life. Nevertheless, it can and often does happen that Christian mystics have enlightenment experiences. When this happens, it is tempting to say that enlightenment is really where things were heading all along, and to quote various mystics who sound like that's what they were talking about. It's also tempting to re-interpret Christian theology and spirituality in light of the enlightenment experience, making the goal of the spiritual journey, for example, to go beyond even participation with Christ in the Trinity to a resting in the impersonal Godhead, which is supposedly a common abode for the Persons (and which distinction is considered a heresy).

That's really the main point I wanted to make and discuss on this thread, and I've tried to stay close to it. Obviously, one of the challenges, then, is to give an accounting for the enlightenment experience that does not invalidate or re-interpret the Christian life. I've alluded to a possibility in my opening post by calling enlightenment a unitive perspective from the vantage point of the soul's interface with the cosmos. Maybe we need to clarify that one some more?
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You mention CS Lewis in your response. I don't believe his theology ever incorporated his own flash of enlightenment, which he recounts (in low key!) in the second paragrah below:


Writing about the explosion which rescued him from the horrors of the World-War-One trenches, Lewis almost casually relates a very low-key account of a near-death experience, over half a century before this had become a common phenomenon by virtue of medical advances, or had been given its technical name (by American psychiatrist Dr. Raymond Moody in his 1975 bestseller, Life after Life.) What is more, Lewis's account, unlike most that make headlines today, was not of any other worldly vision, but of precisely that same consciousness-shift which has enabled me to understand Harding's "headlessness." Lewis puts it in academic language which is very easily passed over by anyone who doesn't know firsthand what he is talking about:

I found (or thought I found) that I was not breathing and concluded that this was death. I felt no fear and certainly no courage. it did not seem to be an occasion for either. The proposition "Here is a man dying" stood before my mind as dry, as factual, as unemotional as something in a text-book. It was not even interesting. The fruit of this experience was that when, some years later, I met Kant's distinction between the Noumenal and he Phenomenal self, it was more to me than an abstraction. I had tasted it; I had proved that there was a fully conscious "I" whose connections with the "me" of introspection were loose and transitory.

I believe that this was precisely a flash of the no-self, which isn't accounted for in his theology. Correct me if I'm wrong. This sort of editing of existential facts makes me wary of theology.


Stephen, I understand your position and find it admirable. Thank you for sharing those insights into the "body of Christ" and the distinction between what you perceive as the Christian faith and the no self. Again, I see no reason why the two are incompatible. Why can't one burn the candle at both ends, as it were. In other words, is the action of the holy Spirit somehow apart from the (so called) Eastern experience of the No I? Should one abandon one for the other, or are the two complementary movements? If Kundalini can be incorporated into the Christian Path, perhaps, the Void can fit somewhere too. I find Eckhart pretty radical in his "theology," if it can even be called that. It seems like a negative approach, (and fit only for "ripe" souls) but on the other hand, radical, getting to crux of the matter as I see it. Dunno.

Thanks again and sorry if I in any way offended your sensibility!


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Thanks for the reply Asher.

St.Paul talks about dying to self, or, putting off the old man and putting on the new, but I don't think this is the same as no-self. In the above process awareness of 'I' is not lost. Nor is it the same as Christ consciousness. It's more about putting on the divine nature, undergoing a rebirth to a state where thought and action are, through the Holy Spirit, inspired by the resurrected Christ. I don't think the Holy Spirit would lead us into the void. His sole intention and purpose is to glorify Christ.

It's probably a question of different goals. Kundalini induced states of consciousness such as peak experiences etc can be integrated into a Christian walk but are as nothing compared to the contemplation of Christ. The same is probably true of enlightenment.

To me the distinction is one of filling versus emptying. St.Paul wants us to empty ourselves with the sole aim of filling up to the fullness of Christ. The self need not necessarily be lost in this process but there is a sense of layers of behaviour, patterns of thought, layers of self centredness etc being stripped away(which may be similar to the process of enlightenment) and being replaced by Christ likeness and Christ awareness. I live not I but Christ lives in me. I achieve this,by God's grace, through faith and companionship with Christ, both as an individual and as a member of the body.

Much as I would love to have an awareness of Christ 24 hours a day, my sight of Him is often lost in daily routine. I can only look forward to knowing Him fully, having deep and complete awareness of Him in eternity. Hope that doesn't sound too pious.

Anyway, thanks for sharing and starting things up here.
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Apophasis reveals God's utter incomprehensibility.

Kataphasis reveals God's intelligibility.

Philosophical contemplation suggest that insofar as what apophasis reveals is absolutely true, that is with respect to God's incomprehensibility, then, if what kataphasis reveals is also true, which it is, any such intelligibility, when expressed discursively, must necessarily be limited to metaphors and analogies.

Mystical contemplation then seizes upon this morsel of intelligibility, however small it is in comparison to the unfathomable incomprehensibility, to then capitalize on the fact that the intelligible, metaphorical and analogical precisely reveal the attribute of relationality. For, you see, there are aspects of reality that could, in principle, be both incomprehensible and unintelligible (for instance, like some of my posts) , which would provide no possibility for metaphor, analogue or relationship. The appropriate response to those aspects of reality would be a radical apophaticism (a total glazing over of the eyes, again, for instance, such as might be induced by some of my posts).

Seizing upon the relationality, then, as would be intrinsic to any reality that can be described metaphorically and analogically, as would inhere in any reality that is intelligible, we still haven't come to grips with what type of relationship is available.

Is this reality personal or impersonal? supernatural or natural? immanent or transcendent? or, for that matter, good or evil?

Although Merton pretty much described Eastern mysticism as impersonal vs personal, existential vs theological, natural vs supernatural, immanent vs transcendent, apophatic vs kataphatic, perhaps not too very different from the God of philosophy or the Unknown God of the Greeks, that doesn't capture the exceptions to the rule. One doesn't need the revelations of the Abrahamic traditions to intuit or deduce or experience a personal deity. Natural theology can go that far with its hypotheses. Hindu theology, in many respects, has always seemed to have more catholicity than even Catholicism with its manifest both-and-ness, whether in metaphysics in dealing with concepts of time and of being, or in theology in dealing with impersonal and personal aspects of deity:

Who is Ishvara? Janmadyasya yatah--"From whom is the birth, continuation, and dissolution of the universe,"--He is Ishvara--"the Eternal, the Pure, the Ever-Free, the Almighty, the All-knowing, the All-Merciful, the Teacher of all teachers"; and above all, Sa Ishvarah anirvachaniya-premasvarupah--"He the Lord is, of His own nature, inexpressible Love." These certainly are the definitions of a Personal God. Are there then two Gods--the "Not this, not this," the Sat-chit-ananda, the Existence-Knowledge-Bliss of the philosopher, and this God of Love of the Bhakta? No, it is the same Sat-chit-ananda who is also the God of Love, the impersonal and personal in one. It has always to be understood that the Personal God worshipped by the Bhakta is not separate or different from the Brahman. All is Brahman, the One without a second; only the Brahman, as unity or absolute, is too much of an abstraction to be loved and worshipped; so the Bhakta chooses the relative aspect of Brahman, that is, Ishvara, the supreme Ruler. THE PHILOSOPHY OF ISHVARA
This sounds much like the highly nuanced panentheisms of some Catholic theologians?

So, having established the incomprehensibility and intelligibility, the relationality and personality of the deity, knowing that our metaphors and analogues can extend only so far before collapsing, how are we to relate to this Person, Who is a person but not in precisely the same way that we are persons but only analogically?

The rational and metaphorical and analogical are necessary but not sufficient. They honor the intelligibility in their discursive activities and that is well and good, fitting and proper. If they do not then yield to the nonrational and nondiscursive, then they would dishonor both God's incomprehensibility and Her personhood. At some point, She wants you to shut up and make love. Love, then, is the attribute that effects communication to and fro' the Deity. It is a many splendored thing.

Apophasis and kataphasis are moreso laws like gravity. We all do both either consciously or unconsciously. We can try to resist or assist their movements, to be sure, but our brains will inexorably alternate between these modes of consciousness inasmuch as that is how we are wired. One mode can predominate and that depends mostly on our formative cultural milieus and sometimes on severe asceticisms. Those who experience changes in their predominant mode of consciousness via the ascetical route are usually in for quite a bit of psychological vertigo, which definitely will affect one's spiritual inclinations and temperament. I wouldn't recommend this to anyone but am profoundly grateful to those who have made the journey, however awares or unawares, purposeful or inadvertent!

I don't think Christianity is the only normative route to an authentic devotional* apophaticism. I think one can get there via philosophical contemplation and natural theology, or via certain Eastern pathways.

What, then, is truly distinctive, both normatively and ontologically, about Christianity?

Well, for starters ...


*devotion - not the variety associated with fervor or feeling but that pertaining to dutiful practice, which is to say, like love, is not a feeling but a commitment, a most dutiful one at that disposed as it is to Love, Him/Her/self
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Some caveats from Merton's Contemplative Prayer :

"But we must not take a purely quietistic view of contemplative prayer. It is not mere negation. Nor can a person become a contemplative merely by "blacking out" sensible realities and remaining alone with himself in darkness. First of all, one who does this of set purpose, as a conclusion to practical reasoning on the subject and without an interior vocation, simply enters into an artificial darkness of his own making. He is not alone with God, but alone with himself. His is not in the presence of the Transcendent One, but of an idol: his won complacent identity.He becomes immersed and lost in himself, in a state of inert, primitive and infantile narcissism. His life is "nothing," not in the dynamic, mysterious sense in which the "nothing," nada, of the mystic is paradoxically also the all, todo, of God. It is purely the nothingness of a finite being left to himself and absorbed in his own triviality.

"The Rhenish mystics of the fourteenth century had to contend with many heretical forms of contemplation and both Tauler and Ruysbroeck carefully distinguished between the dark night of genuine contemplation and the arbitrary, self-willed passivity of those who adopt a quietistic form of prayer as a matter of systematic policy, simply cultivating inertia as though it were, by itself, sufficient to solve all problems. Of these, Tauler says:

"These people have come to a dead end. They put their trust in this natural intelligence and they are thoroughly proud of themselves for doing so. They know nothing of the depths and riches of the life of Our Lord Jesus Christ. They have not even formed their own natures by the exercise of virtue and have not advanced along the ways of true love. They rely exclusively on the light of their reason and their bogus spiritual passivity. (Sermon 52 in Spiritual Conferences, p. 233)

"The trouble with quietism is that it cheats itself in its rationalization and manipulation of reality. It makes a cult of "sitting still," as if this in itself had a magic power to solve all problems and bring man into contact with God.


whose kids are away this evening and whose spouse is peeling shrimp; it is good to be here and i'll stick my nose in as i can but don't get put off if my replies are delayed Smiler
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I'm very familar with Merton's "Contemplative Prayer" and have probably read through it about 6 time. Yes, I understand the difference between quietism and contemplative prayer. So many of the best saints in my opinion were accused of quietism and there's always (especially in the 14th century) been a sort of paranoia surrounding it. Jean De Guyon and Brother Lawrence both accused of quietism, two of my all time favorite mystics.

Of course, one must be able to discern the difference between "contemplative prayer" and quietism which is the most narcissistic thing a person could be doing. Immediately, one must get out of that, walk, run, do some service, or forget about the prayer life and concentrate on things of the world. There is another sort of silence that is infused, or self-evident and that has a magnetic attraction. This is the true silence, not quietist escape.


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Maybe (since this thread is becoming so broad and a bit unfocussed, probably my faultRed Face) we can zoom in on one of Phil's questions and any thoughts on it. I'd be especially interested in hearing Grace (if he's willing) to share his ideas and any one else (in particular those who has taken an Eastern Pathway and returned, or converted to Chritianity) Or anyone for that matter! Red Face )

quote (Phil):
What is the goal of the Christian life?

"To know, love and serve God, and to be happy with Him forever." (Baltimore Catechism). We might also say the goal is union with God.


Just a suggestion, as I have no idea where to begin to try to formulate an answer to JBRed Face) Our philosopher in residence.

Any ideas, or thoughts?
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a while back you asked if there is anything new on this subject. I'm not sure if you're looking for this in the Christian tradition. But here's an intriguing map of the stages of unfolding.
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Phil, you raised very important questions. For those of us who have Christian background is not difficult to understand the teachings intellectually. These questions are basics and I learned them when I was a kid in Church. Nevertheless, I didn�t have the insight to understand the essence of the teaching and their deep meanings prior to the mystical process I�m in today.

God is beyond our conditioned mind. In several of your posts you alluded God can enter in this closed conditioned mind, right? I don�t really understand how it is possible. In my understanding it is normal that the conditioned mind creates its image of God and believe it is real God. This belief makes the mind limited to its own image. It is my belief that an open and receptive mind is a necessary condition to reach God. My question is how can closed and conditioned mind reach God? Another important question I have in my mind is if exoteric tradition provides an instrument to unclose the mind?
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