Sunday, June 7, 2015

Judaism and the Mystical Christ, Ch. 11: Concluding Thoughts for "Book I"

Note: This is part of an ongoing series entitled "Judaism and the Mystical Christ".  I have created a blog entry containing the table of contents linking to each article which may be accessed here:

Table of Contents


Body of Christ
The mystical view of the Unity of God - where we are all emanations of God - may sound like nonsense, and it may sound like heresy.  The history of the church has certainly had its fair share of mystics who were accused of heresy for their views.

For example, Meister Eckhart was accused of heresy, defended himself to the satisfaction of his immediate superiors, but was then put under the inquisition by the archbishop.  He was tried for heresy by Pope John XXII, but never received a verdict.  Of course, in this period of history, the church was extremely trigger happy. 

Teresa of Ávila was also put under the process of inquisition for her mystical views, but had the process dropped in 1579.  One of my favorite stories involves her inquisition - the priests of the inquisition accused her of not believing in hell (something I am familiar with), and the story goes that after responding "oh, I believe there is a hell", she supposedly whispered to a nun nearby: "'s just that no one is there!"

The view of God that I have attempted to present here is not a heresy.  It has popped up over and over again throughout history - as Richard Rohr points out:

Both the Dominican Thomas Aquinas and the Franciscan Duns Scotus said Deus est ens, God is being itself.
In another of his meditations, Rohr points out:
Unfortunately, at the Council of Chalcedon (AD 451), this view–the single, unified nature of Christ–was rejected for the “orthodox” belief, held to this day by most Christian denominations, that emphasizes two distinct natures in Jesus instead of one new synthesis. Sometimes what seems like orthodoxy is, in fact, a well-hidden heresy!
In our modern world, it has become more and more obvious that human violence is a serious problem.  And it seems that religion - every religion - has played a part in violence: if not producing it, then at least in justifying and sustaining it.  The question we must ask is: why do we act violently?  Of course, people do not often ponder this question deeply enough - we simply justify our violence as being self-defense.  But this does nothing to answer the question of the source of violence - do we never stop to think if their violence is also seen as self-defense?  And does it really help to stop the cycle of violence if we simply justify our violence in this way?

Violence occurs because we separate people into categories - we justify anything that falls under the labels "we", "us", and "our".  But of course the violence that falls under the labels of "them" and "their" is despicable and wrong.  When we do this, we have dehumanized a subset of people who are seen as different - people who have been put in the category of other.  This is the sort of logic which enables violence - and this is why so much popular religion only contributes to violence.  Our people are beloved by God, but they are not.

But if we recognize that all people are not only beloved, but share in the very Being of God, such violence becomes, in our minds, what is actually is in reality: completely irrational.  The mystical view teaches us that God has created you outside of God’s self so that God might reconcile you with God’s self and bring you into Unity (see Col. 1:16-17, 19-20; Eph. 4:1-6).

In "The God Theory", Bernard Haish quotes a wonderful passage from Neale Donald Walsch's "Conversations with God" that I would like to quote as well:

In the beginning, that which Is [the unmanifest God] is all there was, and there was nothing else. Yet All That Is could not know itself - because All That Is is all there was, and there was nothing else. And so, All That Is. . .was not. This is the great Is/ Not Is to which mystics have referred from the beginning of time.

Now All That Is knew it was all there was - but this was not enough, for it could only know its utter magnificence conceptually, not experientially. Yet the experience of itself is that for which it longed, for it wanted to know what it felt like to be so magnificent. Still, this was impossible, because the very term “magnificent” is a relative term. All That Is could not know what it felt like to be magnificent unless that which is not showed up.

And so All That Is divided Itself - becoming, in one glorious moment, that which is this and that which is that. For the first time, this and that existed, quite apart from each other.

From the No-Thing thus sprang the Everything - a spiritual event entirely consistent, incidentally, with what your scientists call the Big Bang Theory.

In rendering the universe as a divided version of itself, God produced, from pure energy, all that now exists - both seen and unseen. In other words, not only was the physical universe thus created, but the metaphysical universe as well.

My divine purpose in dividing Me was to create sufficient parts of Me that I could know Myself experientially.

This is what your religions mean when they say that you were created in the “image and likeness of God.” We are composed of the same stuff.

My purpose in creating you, My spiritual offspring, was for Me to know Myself as God. I have no way to do that save through you.

Under the plan, you as pure spirit would enter the physical universe just created. This is because physicality is the only way to know experientially what you know conceptually. It is, in fact, the reason I created the physical cosmos to begin with...

This is my plan for you. This is my ideal: that I should become realized through you. That thus, concept is turned into experience, that I might know my Self experientially.

Now I will explain to you the ultimate mystery; your exact and true relationship to me. YOU ARE MY BODY.

[...]you cannot experience yourself as what you are until you encounter what you are not. This is the purpose of. . .all physical life.

In a sense, you have to first “not be” in order to be. Of course, there is no way for you to not be who and what you are. . .So you did the next best thing. You caused yourself to forget Who You Really Are.

Upon entering the physical universe, you relinquish your remembrance of yourself. This allows you to choose to be Who You Are, rather than simply wake up in the castle, so to speak.

You are, have always been, and will always be, a divine part of the divine whole.
False Self / True Self
The concept of remembering the divine nature is a powerful tool - not only for healing us, but for understanding sin.  We need to learn to see sin not as a flat and unquestionable list of do's and don'ts, but rather as that which causes harm.  And then, when we sin, or when another sins, rather than filling them with shame and guilt, we can say to them: "remember who you are."

So much religion is based on the idea that, in order to keep people from doing harm, we must shame them.  But more and more, research is showing us that, while this may prevent evil for a time, in the end it backfires (for more on this, I suggest shame researcher and expert Brene Brown's "Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead").  In my life, I have discovered that encouragement is far more powerful than shame.  There was a period in my life where I had come face to face with just how badly I'd screwed things up - how foolish and stupid I'd been, and how I could possibly lose everything that mattered because of this.  I was incredibly discouraged, and felt worthless.  And I went to an old friend of mine during this time.  My friend believed "prophetic prayer", or "listening prayer" - something I'm still a bit skeptical about myself (I hope to explain this further in the second "book").  But what he did that day had an incredibly profound effect on me that I will never forget - he shared with me that he had been praying for me, and that he thought that God wanted me to know that God had gifted me in leadership, and that big things were in store for me.  In the following weeks, I started attending a church class that my friend co-taught.  After a short talk, the class would break up into groups and discuss, and one night, my friend said to me "you know, Geoff, you really do have leadership gifts.  When you talk during discussion, you show knowledge and experience, and people listen."  My friend's encouragement did much more to change me and cause the kind of repentance I talked about in the first chapter than shame ever could.  And that is why I feel we should not focus on shame, but should rather show people how sin is harmful, and then remind them of the good they have inside.

Tamar Frankiel writes in "Kabbalah: A Brief Introduction for Christians":

A famous saying from the rabbinic tradition is that a person sins out of foolishness: If we only recognized the consequences of our actions and thoughts, we would not sin!
She goes on to write:
The Jewish mystics add another twist to this perspective. They say that our misunderstanding, based in our “forgetting” of our divine origin, is actually necessary so that God’s purpose in creating the earth can be accomplished. If we truly remembered accurately and clearly why we are here, we would not have free choice. We would be like angels who simply perform, without doubt or ambivalence, the duties assigned to them. But if we are truly to manifest godliness, we cannot be programmed into our assignments, because one of the characteristics of being made in the divine image is the ability to create freely. Thus, paradoxically, by obscuring our origins, God was able to give us free choice - to choose whether or not to manifest as loving, creative images of the Divine. This is simply the nature of earthly existence according to Kabbalah, and many other forms of mysticism agree. We volunteered for earthly service, but part of the package is that we cannot remember doing so. That is what makes life such a challenge.
In "New Seeds of Contemplation", the great mystic Thomas Merton writes about this concept in terms of the False Self.  He writes:
Every one of us is shadowed by an illusory person: a false self.

This is the person that I want myself to be but who cannot exist, because God—because Truth, Light - knows nothing about him. And to be unknown to God is altogether too much privacy.

My false and private self is the one who wants to exist outside the reach of God’s will and God’s love - outside of reality and outside of life. And such a self cannot help but be an illusion.

We are not very good at recognizing illusions, least of all the ones we cherish most about ourselves - the ones we are born and raised with and which feed the roots of sin. For most of the people in the world, there is no greater subjective reality than this false self of theirs, which cannot exist. A life devoted to maintaining and expanding this false self, this shadow, is what is called a life of sin.

All sin starts from the assumption that my false self, the self that exists only in my own egocentric desires, is the fundamental reality of life around which everything else in the universe is ordered.
When we build our house on the False Self, we are building on sand (see Mt. 7:24-27) - the sand of the illusion that we are separate individuals who must compete for survival.  But we must build it upon the rock of the True Self and recognize that we are all connected, and that our survival depends upon each other and upon nurturing Creation.  This is the interconnectedness that results from love - and God is love.

Love - in the agape sense that is used in I Cor. 13 and when God’s essence is identified as love in I John 4:8 and 16 - is a selfless giving.  It is a self-emptying act - a kenosis - without fear or concern for one’s own being, for "perfect love casts out fear" (see I John 4:18).  And this is the pattern on which nature is built.

Timothy R. Jennings M.D. writes in "The God Shaped Brain: How Changing Your View of God Transforms Your Life":

We see the circle of love, the law of life, in everything God creates. In every breath we demonstrate giving: we give away carbon dioxide to the plants, and the plants give back oxygen to us. Imagine if you were to decide, “I don’t want to be a part of the circle of giving. If my body makes carbon dioxide, it’s mine; I have the right to it. You can’t have it.” The only way to do that is to stop breathing - to die. If we hoard the product of our breathing, maybe by putting a bag over our heads, the carbon dioxide becomes the poisoning agent that kills us. In all life we see this circle of giving, which is the law of love.
He goes on to ask his readers to consider how this circle of life is also demonstrated in the way electricity works - when you flip a switch to the "on" position, you are closing a loop through which electricity can flow, and when you flip it back to the "off" position, you are creating a separation in that loop - breaking the circle.  We can even see this "circle of life" pattern in economies - for an economy to be healthy, money has to flow.  Take money out of circulation, and the economy dies - which is what happened in the Great Depression when many people made a run on the banks and took their money out of circulation.

Dr. Jennings goes on to write:

Everything God creates gives freely in other-centered circles. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that when the prophet Ezekiel looked into heaven in a vision, what he saw symbolizing the foundation of God’s government was a wheel within a wheel, a rotation within a rotation, a moving circle within a moving circle (Ezek 10:1-10).
Dr. Jennings also notes how recent brain research by Dr. Newberg at the University of Pennsylvania has demonstrated how various forms of religious contemplation actually change the brain itself - and writes:
Not only does other-centered love increase when we worship a God of love, but sharp thinking and memory improve as well. In other words, worshiping a God of love actually stimulates the brain to heal and grow.
I believe that recognizing that our True Self is love is strengthened by such findings.

When we begin to see that all are made in the image of God, and that God is love, we can understand why Merton writes:

To say that I am made in the image of God is to say that love is the reason for my existence, for God is love.

Love is my true identity.  Selflessness is my true self.  Love is my true character.  Love is my name.

If, therefore, I do anything or think anything of say anything or know anything that is not purely for the love of God, it cannot give me peace, or rest, or fulfillment, or joy.
In many cultures, there is an idea that when a person dies, they are presented with a trial where the deeds of their life are put onto a scale, and their eternal destination is determined by the measurement of this scale.  There is a wonderful Jewish story about this - according to the story, one good deed can outweigh a thousand evil deeds.  God adds an extra measure of love and mercy in order to balance the scales.  We can also think of how God has given us ways in this life to call forth the positive and diminish the negative - we can balance the scales with love.

Remember who you are.  You are the incarnation of Love itself.  You are the image of God.


Note: The blog will take a break until I have made enough progress on "Book II"  to begin posting one part at a time without catching up to myself.  In "Book II", I will attempt to make connections with the Jewish mystical view and the New Testament - particularly the Gospel accounts.


  1. I really enjoyed this series. When I was younger, I used to be interested in things like this, not as an extension of my Christianity but rather as a way to understand God outside of the warped sense of Him that we are taught traditionally.

    One of my earlier thought experiments went like this:

    God says at the time of judgement that every time we did something to our fellow man, we did it to Him and when we ignored our fellow man we were really ignoring Him.

    If that were true, it meant that every person apart from us was actually God in human flesh, seeing how we would respond to Him in all the different ways that He manifested Himself in our lives.

    I read The Egg:

    years ago which is an interesting version of this theory.

    I would also recommend God's Debris by Scott Adams which is a non Christian book that has a lot of these very ideas.

    As you say, if you can come to the same conclusion from multiple different paths, it is more than likely true.

    1. Thank you so much Sam! I'll have to check out that book sometime.