Today we will continue with the theme of happiness. This is a key idea in understanding what salvation means. You still believe it asks for suffering as penance for your “sins.” This is not so. Yet you must think it so while you believe that sin is real, and that God’s Son can sin.
I get a little confused by the correction of salvation from sin to happiness. I know Christianity once taught the “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” stuff. But I didn’t grow up in a church that taught that. I grew up in United Methodism whose founder, John Wesley, said of salvation:
By salvation I mean, not barely (according to the vulgar [common] notion) deliverance from hell, or going to heaven; but a present deliverance from sin, a restoration of the soul to its primitive health, its original purity; a recovery of the divine nature; the renewal of our souls after the image of God, in righteousness and true holiness, in justice, mercy, and truth. This implies all holy and heavenly tempers…
To be rightly restored to who I am in righteousness and true holiness, in justice, mercy, and truth. That always sounded like joy to me. Not pain and suffering.
I feel like a lot of this is just semantics when you get down to it. If I dug into Wesley’s ideas of salvation, I get the feeling it would not be all that much different than that of ACIM’s. Wesley was a mystic and took the “always/already/truth” path. Who we are is already perfect. We just need to find our way back to that perfection. Faith provides the new way of seeing that leads us back. It is “light exhibited to the soul”. Faith leads to salvation which leads to joy, not to penance and suffering. When we have faith (vision), we are moral.
The wisdom of ACIM is nothing new. It just has a different (and more modern) approach to others that came before it.
[Side note: The United Methodist Church split over gay marriage on Friday. Those who want to allow for gay marriage will keep the United Methodist name. Most churches in the U.S. are expected to remain under the United Methodist denomination. Those who want to continue to ban gay marriage will become “Traditional Methodists”.]
So what is salvation according to ACIM? Roger Walsh said he substituted the word “Enlightenment”. Wapnick says it is being at One with God. So… if we choose to believe that we are so broken and unworthy that nobody would love us if they knew who we were, we make salvation about punishment.
I guess I’m still confused. Salvation asks for suffering. Isn’t admitting that you are sinful kind of like recognizing you are an ego?
But the reality is, I’m not happy. The world frustrates me. I don’t feel worthy and I’m not even entirely sure what that means. My mother told me every day of my childhood that I was worthless. What did that mean? That my mother did’t value me? I valued myself so walked to the United Methodist church at the end of my street every week where I was taught that it didn’t matter what my mother thought of me because God valued me. But if I’m honest, I never quite trusted the churches teachings, either. My husband and I have been married 30 years and I know he values me. But I could potentially do something to screw that up, too. It’s all vicarious. I do expect something terrible to happen and if it happens, I’ll blame myself because I believe I deserve it.
I share God’s Will for happiness for me, and I accept it as my function now.
Defn. of Function: an activity or purpose natural to or intended for a person or thing.
Sharing God’s Will for happiness for me is a natural purpose intended for me. I kind of get that. By not being happy, I am not fulfilling God’s function. I do tend to feel guilty about feeling happy.
Then seek this function deep within your mind, for it is there, awaiting but your choice. You cannot fail to find it when you learn it is your choice, and that you share God’s Will.
It’s a choice.
Be happy, for your only function here is happiness. You have no need to be less loving to God’s Son than He Whose Love created him as loving as Himself. Besides these hourly five-minute rests, pause frequently today, to tell yourself that you have now accepted happiness as your one function. And be sure that you are joining with God’s Will in doing this.
When I choose my only function of happiness, I love myself and my fellow man. We’re all worthy.
The ways suffering works:
Suffering repays God so He will not kill us, seeing us already indulging in a little form of death. [We place hope in future worlds. We think we will go to heaven and live forever or that there will be some sort of technological evolution that will ease our suffering. It’s always something better than what we have now, but it doesn’t exist except in some dream of the future.]
Suffering proves that others have done this to us. [True. I believe I’m suffering because of how stressed out I am about my inability to make decisions about the care of my mother. My brothers are in control and I worry that they lack the necessary empathy to care for her properly. I have worried about her care so much that it has made me seriously ill. That I am ill is not my fault. It’s the fault of my brothers who have very different ideas than I do about my mother’s care. A part of me understands I have a choice and don’t have to engage in the suffering, but another part of me feels very comfortable with it and doesn’t really want it to end.]
Suffering proves I am a body. Therefore there is no other decision to be made but for the body and therefore the ego.
As long as we believe sickness and suffering bring us the innocence and life we want, we will have no motivation to let them go.
That makes sense! I used to wish I’d get seriously ill so my mother would love me. She’d recognize my vulnerability and take pity on me. Why do we believe that sickness and suffering make us innocent? Because it makes us vulnerable? We believe we are broken and undeserving because we mistakenly believe it makes us more innocent. I don’t totally get it, but that makes more sense than it has before.
I want to suffer at the hands of my brothers because it somehow makes me innocent. But at the level of the ego, none of us are innocent. Not even my mother. Her actions are what precipitated her current care. (Which is actually very decent. It’s just not as emotionally connected as what I would have wanted for her or what I would want for myself. But it’s probably karmic and healing in its own way.)
We hold on to suffering. We perversely want it.
Yet! We deserve to be happy and by choosing to be happy, we share happiness with everyone.
(Most of this is straight out of the Text or paraphrased slightly. Some if it is rearranged a bit.)
Introduction: To heal or to make joyous is the same as to integrate and to make one. That is why it makes no difference to what part or by what part of the Sonship the healing is offered. Every part benefits, and benefits equally.
The Invitation to the Holy Spirit:
Remember that spirit knows no difference between having and being. The higher mind thinks according to the laws spirit obeys, and therefore honors only the laws of God. To spirit getting is meaningless and giving is all. Having everything, spirit holds everything by giving it, and thus creates as the Father created.
If you can accept the concept that the world is one of ideas, the whole belief in the false association the ego makes between giving and losing is gone.
Thoughts increase by being given away.
The more who believe in them the stronger they become.
Everything is an idea.
How, then, can giving and losing be associated?
The Holy Spirit is the only part of the Holy Trinity that has a symbolic function. (Jesus/Christ is man/Sonship. God ultimate reality.) This makes the Holy Spirit difficult to understand. Holy Spirit = Universal Inspiration?
The Holy Spirit is so close to Knowledge that it calls it forth/allows it to come. You can obstruct knowledge but you can never lose it. The Holy Spirit is the Call to Atonement – the restoration of the integrity of the mind. The Holy Spirit is the Mind of the Atonement.
The Voice for God.
The Holy Spirit is the motivation for miracle mindedness; the decision to heal the separation by letting go. The Holy Spirit is God’s answer to the separation.
God is not in you in a literal sense. The Holy Spirit merely reminds. It brings to your mind the other way, remaining quiet even in the midst of the turmoil you may make. The Holy Spirit is your Guide in choosing. He is in the part of your mind that always speaks for the right choice, because He speaks for God. He is your remaining communication with God, which you can interrupt but cannot destroy.
The Guide to Salvation.
The way to recognize your brother is by recognizing the Holy Spirit in him. The Holy Spirit is the idea of healing. Being thought, the idea gains as it is shared. It increases in you as you give it to your brother. Your brother does not have to be aware of the Holy Spirit in himself or in you for this miracle to occur.
The separation is merely another term for a split mind. The ego is the symbol of separation, just as the Holy Spirit is the symbol of peace. What you perceive in others you are strengthening in yourself. You may let your mind misperceive, but the Holy Spirit lets your mind reinterpret its own misperceptions.
The only aspect of time that is eternal is now. The Holy Spirit is your Guide to salvation, because He holds the remembrance of things past and to come, and brings them to the present.
Teaching and Healing.
Every loving thought held in any part of the Sonship belongs to every part. It is shared because it is loving. Sharing is God’s way of creating, and also yours. The ego can keep you in exile from the Kingdom, but in the Kingdom itself it has no power. Ideas of the spirit do not leave the mind that thinks them, nor can they conflict with each other.
You cannot be hurt, and do not want to show your brother anything except your wholeness. Show him that he cannot hurt you and hold nothing against him, or you hold it against yourself. This is the meaning of “turning the other cheek.” As you teach, so shall you learn.
The Ego’s Use of Guilt.
Guilt is more than merely not of God. It is the symbol of attack on God. This is a totally meaningless concept except to the ego, but do not underestimate the power of the ego’s belief in it. This is the belief from which all guilt really stems. If you identify with the ego, you must perceive yourself as guilty. Whenever you respond to your ego you will experience guilt, and you will fear punishment. The ego is quite literally a fearful thought.
The mind is capable of creating reality or making illusions. You must learn to think with God. Guilt is a sure sign you are not thinking with God. Your thinking is unnatural. Thinking with God engenders joy.
[So interested to hear what Wapnick has to say about this. I was sitting next to two women in a coffee shop earlier. One of the women kept talking about all the things the Lord had told her to do (get a pilots license, buy property in Salt Lake City…) and was telling the other woman she could know what the Lord was telling her to do about moving into a new apartment if the decision made her happy or not. Is that what “Thinking with God” is about? My will be done? A lot of ACIM students seem to think it means making the “right” physical decisions, too. It still seems to me to be about the ego. You want things to go the way you want them to go so you ask the Holy Spirit what you should do that will make you happiest. It’s kind of like praying to God to make things be the way you want them to be. It also contradicts with the statement in the first section that the world is one of ideas, not things. Surely where you move, where you buy property, etc. doesn’t matter to God or the Holy Spirit. It only matters to our egos.]
Time and Eternity.
You need not fear the Higher Court will condemn you. It will merely dismiss the case against you. [I so love that!!] There can be no case against a child of God, and every witness to guilt in God’s creations is bearing false witness to God Himself.
Infinite patience calls upon infinite love, and by producing results now it renders time unnecessary.
The Decision for God.
Decision cannot be difficult. This is obvious, if you realize that you must already have decided not to be wholly joyous if that is how you feel. Therefore, the first step in the undoing is to recognize that you actively decided wrongly, but can as actively decide otherwise. Be very firm with yourself in this, and keep yourself fully aware that the undoing process, which does not come from you, is nevertheless within you because God placed it there. Your part is merely to return your thinking to the point at which the error was made, and give it over to the Atonement in peace.
I must have decided wrongly, because I am not at peace.
I made the decision myself, but I can also decide otherwise.
I want to decide otherwise, because I want to be at peace.
I do not feel guilty, because the Holy Spirit will undo all the consequences of my wrong decision if I will let Him.
I choose to let Him, by allowing Him to decide for God for me.
Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge – The Ego and the Holy Spirit.
Chapter 4 was the introduction to the ego. Chapter 5 is the introduction to the Holy Spirit.
Wapnick provides an interesting lesson on Beethoven. He believes Beethoven’s late quartets are the summit of all music. “Grosse Fuge” is what Beethoven wrote for the final movement of the 13th Quartet.
Grosse Fuge means “great fugue”—a fugue being, very briefly stated, two or more themes that are played and developed simultaneously—and herein one finds a powerful depiction of the ego, specifically the laws of chaos. It is aggressive music, almost impossible to play, let alone listen to, and seems to go on indefinitely, even though the piece lasts not even twenty minutes. I remember once, lying on my living room floor listening to these last quartets. As the Grosse Fuge played, it was as if the room spun around me with books falling off the shelves—truly a chaotic experience. Fortunately, a gentle theme, the opposite of the others, is introduced at the beginning even as it is quickly set aside. I then understood the experience of grace that many people have described. The theme is soft and beautiful, and one can liken it to the Holy Spirit and His forgiveness, although that would certainly not have been Beethoven’s term for it. After the introduction, the other fugal themes take over and one is cast into a veritable hell. But this grace-filled theme suddenly reappears, and the chaos gradually comes to an end. For a while, the melody becomes part of the fugue, and it is as if the ego and Holy Spirit go back and forth, until—finally—the ego’s theme is transformed as the fugue ends on a glorious note of triumph.
The next music Beethoven composed was The 14th Quartet, which is also a fugue. Wapnick says it is as close as anyone has come to depicting the peace of God. When taken as a whole, the quartets show that Heaven can only be obtained by first going through the chaos of the ego and that the ego is only navigable with the Holy Spirit’s guidance.
We cannot go through ACIM without playing out that battle in our minds.
The text is written as a work of art and the language within it should not be taken literally. For instance, God (our Source) is not an entity with an identity that is separate from ours, but because we believe we are separated the language in ACIM speaks to us as though we are.
Likewise, the Holy Spirit is referred to with a masculine pronoun and all of the words used to describe the Holy Spirit are personifications: mediator, guide, interpreter, translator etc. But these are just symbols that allow us to relate to the loving presence in our minds. The correct way of looking at the Holy Spirit is that He symbolizes a thought or memory.
The form of the Holy Spirit – a voice or Person within the mind – is an illusion. But as long as we identify with being a person, we need a figure in our mind’s thought system that is also a person. It’s a symbol and not to be taken literally.
The Holy Spirit takes what the ego has made and reinterprets it. He does not transcend it.
The Holy Spirit.
Aha!! Here it is. Wapnick says the Holy Spirit doesn’t help us get stuff we want…
Nowhere does it say the Holy Spirit will get us parking spaces, heal us of cancer, or bring about world peace. His quiet Presence reminds us only of what we have forgotten, the love that urges us to choose differently by reminding us of the other way: peace instead of war. Stated differently, a theme we will come back to again and again, the problem was not the tiny, mad idea of separation, but that we took it seriously when we remembered not to laugh at its inherent silliness (T-27.VIII.6:2).
And toward the end:
We need to be wary of people who tell us that they hear the Holy Spirit, because they are almost always conveying to us their specialness, albeit subtly.
[That’s what it felt like listening to the woman in the coffee shop talking about all the things “the Lord” had told her to do. It seemed as though she thought herself very special…]
No matter how serious the situation, be it cancer or no where to park, what the Holy Spirit does is simply remind us that “we can look at this differently”. It doesn’t tell us where to go to get the parking place or how to heal our cancer. That we are afraid of the cancer or upset because we can’t find a parking place is because we have identified with the ego. Wanting it to be different is an identification with the ego.
Likewise, we are not asked to deny the world we see or our bodily experiences. We are merely asked to look at it differently.
An essential aspect of the Holy Spirit’s function is to take the world we made and change its purpose to our learning it is not our home. To “look as the Holy Spirit looks” means to see the world as the mind’s projection.
Jesus is a symbol that represents the right-minded choice.
Material things are gone when we give them away. Not so with ideas. The more we talk about something, the more we believe it. Everything is an idea and what we think about expands, be it love or fear. The more love we extend, the more we identify with love. The more guilt we “eliminate” by projecting it onto others, the more we identify with guilt and fear.
The Holy Spirit is not a “person” in our minds who intervenes on our behalf, answers questions, or solves problems. The Holy Spirit is a Thought in the mind. It is the other choice once we have decided for the ego.
ACIM is a curriculum in unlearning. We need to unlearn what the ego taught us about God, ourselves, and the world, and discern the difference between illusion and reality, between being children of the ego or of God, our true Source.
The Atonement Principal.
This parallels my comments about Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge: we hear the melody of grace at the beginning, and even though it is set aside, it remains in our memory. We have all heard love’s heavenly song that patiently awaits our right-minded choice. It has not disappeared, but is simply gone from our awareness when, in our insanity, we chose to forget it.
You are free to believe any insane thing you wish, but that does not make it true. Having thoughts does not make them real.
The Ego’s Fear of the Atonement Principal.
[I think my idea of Christianity isn’t quite so bleak as Wapnick’s. The reason the Holy Spirit works for me is because the Holy Spirit was something I understood when I was very young. Maybe that is because I was Methodist whose founder was a mystic? I always thought of the Holy Spirit as fire (based on the Methodist symbol) or wind. Either way, it was something that shifted perspective – either through the Holy Struggle of fire (which I imagine much like Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge) or through the gentle winds of understanding. I think that’s why ACIM has always worked for me. I understand the view of Holy Spirit as symbolic of that something that allows you to change your mind. I don’t remember ever associating the Holy Spirit with something that was defeating the pagans or infidels. If I did understand it that way, I understood it metaphorically. I don’t remember ever thinking it was literal.]
Every country that ever attacks another believes it didn’t make the first attack. Something first happened to provoke the attack. The other party did it, not us. They are guilty, not us. But the mind’s decision for guilt can only lead to pain and so we continually project guilt. Vicious circle. The only meaningful escape it to change our minds.
The Decision for Forgiveness.
The process of forgiveness requires day-in-and-day-out dedication to overcome the resistance to losing our special self; in other words, it requires great willingness.
(VII.5:1) Whenever you are not wholly joyous, it is because you have reacted with a lack of love to one of God’s creations.
If we are in a state of unhappiness or disquiet, it is only because we have withheld love to someone. It is not because someone else has been unloving, it is because we have been unloving.
Our guilt over this “sin” is enormous because it reflects the original withholding of love from God, and we can do nothing more with this guilt than deny and project it, accusing others of our secret sin. The truth remains, though, that when we are in a state of less than perfect joy, it is because we have not been loving to another—in thought, word, or deed.
Error is undone by bringing it to truth.
The five statements we are asked to say at the end of the chapter reflect the process of forgiveness ACIM is asking us to apply whenever we become disquieted. It gently leads us from the perceived source of upset (the body) to its cause (the mind), where the Holy Spirit and His Atonement await our return and corrected decision.
Since nothing outside is the cause of our distress, whether it is a hangnail or cancer, a playground skirmish or war, the form of the problem is irrelevant to the healing power of the miracle. There is no order of difficulty in illusions, for they are all the same: an illusion is an illusion is an illusion. The problem is always our mistaken choice, which means the solution is undoing the error by changing our mind.
Jesus and the Holy Spirit are basically interchangeable in terms of functioning as our inner Teacher, that the journey They lead us on takes us from the specific to the abstract, from Jesus to the Holy Spirit’s Voice, which ends up being our own. Yet we need to begin where we believe we are, in the specific or dualistic world wherein we live as bodies, needing a specific symbol in our minds that corrects our belief in the specific teachings of the ego. For so many of us in the Western world, this symbol is Jesus.
[Holy Spirit works better for me than Jesus, although I get the idea that Jesus symbolizes the human being who chose the Holy Spirit. I’m glad Jesus’ fades out after this, however. That’s because of the baggage of my Christian upbringing. I was forever forced to envision walking with Jesus as though he was my very best friend. I could never do that! When I started going through RCIA to become Catholic, I was surprised to discover I had no difficulty doing it with Mary. Especially when I was pregnant. Protestantism is very masculine. It doesn’t have the same sense of Church as Mother or womb…]
Jesus is the “model” for decision. He did it, so can we. He is the symbol of the mind’s power to choose right-mindedly. When we unite with him we reclaim that power to utilize on behalf of the truth of Atonement instead of the illusion of separation.
This passage was originally meant for Helen, especially the opening line, but it is clearly meant for all of us. According to Wapnick it is a unique passage in the Course at this point, for it is the first time we read something in this form..
(IV.8) How can you who are so holy suffer? All your past except its beauty is gone, and nothing is left but a blessing. I have saved all your kindnesses and every loving thought you ever had. I have purified them of the errors that hid their light, and kept them for you in their own perfect radiance. They are beyond destruction and beyond guilt. They came from the Holy Spirit within you, and we know what God creates is eternal. You can indeed depart in peace because I have loved you as I loved myself. You go with my blessing and for my blessing. Hold it and share it, that it may always be ours. I place the peace of God in your heart and in your hands, to hold and share. The heart is pure to hold it, and the hands are strong to give it. We cannot lose. My judgment is as strong as the wisdom of God, in Whose Heart and Hands we have our being. His quiet children are His blessed Sons. The Thoughts of God are with you.
There had long been a tradition of reform in Roman Catholicism, so the desire of the Protestant Reformation to reform the Church was not new. What was new was that the Reformation challenged the papacy, the priesthood, and the sacraments. These had never been seriously challenged before. What was especially different was that the two-tiered Christianity that had existed almost from the Church’s earliest beginnings – that lay people live one sort of life and the way of perfection is reserved for those who live in special houses and take vows of chastity and are freed from domestic distractions in order to live a life of prayer – was being challenged.
Martin Luther (1483-1546) was a German and Augustinian monk who called for a return to the fundamentals and basic realities of Christian life: faith and scripture. There are no monks in scripture, so there shouldn’t be any monks. The Pope has no right to annul marriages based on scripture. Nor is there any scriptural reason for pastors to be celibate. He wanted to completely disregard Aristotle whom he viewed as a heathen teacher and ruled Christianity more than did Christ. He challenged almost all of the structural elements that made up the Medieval Church.
The goal of the reformation was not meant to be destructive, however. It was meant to be constructive. It called for perfection among all Christians – not just the elite few. It also called for more rigor in Christianity.
Martin Luther was deeply indebted to early mystic writers. However, in a sense, what Protestant Reformers were trying to do was eradicate mysticism from religion. But what basically ended up happening was the extension of ascetic ideals to all believers. The Reformation also exposed social and religious tensions that were very difficult to negotiate.
Martin Luther did not write in a systematic fashion, but his student, Philip Melanthon (1497-1560) organized Luther’s reform into a systematic theology – a Lutheran scholasticism that was insufficiently radical for the Anabaptists and others, including Johann Arndt (1551-1621) who argued that external attention to doctrine, such as the Doctrine of Atonement, was insufficient. Instead attention needs to be paid to the work of Christ in human hearts.
Mystical teachers arose in Protestantism in response to a personal and transcendent relationship to God that went beyond public worship and theology. Jakob Boehme (1575-1624) was a mystic in the Lutheran tradition who had mystical experiences from an early age. His writings included Gnostic/Neoplatonic elements. For Boehme, Christianity is inward Christianity. Inward Christianity consists of the path back to God through Christ through knowledge of self that leads to being regenerated in the image of Christ.
Pietism was a movement that began in Germany with the publication of Pia Desidera *1675) by Philipp Jakob Spencer (1635-1705). He issued a 6 point agenda for reform which caught fire and led to the spread Pietism in north and middle Germany in the 18th century. In reaction to this movement, the German Awakening took place in the 19th century, spearheaded by August Tholuck. “Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” In the German Awakening, worldly pleasure was celebrated more than rejected which was something completely new within Christianity, especially since medieval times. The enjoyment of life was understood as given to us by God and therefore considered to be an intrinsic part of Christian life.
Friedrich von Bodelschwingh (1831-1910) taught that the poor are friends to Christians. His view on the poor was completely different view than had ever been previously presented. Where Christianity often talks about being among the poor or becoming poor, Bodelschwingh said the poor serve two functions: 1) an opportunity to practice charity and 2) a challenge to our own sense of self-entitlement and self-indulgence. The German Awakening marks the beginning of a more worldly Christianity that characterizes the 20th century.
Back in England, William Law (1696-1761) defended the Anglican faith against Deism. He wrote a classic of Anglican spirituality called A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life (1728) where he says a devout life leads to happiness more than it does its opposite. He also wrote The Spirit of Love (1754) which was more explicitly mystical. John Wesley (1703-1791) and Charles Wesley (1707-1788) were disciples of William Law. They began a renewal within the Anglican Church which eventually led to a new denomination altogether based on a specific method of being Christian (Methodism).
John Wesley said that faith is not an opinion. It is the ability to pierce the veil and it is also an inner experience.
A string of opinions is no more Christian faith than a string of beads is of Christian holiness… The faith by which the promise is attained is a power wrought by the Almighty in an immortal spirit inhabiting a house of clay to see through that veil into the world of spirits, into things invisible and eternal: a power to discern those things which with eyes of flesh and blood no man hath seen or can see either by reason of their nature, which (though they surround us on every side) is not perceivable by those gross senses or by reason of their distance as being yet afar off in the bosom of eternity. To believe (in the Christian sense) then, is to walk in the light of eternity and to have a clear sight of, and confidence in, the Most High, reconciled to me through the Son in his love.”
Charles Wesley wrote significant and beautiful hymns that show up in worship services in all traditions today.
A recent discussion with Lindsay has me thinking about Eschatology. Different traditions can have very different views on Eschatology so I think sometimes, we can think we are talking about the same thing, but we maintain assumptions based on our different traditions that keep us from fully understanding the other’s point of view.
It helps to at least have an understanding of what your own view is, so I thought I’d work through my understanding of Christian Eschatology.
With the exception of the 8 years I was Catholic and the 5 plus years I decided to shun institutionalized religion altogether, I have been part of the United Methodist denomination that was founded by John and Charles Wesley. I attended Sunday School regularly, was actively involved in MYF through junior high and high school, and went through Methodist Confirmation. I participated in Methodist Bible study classes, including Disciple Bible Study beginning in junior high and continued to attend studies through the Wesley Foundation in college and at various churches in my adulthood. Obviously, my Biblical orientation is extremely Wesleyan, which is why I think I was never totally comfortable with the fundamentalist Christian groups I was actively involved with in high school (Young Life and Fellow Christian Athletes). But fundamentalism shaped my early ideas of Eschatology far more than did Methodism.
I live in the Bible Belt and grew up totally surrounded by dispensational premillinialists (a somewhat famous tribulations writer lived across the street from us). For most of my youth, my view of the end times was based on a literal reading of Revelation. It was easy for me to adopt this view, despite belonging to a Methodist Church, because there is no firm view of eschatology within United Methodism. There’s no doctrine whatsoever on Heaven or Hell, either. You are free to believe about it what you want and there are all sorts of views amongst Methodists. Plus, I knew very little of Wesley, other than some Biblical commentary sometimes covered in Disciple Bible Study classes – but I didn’t encounter this commentary until I had moved out of the Bible Belt. (Of course, now I’m back in the Bible Belt.) I recently took an introductory course on John Wesley through our church that was extremely helpful.
One of the things that separates Methodism from some of the other mainstream Protestant denominations is that its founders were not at all interested in Biblical prophecy so there is very little emphasis on speculative eschatology. Early Methodists interpreted Revelation and other apocryphal texts as historicists, not as futurists. If there is an eschatology in Methodism, it is an eschatology of hope. According to John Wesley, the Holy Spirit provides the ability for humans to begin Christ’s redeeming work, now. We don’t have to wait for signs to know this is happening. God’s ultimate goal is not to whisk us off to some future Kingdom, but to restore us to full health (body and soul), and we are full participants in this restoration.
Consider Matthew 24:14 – “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then shall the end come.” John Wesley said that the use of the term “oikoumene” in the original Greek limited Jesus’ meaning specifically to the Roman Empire. In Wesley’s Biblical notes, he wrote:
And then shall the end come— Of the city and temple. Josephus’s History of the Jewish War is the best commentary on this chapter. It is a wonderful instance of God’s providence, that he, an eye witness, and one who lived and died a Jew, should, especially in so extraordinary a manner, be preserved, to transmit to us a collection of important facts, which so exactly illustrate this glorious prophecy, in almost every circumstance.
Methodist theologian Milton Terry puts it this way, “After the Gospel of the Messianic Kingdom had been preached in the whole Roman world, for a witness to all the nations of the same, the end of that age came.” And this, in turn, explains Matthew 24:34 – “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” According to Wesley, all these things happened in the second century. There is no need to continue to wait for them to happen. From his Biblical Commentary:
The expression implies, that great part of that generation would be passed away, but not the whole. Just so it was. For the city and temple were destroyed thirty-nine or forty years after.
I have, penciled into my Disciple Bible Study workbook, that the Gospel of Matthew was written after the fall of Jerusalem (70 ACE). The Methodist minister who taught this class said the writer(s) of Matthew weren’t prophesying what was to come, but were instead putting words into Jesus’ mouth about what had already happened. Several years before her class, during my Roman Catholic days, I had taken a class called “In Time with the Bible with Father Weaver”. The Methodist minister’s view was actually less radical than Father Weaver’s understanding, and he was supposedly trained at the Vatican. (He had been hired to counter the more literalist leanings of the Little Rock Scripture Study that had become popular at our church.) He believed that once we are finally allowed more access to non-canonical texts, our views of the canonized Bible would be forced to change. I tend to agree with Father Weaver and the Methodist minister’s view. The Bible was canonized by the Catholic Church in the 4th century after Constantine had made it the official religion of Rome, largely for political reasons. There are whole sections of early Christianity we know very little about and can gain a better understanding of who Jesus might have been through these non-canonical texts.
But I digress. Obviously, Wesley’s view doesn’t contradict Albert Schweitzer’s understanding that Jesus believed the end of times would happen in Jesus’ life time. But clearly, Wesley does not share this view. That was the basis of my conversation with Lindsay – Lindsay thinks that both Paul and Jesus shared the view that the End of Times would be in their lifetime. I agreed that this was true of Paul, but not of Jesus. I’m not sure Wesley would agree that it was true of Paul, either. In looking through my old Disciple Bible Study notes, I stumbled upon Wesley’s notes on Matthew 24:29 which say that Paul’s intent was to turn the primitive Christians away from the idea that the end of the world would be in their lifetime.
Matthew 24:29-30 reads…
Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall be the sun darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: and then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds with power and great glory.
Immediately after the tribulation of those days— Here our Lord begins to speak of his last coming. But he speaks not so much in the language of man as of God, with whom a thousand years are as one day, one moment. Many of the primitive Christians not observing this, thought he would come immediately, in the common sense of the word: a mistake which St. Paul labours to remove, in his Second Epistle to the Thessalonians.
The powers of the heavens— Probably the influences of the heavenly bodies.
2 Thessalonians 2:2 says, “That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand.” Wesley says that Paul’s use of “shaken in mind” refers to judgment and also being terrified. Wesley says that those who are fond of knowing the future are easily terrified and that Paul is warning against this. They need to have sound judgment and not be distracted by pretended revelation from the Spirit (Wesley was always warning people to test what they believed came from the Holy Spirit) and that they should also be wary of any pretense that might come from Paul.
Personally, I really don’t know what to think of Paul. But to think that Jesus believed the literal end of times was nigh would completely destroy my understanding of Jesus. Not to say Schweitzer was wrong, just that I think it is impossible to know who Jesus was so a historical reading of Jesus is just as mythical as anything else. He’s a historical figure, but we all have different ideas of who Jesus was and what works for some doesn’t work for others. That’s OK. Personally, I think Jesus was far more motivated by compassion than he was politics. This compassion, of course, made him enter into the political game and confront it head on. But I don’t think he was politically motivated. Paul, on the other hand, seems more driven by politics. Of course, his politics are compassionate. But from my perspective Paul’s motivation is politics over compassion while Jesus’ motivation (and I think that of the movement carried on by Peter & James) is compassion over politics.
Maybe Paul believed the end of times was around the corner, or maybe he understood this more like Wesley says he did. I don’t know. I don’t think it really matters in terms of my personal understanding of Biblical eschatology and perhaps that’s because I have turned so far away from the dispensationalist view (which I think is incredibly dangerous!) These days, I understand Christian Eschatology almost entirely metaphorically. Eschatological writings occur during exceptionally difficult times and offer hope to those who are undergoing great oppression and immense suffering. They don’t necessarily offer a way out of the oppression and suffering, but provide the assurance that there is a way through it. They provide courage and faith (trust) by piercing the veil. Even though all is a mess, all is well. With that understanding, we have the potential to evolve humanity toward compassion and unity without denying individuality.
Carl said I challenged the idea that Christian mysticism regards the unitive experience as communion rather than identification with God. I think he misunderstood my “challenge”. I agree that Christian mysticism is about communion with God. I’m just not convinced that this is unique to Christianity. Every world religion I can think of is ultimately about communion with “the One”, not identification with “God”.
But that’s not what this post is about. I had a really cool idea thanks to Carl making me think through my ideas on the Trinity. Here it is: Nietzsche’s three stages of becoming (Camel, Lion, Child) are comparable to the Christian Trinity and the Hindu/Wiccan trinity. This gives me goosepimples!
Start with the “Child Stage” which perhaps could be compared to Brahman/Maiden/Father-God. Take into consideration that the absolute, unqualified Deity for Christian mystic Meister Eckhart was outside of the Trinity. He considered it to be unnatured nature and said that it manifested itself as natured nature in the form of the Trinity. The “Father” part of the trinity is for Eckhart, a genesis. (The “Father” procreates. The “Son” does not.) And as I mentioned yesterday, Dostoevsky (whom was definitely a Christian mystic) considered God to be a field of infinite potential. Nietzsche’s “Child” Stage” is the stage of innocence where there is an openness to infinite possibility. This is where true creativity exists. This stage naturally creates rules and regulations that initially help foster creativity. But eventually, the rules cease to serve creativity and become a burden. They become a sort of prison because we are no longer dutiful to the rules for the sake of growth and creativity but simply for duty’s sake. This is the Camel Stage.
We have to go through the Camel Stage and be dutiful to the rules of our culture and society in order to transcend them. We have to be able to fully live in the world if we are to transcend the world. Being focused on an otherworldly heaven that provides an escape from this world does not provide us with this ability. We have to be willing to live with whatever it is the world hands us and to be grateful for the world as it is rather than focusing on how we want it to be. Not only grateful, Nietzsche says that if we are unwilling to live our lives over and over and over again, exactly as they are, for an eternity, then we are seeking an escape and have failed to show our gratitude. (Meister Eckhart said that if the only prayer we said in our entire life was thank you, it would suffice.) I think this could potentially be comparable to Vishnu in Hinduism and the Mother in Wicca (the Preservers). I also think this could be compared to “the Son” in the Christian Trinity. (Remember, according to Meister Eckhart, the Son does not procreate. The Son for Eckhart is not about creation. It is about preservation.) It is through “the Son” that Christians are given the courage to live in the world. It is also what finally gives us the courage to question the norms of the world against God’s world. Which leads us to the Lion Stage. (Just remember, when Nietzsche said God was dead, what he meant was that the metaphor we had created for God was no longer serving us. We killed the Metaphor. He felt this applied to atheistic rationalists as much as it applied to Christian theists. We had become slaves to a dead metaphor.)
The Lion Stage fits perfectly with the Destroyer Stage within Hinduism and Wicca (Shiva/Crone). This is where we slay the dragon. Not only do we slay the dragon, we undo every single scale that exists on that dragon. What is the dragon? The cultural norms that demand our compliance even though they no longer are of service to us. The scales are every single rule and regulation that demands our compliance for the mere sake of duty rather than for the sake of growth and creativity. In Christianity, it is the Holy Spirit that allows us to transcend our old, worn out patterns. It’s what allows us to see that we have the ability to transcend our old way of being. In so doing, it “destroys” our old way of being. (The Holy Spirit is represented as fire in Methodism.)
Nietzsche claims we are engaged in a constant journey of becoming. We don’t finally arrive at some end destination with the journey coming to an end, we are forever journeying which requires that we constantly cycle through these stages. So the Lion Stage gives way to the Child Stage where everything is new again. Eventually, what was once new begins to fetter us and we begin to become imprisoned by the dragon of duty which requires we be dutiful out of fear (the sake of duty based on the boundaries of past experiences) rather than out of love (an infinite field of potential) and so we enter the Camel Stage again so that we can recognize the well-worn path has finally come to an end and that it is time we create our own.
But in order to create our own path, we must slay the dragon. And so it goes. It’s a never-ending process.
Rohr says the overall message in his book, The Naked Now, is that:
All saying must be balanced by unsaying, and knowing must be humbled by unknowing. Without this balance, religion invariably becomes arrogant, exclusionary, and even violent.
All light must be informed by darkness, and all success by suffering. St. John of the Cross called this Luminous Darkness, St. Augustine, the Paschal Mystery or the necessary Passover, and Catholics proclaim it loudly as the mystery of faith at every Eucharist. Yet it is seldom an axiom at the heart of our lives.
A few interesting points…
True spirituality is not a search for perfection or control or the door to the next world; it is a search for divine union now. The great discovery is that always what we were searching for has already been given! I did not find it; it found me.
What makes Jesus different than founders of other religions is that he found God in disorder and imperfection and told us that we must do the same or we will never be content on this earth. Hope and union are the same thing. Real hope has nothing to do with certitude.
Much of religious seeking today is immature transcendence which is dualistically split off from any objective experience of union with God, self or others. If it is authentically experienced, Christianity is overcoming the split from God’s side, once and for all. (“Why do you waste time looking to one another for approval when you have the approval that comes from the One God?” John 5: 41, 44)
Faith is often clarified and joy-filled hindsight – after we have experienced our experiences. But the path ahead will always be a mixture of darkness and light.
The essential religious experience is that you are being “known through” more than knowing anything in particular. Yet despite this difference it feels like true knowing. This new way of knowing is called “third eye” seeing. We do not pray to Christ, we pray through Christ.
Many are convinced that the correct Hebrew YHWH is an attempt to replicate the sound of inhalation and exhalation. When you breathe, you are speaking God’s name. It is our first and last word. There is no Islamic, Christian or Jewish way of breathing. There is no American, African, or Asian way. There is no poor or rich way. The playing field is utterly leveled. Breath, wind, spirit and air are precisely – nothing.
The word mystic simply means one who has moved from mere belief systems or belonging systems to actual inner experience. This was Jesus’ entire point. Jesus was the first non-dual religious teacher of the West. One of the reasons we have failed to understand his teaching is because we tried to understand it with a dual mind. Nondual thinking was consistently assumed, implied and even taught in Christianity for 1600 years before it went underground. Balance is the name of the game. Not perfection.
Theism believes there is a God. Christianity believes that God and humanity can exist in the same place. These are two utterly different proclamations of the universe. Most Christians are very good theists who just happen to have named their god Jesus…. We think of ourselves as mere humans trying to be spiritual when the Christian revelation is that we are already spiritual.
We do not see things as they are. We see things as we are.
Three levels of conversion:
Intellectual – moving out of the world of sense perception into the universe of being.
Moral – purification of motives
Religious – transformation into love. Changing ourselves and letting ourselves be changed by a mysterious encounter with grace, mercy and forgiveness.
Metanoia – change your mind. Jesus’ first message in the gospels.
Paul’s word for “ego” was “flesh”.
The “kingdom of God” is not about a place or afterlife. It is about a way of seeing and thinking now. The kingdom of God is the naked now.
Prayer is “resonance”. Prayer is about changing you, not about changing God.
The struggle to forgive reality for being exactly what it is right now often breaks us through to nondual consciousness.
Christianity became rational in order to oppose rationalism, which made it lose it’s secret wisdom. [Perhaps Wesley understood this and that’s why he’s called the "Rational Enthusiast"?]
God is the one whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere. St. Bonaventure
Religious people today are much more invested in either/or thinking than scientists.
Although Ken Wilber would largely identify as a Buddhist, he is our post-modern Thomas Aquinas, and one of the best friends and loving critics religion has ever had.
We made Jesus into a mere religion instead of a journey toward unity with God. We became a religion of belonging rather than a religion of transformation.
I’ve finished all of the sermons in the little John Wesley Book of Sermons translated by Thomas Oden and have gotten a lot out of most of them. It’s like reconnecting to something I once understood about Christianity but had long ago forgotten.
Most of the sermons are based on understanding, compassion, love and forgiveness. Wesley says that all sins are forgiven because God does not condemn. Therefore, there is no reason, whatsoever, to be afraid of your past. Christ set us free so quit being slaves to sin. Quit being a slave to the past.
This was likely groundbreaking stuff in 18th century England when church was all about morality. Wesley was preaching to the poor and outcast and he usually had to do so outside of the church because the Church of England had closed it’s doors to him. They didn’t like what he was preaching. One time, he went to preach in his father’s church and they wouldn’t let him, so he preached on his father’s tombstone, outside of the church. He always drew a crowd. I’m not so sure I totally understand why he always drew a crowd, but he was extremely popular among the poor. He supposedly attracted as many people as 30,000 at a time!
In one of his sermons, he says that God is not harshly disapproving of you, so why should you be afraid? Get up. Leap! Walk. Go on your way. You have no reason to fall into the grip of the fear that brings with it pains of judgment. Just love God who loves you. That is sufficient. Not exactly the message the ruling class wants to send to the lower classes.
This may have been what I was taught in my Methodist Sunday School classes, but it certainly is not what I was taught in all of the many Christian organizations I belonged to in junior high and high school. I had conflicting ideas about God when I was younger. On the one hand, I believed God was Love. I could easily equate the two. Love is God; God is Love. On the other hand, I also believed God condemned those who displeased him. So God was Love and Love was God as long as you were pleasing to God. It didn’t ever really make sense. We were told we were saved by grace, but what that really meant was that grace could only be given to us if we first believed in the right things. It wasn’t really grace because you essentially had to earn your way into it. Grace, by definition, cannot be earned.
In another sermon, Wesley says that God was revealed to Moses, but not with physical eyes. He didn’t literally “see” God. Quoting Exodus, Wesley says that what Moses saw was God as compassionate and gracious, long-suffering, ever constant and true, maintaining constancy to thousands, forgiving iniquity, rebellion, and sin, and not sweeping the guilty clean away. I’d never really thought about Moses in this way before. There are all kinds of stories in the OT of God wiping the guilty clean away, or at least wanting to wipe them away. Apparently, he would have done this several times if the prophets hadn’t talked Him out of it. (Noah is the only prophet I can think of who didn’t try to convince God to save his people. He didn’t argue. He just built the ark and let God wipe everyone out without so much as a peep. Noah was an exceptionally wimpy prophet!!) Maybe Moses represented a new generational understanding of God at that time, as did Wesley for his time?
It would be interesting to go back through history and see how it plays out – is there always a tug of war between those crying out for morality and new voices coming to the forefront insisting on forgiveness? If so, then it’s kind of interesting that it is currently humanist atheism and progressive Christianity that are the moral defenders of the universe these days. Neither group is particularly forgiving or tolerant. I’d never really thought of this before. Perhaps today’s voices of forgiveness are those of transpersonal psychology (Eckhart Tolle, A Course in Miracles, etc.) and Integral Spirituality?
The last sermon is about working out our own salvation. That’s kind of like saying, “we are the ones we have been waiting for.” Quit waiting for someone or something to save you. Wesley writes, “Even those who have no law – no written law – are their own law for they display the effect of the law – the substance of it, though not the letter for it is inscribed on their hearts by the hand which wrote the commandment on tablets of stone. Their conscience is called as witness as to whether they act suitably or not.”… “God works in us, therefore we must work.” This, to me, is basically the same thing as Richard Rohr’s idea of Contemplative Action. Trust that inner voice, and it will give rise to action. You will know what to do.