Back to Basics

In an earlier post, I wrote that most people learn to see the world from the ideas they’re taught, instead of “the undeniable aspects of their own experience.”

Yes, there are undeniable aspects of our experience. Do you want to explore what’s undeniable, what’s real, what’s unquestionable? Do you want to get past the crap that has been shoveled into your head since you were a child? Want to see the world, its wonders, and all the people in it afresh? Are you sure? Don’t answer too quickly. Courage is required.

Because when you learn to look at the world and not your thoughts about the world, it might be surprising. And when you learn to look at yourself instead of your thoughts about yourself, it might be more than surprising. It might even be frightening. Or not. But you won’t know until you look. Hence, the requirement of courage.

This has been known for millenia. According to the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus cautions:

Whoever searches
must continue to search
until they find.
When they find,
they will be disturbed.
And being disturbed, they will marvel
and will reign over All.
—Thomas 2

20 thoughts on “Back to Basics

  1. I’m not sure what Jesus you are referring to in that passage, but the Jesus of the Bible doesn’t say that. Here is one of the many things He has said:
    Matthew 11:28-30 (New Living Translation)
    “28 Then Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.'”

  2. the first part of your post reminded me of Paul Simon’s opening line in his song “Kodachrome” saying, “When I look back on all the crap I learned in high school, it’s a wonder I can think at all…”

    i’d like to purchase a copy of the Gospel of Thomas. i’ve heard many people quote Thomas and others as if they are in disagreement with Biblical scriptures. i’ve only read the traditional compilation of gospels, but everything i hear quoted from Thomas and others has only confirmed what i’ve understood in my private readings. they sound like wonderful scriptures.

    i always enjoy your posts about your spiritual journey. they encourage me and comfort me. thank you for sharing.

  3. @Mark. Mine, too!

    @Josh. Thanks for the feedback, and the quote from Kodachrome. Re Thomas, I highly recommend the translation by Leloup and Rowe. They really get into the spirit of the texts in a very deep way. You won’t be disappointed.

    @Ted “Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock, and it shall be opened to you. To the one who asks, it shall be given; the one who seeks shall find; and to the one who knocks, the door shall be opened.” Matt. 7.7-8

  4. John, why place so much credibility on the Gospel of Thomas and every other book that is not the Bible, and at the same time devalue the Bible or change its meaning to match what the other books are saying?

    Matt. 7:7-8 doesn’t say anything about being disturbed. But it does say that we can freely come to our loving and gracious Heavenly Father asking, seeking and knocking.

    Jesus came to “seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10). We have to be willing to be found as we place our lives at the foot of the cross.

    So often we run this way and that and here and there hoping to find the answers. The answers are profoundly simple. They are found in following the Jesus Christ of the Bible. I encourage everyone reading this comment to put down all the other ancillary books and read the Gospel of John. Bathe yourselves in the words of Jesus. He is worthy to be served.
    Matthew 11:28-30 (New Living Translation)
    “28 Then Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.’”

  5. @Ted Well, it sounds like this site is disturbing you. Are you here because you’re curious about Christian mysticism, or are you here to “be a good witness” by trolling?

    If the former, I’d encourage you read more on the subject. The pages on this site in the Spirituality section might be a good place to start, or you might want to read the Wikipedia page on the subject.

    If the latter, well, I try not to feed trolls in the comments. But I’ll more than happy to respond to any questions you have by email, or better yet, in person.

  6. Great example, Julie! I remember it well … learning to see the actual patterns of light, shadow, and color, and that almost nothing in the world actually has a line around it!

    The longer I’m on this path, the less “mystical” mysticism becomes. If I had to define it now, I’d probably just call it “determined dedication to reality.”

  7. Hey Jon! I’ve been trying to reconnect with old blog friends over the past couple of days and you are on that list. 😉 Thought I’d pop in and say “Hi.”

    River (aka Kay)

  8. Hey, Kay (River)! Good to hear back from you. BTW, I just updated the blogroll. I’m going to enjoy your “ephemeral thoughts.”

  9. Speaking from the “undeniable aspects of (my) experience” I’ve come to a place of no questions, realizing there can be no answers until I can rest in my Lord, BE in this moment, Trust Him completely. This is the peace we can be living in. There are many people, many books, that seek to give us answers. I love my Bible. God has used it to feed me spiritually, to grow me, to help me know him better. But, IT is not my God. He is so much more than just that book! He has used other books to speak to me, too. He has used people (my parents, teachers, friends, husband, children, this website even!) But, it is my EXPERIENCE with Him that provides all the Truth I need. If every second is His and mine, I need nothing else. Courage is not so much required, as death to self. “He must increase, but I must decrease.” John 3:30. How much more “real” can that be? In Him is REALITY.

  10. Jon,

    When I look, I mostly find conditioned mind. On the few occasions when I see through it, sometimes I find sensory awareness, sometimes emptiness. Is that what Thomas’ Jesus had in mind?

  11. @greenfrog Yes, I think so. All three can be disturbing, but emptiness especially. (At least it was for me.) But the courage to face it, and the rewards, I think are what Jesus is speaking of.

  12. I’m new to your site, and I love it. I was particularly impressed by your compilation of canonical and non-canonical scriptures that reveal a highly mystical aspect to Christianity that I found in Zen; because I come from a Christian background this was a refreshing return to an old friend.

    Though I doubt if anyone would classify me as “christian” because I am interested in so many other traditions including the dreaded “pagan” ones, I still dig Christ.

    So anyway, it seems this post is about what philosophers call “qualia” or “raw feels”; its something one finds in phenomenology as well. What I wanted to add to the discussion is that some neuroscientists are finding that there are subjective aspects of experience that cannot be reduced to anything physical in the brain. Let me qualify: though what occurs in the mind is tightly correlated with what occurs in the brain, in the end, we are *monistic* beings of both mind AND brain, and neither can be reduced to the other. They are two aspects of the same unity, but viewed from different aspects, like waves and particles. Thanks for a great website, I look forward to visiting often.

  13. I am also a first time visitor to your site, and I am glad I stumbled across it . . . your webpage on Theosis was a nice read.

    But I do agree with Ted that gnostic and Dead Sea Scroll writings like the Gospel of Thomas portray a Jesus which is different from the Jesus who was God’s son, and false ‘Jesus Christs’ abound such that it is important to be VERY CLEAR about which ‘christ’ you serve. [For example, Matthew Fox’s ‘cosmic christ’ is also not the Christ of the Gospels.]

    Along these lines, although I am a mystic who regularly experiences the presence of God as well as communication back from Him in the form of all-encompassing knowledge (as you describe in your discussion of Theosis), it is true that not all mystical experience is ‘of God’ and many contemplative practices actually cause individuals to ‘become one’ with false presences who merely pretend to be Christ.

    The difference is tremendous: a mystic who genuinely grows in relationship with the One True God becomes so dedicated to Truth and God’s will, that he or she has no choice but to be a force to be reckoned with in society at large; literally the type of larger-than-life actor who will overturn money-lending tables in the temple. I have (metaphorically) done this many times as a lawyer and activist, and have suffered financial and personal repercussions from ‘speaking Truth to Power.’ In other words, I genuinely bear a cross for Christ.

    A ‘mystic’ who is in union with a false spirit will FEEL like he or she is ‘one with God,’ and may sound pious, wise and in awe when speaking about his or her experiences, but will do little which has a lasting, meaningful impact in the larger world. A mystical experience which does not lead to concrete stances in opposition to all which God detests about the culture and practices of lost humanity is a mystical experience which does nothing to help God advance His Kingdom on earth — and is, thus, nothing more than spiritual narcissism.

    The Bible emphasizes that our desires lead us into destruction, and it is the DESIRE for experiences of God which lays the foundation for deception. Jesus did not tell us to seek union with God, or engage in spiritual disciplines in order to compel God’s presence. No! Jesus instructed us to LOVE God and to focus on Him and His will without agenda, without asking anything for ourselves, desiring only to be perfect in His eyes.

    I had a daily, intense prayer life for close to 11 years before I first experienced God communicating back (at age 16) — it was completely unexpected and unsolicited, and did not happen again that directly for another twenty-three years (at the age of 33). Since the age of 33 (13 years ago) when I experienced an intense 8-day Ecstasy which blew away all remaining barriers between He and I, my experience of God’s presence and communication has been ongoing and near constant. But, again, this state of union and relationship was preceded by 34 years of prayer, study, discernment.

    And my prayer life has never consisted of me requesting that God ‘do’ things: God is not Santa Claus, and I honestly think that petitionary prayer is a form of heresy. God does not exist for our pleasure or to meet what WE think we need (He is the only one who knows our genuine needs): He is not a genie in a bottle!

    Prayer is meant as a self-examination of conduct and a confession of sin; a constant cleansing of one’s inner self in order to grow in character and become even more conformed to Christ’s image. Every shower is literally a new baptism wherein I pray that God ‘wash away my inequity and cleanse me from my sin,’ and I emerge with the knowledge that my prayer has been heard and I am yet again a ‘new vessel’ for the inpouring of God’s new wine — the Being of Christ.

    In light of my experiences as a mystic, I get disturbed when I read of seekers who decide they want to experience God’s presence and so start meditating or fasting or (whatever) WITH THE GOAL of making a spiritual experience happen. This is like issuing an open invitation to what ever false spirits happen along to ‘fill the void’ with feel-good experiences which bolster the ego’s pride that one has now become ‘a mystic’ — presto — pronto — hallelujah. This is simply self-delusion.

    On this note, you mention on your Theosis page (I believe that’s where I saw this) that a friend you met through this website lives constantly in God’s presence and says she can distinguish no difference between herself and God . . . and I find that very suspect, I have to admit. Part of the ‘dark night of the soul’ aspect of mystical union includes that at times you do not perceive God’s presence, and that lack of union and perception causes intense suffering, since a soul who lives in union with God feels like she could not endure ever again living in a state apart from God such that even His temporary absence feels like hell.

    Though these periods of darkness never last long — maybe a couple of days at the most, depending on whatever circumstances have made it necessary for God to ‘cloak Himself’ in this fashion — still they are always present in the life of a genuine mystic (and they were present in Jesus Christ’s life as well, as evidenced by his famous ‘Why hast Thou forsaken me?’ utterance on the cross).

    Your friend also said that union with God made her feel like there was no difference at all between the two of them — and that is a major red flag of deception because although a mystic often does not know where he/she leaves off and God begins — i.e., there is a definite overlapping of boundaries — still there is ALWAYS the knowledge that God is Other just as much as He is also ‘at One.’ I am not God in His totality, and neither was Jesus Christ (he never claimed to BE ‘the Father,’ but just to be in union with his Father and to do his Father’s will perfectly) and neither is your friend.

    God is God and He has no intention of being supplanted by men who THINK they are God. He is a distinct Being with a personality and an agenda, and no true mystic ever forgets that. Indeed, the deeper the mystical connection, the more one knows that God has an agenda which is not our own and a personality we do not control and did not create, and a plan for the world we cannot know unless we love Him passionately and unreservedly as Jesus Christ instructed.
    St. Teresa of Avila is probably the best authority on this point: she even once playfully scolded God that the reason He has so few friends is because He is so difficult to get along with. I.e., union with God is NOT a static experience of peace, calm, bliss and good will. AU CONTRAIRE!

    Sorry to go on at such length, but obviously I care very deeply that mysticism be understood truthfully and with all of its attendant ramifications.


    P.S. My spiritual background, in case you are interested: I was a devout Catholic from childhood up until college, when God led me to study ‘the Words in Red’ with a youth minister at an independent Protestant bible church. Later in life He led me to study classical Christian mysticism, Reform Judaism, general theology and cosmology (among other things, including every facet of parenting — since I have 5 children).

    I now consider myself a non-denominational Lover of God who follows God’s personal direction as well as Scripture (as interpreted by study, contemplation and revelation). If I were to still consider myself a Catholic, I would be a progressive Catholic . . . but I no longer believe in the ritual of Mass, infant baptism, the Pope, devotion to Mary and other core components of Catholicism, so I guess that pretty much rules me out of my original denomination! (smile)

  14. Oops. My bad. Just reread my comment and saw a huge typo: my state of being almost constantly in God’s presence was preceded by 24 years of prayer and study, not 34. Had to note that corretion! Peace and adios.

  15. Diane, you remind me of myself a few years ago.

    I’m happy you’ve found a great place in Christian mysticism. May you always be blessed.

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