Saturday, December 5, 2009

Demystifying the Mystagogues

I saw this on another blog a few days ago: "Both you and God are ultimately absorbed in the One ... For this is the ultimate goal of traditional yogic practice: to throw oneself under the cosmic bus, and merge with the Infinite. No self, no problem."

It made me ponder my own position in accordance to the proximity of the Almighty. Many Christians, starting with the earliest Gnostics, have taken up this Hindu concept of oneness with the divine. Of the 31,000 verses in the bible, there are only three or four that on the surface sound as though they might have anything at all to do with this concept of merging with that hypostasis we call the trinity.

John 10:30 "I and the Father are one."

John 17:11 "I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name—the name you gave me—so that they may be one as we are one."

John 17:20-22 My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
But are these scriptures actually talking about our being sucked up into the Godhead, a sort of reversal of the Big Bang where all goes back to its original state of primordial substance before the fall? That is indeed very similar to the Hindu concept of nirvana where man loses his individual consciousness in God. This, however, has nothing in common with the teachings of Christ or the character of a creator. God's greatest triumph was being able to do the very opposite of this. The connectedness of all things isn't a particularly tricky subject. That all beings are within the whole yet can still remain quite separate, take divergent paths, and act with extreme variance is the more interesting and inexplicable phenomenon. To create beings apart from himself, each with their own personality and awareness, in essence--a soul--was an act of excogitation no man can begin to comprehend.

Being drawn into the divine and losing our individuality in the process is the last thing on God's mind.

What Jesus was talking about in the above verses was something very much like what we're told his followers took to heart and did: Acts 4:32 "All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had."

God wants us to have a common sense of right and wrong that comes from him, to live in a mutual attitude of love and respect for one another, to share each other's physical and emotional troubles. He has no intentions of un-creating our individuality even when we're in Heaven. What he wants for us is to be creators ourselves and to go on creating throughout eternity. He didn't tell Noah to have no children and live in a state of constant meditation in an attempt to become one with God. Far from it, he told him to go out and replicate, to fill the world with more souls. That's what creators do--they create. There's no talk of "less is more" in Heaven. Scientists tell us they now believe the universe will expand forever. There are billions of stars in the universe, billions of people on this one planet, billions of photons passing through your body this very instant. God is about more, more, more! He can be nothing less. A dog barks because it's his nature. God creates because that is his.

The Mystagogues talk in lofty words full of air like a poem with no subject. They love the mere mention of words like eternity, infinity, timelessness, intangible, ineffable. They live for the mystery of things. They have little use for either hard answers or the hard work of a life well-lived. Theirs is a wistful world of imponderable bliss without end. And if they're not careful they may get it. I loved what G. K. Chesterton had to say in his essay entitled The Mystagogues.

Whenever you hear much of things being unutterable and indefinable and impalpable and unnamable and subtly indescribable, then elevate your aristocratic nose towards heaven and snuff up the smell of decay. It is perfectly true that there is something in all good things that is beyond all speech or figure of speech. But it is also true that there is in all good things a perpetual desire for expression and concrete embodiment; and though the attempt to embody it is always inadequate, the attempt is always made. If the idea does not seek to be the word, the chances are that it is an evil idea. If the word is not made flesh it is a bad word.

Thus Giotto or Fra Angelieo would have at once admitted theologically that God was too good to be painted; but they would always try to paint Him. ... The trend of good is always towards Incarnation. ...those refined thinkers who worship the Devil ... always insist upon the shapelessness, the wordlessness, the unutterable character of the abomination. ... they worship him as the unspeakable name; as the unbearable silence. ... It was the Christians who gave the Devil a grotesque and energetic outline, with sharp horns and spiked tail. It was the saints who drew Satan as comic and even lively. The Satanists never drew him at all.

... The man who really thinks he has an idea will always try to explain that idea. The charlatan who has no idea will always confine himself to explaining that it is much too subtle to be explained. ... The honest man is he who is always trying to utter the unutterable, to describe the indescribable; but the quack lives not by plunging into mystery, but by refusing to come out of it. [my emphasis]

There is a proper longing that every Christian has to be with God in something like a physical way although we may not realize what that longing is initially--that Sehnsucht which C. S. Lewis spoke of so often where there seems to be joy in the longing itself. But the mature Christian, in time, learns that this feeling is not a love for mystery, nor a desire to be drawn in to God's own self. God allows us our "selves" and instead causes his light to shine on everything we experience no matter where we go in the world. Lewis figured this out after reading MacDonald's story--Phantastes.

There was no temptation to confuse the scenes of the tale with the light that rested upon them, or to suppose that they were put forward as realities, or even to dream that if they had been realities and I could reach the woods where Anodos Journeyed I should thereby come a step nearer to my desire. ... Thus, when the great moments [Sehnsucht] came I did not break away from the woods and cottages that I read of to seek some bodiless light shining beyond them. ... For I now perceived that while the air of the new region made all my erotic and magical perversions of Joy look like sordid trumpery, it had no such disenchanting power over the bread on the table or the coals in the grate. That was the marvel. Up till now each visitation of Joy had left the common world momentarily a desert.... Even when real clouds or trees had been the material of the vision, they had been so only by reminding me of another world; and I did not like the return to ours. But now I saw the bright shadow coming out of the books into the real world and resting there, transforming all common things and yet itself unchanged.

Our objective is not to live in mystery (although it may start as such). It is to live in the embodiment of divine grace.


shadowlands said...

I always imagined hell being exclusive isolation forever, but imagined heaven to be a great merging or blob of oneness. It would suit me well to still be able to meet and greet individuals and ask questions that would require answers and offer food and drink that might be accepted or refused. I know scripture tells us it is not open to us to conceive of eternity, but one can't help but speculate sometimes. I mean, I spend enough time dreading hell! I'm just so 'unperfected' in love, I guess as otherwise my fear would be cast out.

C W Seper said...

Sometimes I'm afraid of the other side too Ros. Quite honestly I've never figured out what perfect love has in common with casting out fear. I'll take Jesus' word for it though.

shadowlands said...

I would say in my limited understanding it would mean absolute trust in the goodness of God, and His goodwill towards me and my loved ones. The kind of trust that walks on water to go and meet Him, knowing He will not let one sink, even apart from human limitations. I do not have that form of trust today, or rather tonight. I have a religiously messed up head, but I do receive consolations in this vale of tears. I want something more permanently and tangibly reassuring, but am I prepared to get serious enough for long enough? ....Sorry Bill, I thought I was writing in my diary then, I got completely carried away!

C W Seper said...

Hmm...not sure. I don't trust a lot of the people I love. Guess I'm not seeing the connection between love and trust.

shadowlands said...

No, neither do I trust very easily. But I was thinking that if we really trust in God's Love for us then er er well, er? No, it's gone. I think I better think it out again.

C W Seper said...

I believe I may have figured this out while on my way home from the store a few minutes ago. I had always assumed that the perfect love Christ was talking about that casts out fear had to do with our love for God. But only God has "perfect" love. If he loves us perfectly, absolutely, and unfailingly then he keeps a watchful eye on us at all times and doesn't allow any great harm that's more than we can bear, or that's not needed to force us to grow spiritually. If he has perfect love for us at all times everywhere, then we can indeed trust him and have nothing to fear. Sounds right to me anyway.