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DOORS – Chapter Nine

December 15, 2017

portoniInner and Outer

Before going any further I must clarify something. I stated from the beginning that this was going to be mainly about my inner journey, but by narrating things from that perspective alone, I might have mistakenly given the impression that the inner journey was all that mattered.

I’d like to somewhat balance that and clearly state that my inner journey was never separate from a corresponding practical, outward one. There wouldn’t have been one without the other, and for this I am particularly grateful to the movement that I was part of.

Not only did it literally rescue me out of a self-destructive lifestyle, but as selfish, immature, proud and self-seeking as I was in my youth, there wouldn’t have been any significant progress unless, for whatever reasons, I was also pushed to go beyond my own comfort and needs.

The communal lifestyle, the daily engagement in missionary work, the reaching out to others, the learning to get along with them, the coming to love and understand cultures different than my own, along with all that I choose or was sometimes made to do, all of it helped me to grow.

While aware of its many problems, my church was the mother and tutor that I needed in those crucial years. In spite of what I may now think about some aspects of it, I have no misgivings about the positive role it played in my life.

I too, sometimes did the right things for the wrong reasons, and sometimes the wrong ones for the right reasons. Sometimes I did things that helped, and others times not. Sometimes I messed up and had to be rescued. I did hurt others and others hurt me, but the practical compass always pointed me towards learning to forgive, to love, to give and be of service to others.

I grew by crawling, by missing the mark, by faking it most of the time, but it was what I did practically that eventually drew me into another reality and pulled me through. Like deciding to be a father, a job I was not trained for and in which I miserably failed, and yet taught me the most.

Did I decide to have kids because I felt fatherly? Not at all, but the practical circumstances of fatherhood caused me to experience life at a completely different level, and was I glad for it. My kids gave me the greatest joys, opportunities and saved me repeatedly from my own self.

Then I was often responsible for others as well, for missionary and humanitarian projects, and even there I sometimes wonder how effective I really was. Was I truly doing it for others, for love or for some personal reason?

I am not sure, probably both, but what I know is that by going beyond myself to do what love appeared to demand of me, whatever it was, I often found myself in a place where something more than myself took over. It wasn’t me doing it anymore, but some other entity that came into play, which was also what propelled me in my inner journey.

At this point, I can honestly say that I was to blame for whatever went wrong and that if anything did go right, it wasn’t me doing it. I wasn’t even there anymore; someone else was, but of course it all depends from which self one speaks from, and I will explain in a moment.

For now let me first emphasize the link that runs between practical and spiritual activity. We had a saying for it that went like this, “as you pour out He pours in, and you can never outpour Him” and that’s exactly how it worked. Whenever I did that, pouring out my life to others, there was always much more being poured back into me, making my life richer, deeper and more meaningful than ever.

I am actually convinced that there is no inner progress without this outer, practical connection. Yes, we may sometimes need to remove ourselves from others, for some needed rest, but there is no progress in protracted isolation, in the selfish pursuit of personal happiness or spirituality.

No, the ascetic path and the life of the hermit is a dead end, for neither is the body separate from the spirit nor the individual self separate from the whole. We are all connected into a single ground of being, which is love, otherwise known as God.

So purely spiritual or platonic love, which isn’t manifested in body, in practical deeds, which does not seek the good of others, of our loved ones, communities and humanity as a whole, such love is merely a delusion of the mind.

True self and false self

As I said, it was when I stepped out of my comfort zone to give myself away, that I experienced something greater than I, that I stepped into another self; which I believe is what the apostle Paul meant when he said “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).

There are other scriptures speaking of the death of an old self and of the emergence of a new being, enough to fill pages, and even more if we looked also at other religious traditions. Terms and symbols vary, but the idea is often the same, that something must die in order for the new to come forth.

Keeping with the tradition that I know best, in Christianity what died was called the natural man, old man, old self or the flesh. The process of passing from an old self to a new one, was then called being born again, born of the spirit, baptized of the spirit or the new man.

Collectively, the people undergoing the process were called the new Israel, the kingdom of God or the fellowship of the saints. These are terms that may or may not mean much to us today, but they worked fine at the time when Christian scripture came into form.

Unfortunately, when describing the old self as the flesh and the new being as a saint, the idea that we usually get is that the flesh, meaning the body, is bad. We then tend to interpret the death of the old self as the process of mortifying the body, and that to such a degree that the saintly spirit within it is finally released.

This transposition of “good” spirit over “bad” body has been at the root of a largely mistaken idea of sainthood. It may have been common in some early Gnostic or monastic groups, or in medieval popular piety, but it was never the original idea nor the meaning of the words flesh and saints.

If these words still evoke a divided understanding of body and spirit, portraying sainthood as the sole reward of pious asceticism, then I recommend avoiding them altogether. It is better to find other words and symbols than to remain stuck in such a misleading idea.

In any case, let me explain what they meant to the people who first used them. The word saint never indicated a state of holy perfection and sinless behavior. In the Christian New Testament, it simply indicated the members of the Christian community… all of them (see the greetings in Paul’s correspondence to the various Christian communities).

The word flesh, so often used by Paul, is actually rather unfortunate, as it seems to so easily lend itself to this dualism of body and spirit. Fortunately, the overall context and direction of Paul’s teachings make it obvious that by flesh he intended something other than the body.

What he meant by it was simply the person that develops from childhood, with its isolated and temporary sense of identity and who hasn’t yet come in touch with the greater source of being, which he called Christ. Practically, the flesh is the untransformed person.

It had little to do with the body and a lot more to do with a state of consciousness, of identification with one’s thoughts, intellect, gender, physical attributes, social status, religious and cultural upbringing, etc.

We then see the relationship between the body and these states of consciousness (old self – new self) in what what Paul adds, “The life I now live in the body, I live by faith” (Galatians 2:20). Faith is then the way through which he passed from his old self to the new Christ’s self, but what is faith?

The word faith is so often used to indicate the mental faculty of belief, that we rarely see anything different in it. Yet, as the body has something to do with our false self (the flesh), but is not it, so does belief have something to do with faith, but is not it.

Though the terms are sometimes interchanged, what Paul meant by faith was not the mere act of believing in something historical, theological or philosophical. What he was describing, instead, was an act of trustful surrender, of letting go of his false self and falling onto the rock under him, the Christ in him.

He then speaks of the relationship between the body and the new self as such; the body, he says, is the temple in which Christ lives, and the people who have shifted to this new state of being, collectively form Christ’s body (Ephesians 5:30).

In essence, the I am that I am spoken to Moses, the before Abraham was I am spoken by Jesus, the eternal logos that holds everything together, is God’s self and being itself. It is the only true self there is.

This is the shared I am that born again, transformed people become aware of, and why they collectively form God’s body on earth, not because others are excluded, but because they operate from this state of awareness and therefore they embody it, they give it flesh and bones.

It is a state of being in which the individual is no longer an isolated self, what it thought to be, but where there is now a realized participation in the whole, in the materialization and incarnation of God.

I realize that this cannot be made understandable, because it is beyond thought and can only be partaken of. Furthermore, only a novice would try to explain what reason cannot get a hold on, what can only be spoken indirectly, through symbols and similitudes.

But I am a novice, and so enthused by what I have barely touched on, that I cannot help but try to show what hides in plain sight, right beyond those symbols that we are all so familiar with.

That is why I am quoting scriptures, because they are the common language from which most of our symbols derive. Symbols, however, point to things greater than themselves, and you may recall how, after each life-changing experience, I always discovered new meaning in them.

So to continue in this vein, Jesus illustrated the dynamics of being with the analogy of a plant and its branches, a vine actually. Individual believers, He said, are like the branches of the vine, therefore a part of the same, partaking of its essence (the sap) and bearing new growth (John 15:5).

If you’ve ever seen fractals, the pattern that repeats itself at infinitude, that looks the same at each point and yet forms incredibly beautiful designs, then you have seen a sample of it. In it, each part is like a branch from which more branches come forth, a pattern that is common in nature and particularly noticeable in plants. It is the pattern of the logos, the pattern of being.

We call this pattern Christ, the logos that created and holds everything together, in which our individual branch is also found. “Christ is everything and he is in everything” (Colossians 3:11).

There is no being apart from this, and no true being can be realized until we recognize ourselves in it. This, however, cannot happen until we also recognize the imaginary self for what it is, and then invite it to take a back seat.

In another istance, Jesus made it even clearer that life is not in the separated self, but in being part of the whole. Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). In other words it continues the pattern.

This is repeated over and over and is illustrated in Jesus own life. He’s the Logos (the pattern) made flesh, in body, human and divine. Then He prays that, as God is in him and He in God, that his followers may also be in Him, as He is in God and that they may all be one (John 1 and 17).

What does it all mean? That ultimately, whether we use the illustration of a body, a tree or a grain of wheat, the idea is that we are one, not separated parts but part of a whole, of which God is the essence. We are all God’s offspring (branches), and Christ is the firstborn among many brothers and sisters” (Romans 8:29), who continue the same pattern and process.

Because traditional Christianity is so encrusted by multiple layers of religious and superstitious interpretations, it becomes almost impossible to see beyond it. Because its terminology is so heavily moored to a preset understanding of things, it is almost necessary to let go of it and find new symbols for what the good news means.

What some call the gospel, is in fact bad news. God is way up there, angry and away from most of humanity who will never make it. Tragic indeed. The good news is definitely better than that, but religious language has done more to obscure it than to reveal it. Sometimes, science gives better clues.

In any case, we’ve seen that the new self we are speaking of is Christ, as Paul put it, or the ground of being, as theologian Paul Tillich describes it. In other words, this is the life of the body, the sap of the vine, the DNA of the kernel of wheat, the pattern of life, the Logos and great I AM from which and in which we all have our being.

For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring’” (Acts 17:28).

Please note that these words were spoken to non Christian Greeks. We all are One, His offspring and we all live in Him, whether we recognize and embrace it or deny it and continue in our illusion. No matter what we call it or believe about it, He still is our true center and being.

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