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DOORS – Chapter Eleven

February 3, 2018

portoniNow I would like to explain, in more practical terms, something that I touched on in the last chapters. There I said that “I could now access at will what I had always claimed to believe in, but rarely touched. Most shockingly, it wasn’t subject to any of the religious conditioning that I previously thought necessary.”

This is something that started approximately three to four years ago, so I am still rather new to it, but this door seems to be always open, while previous ones opened and closed, depending on various conditions and circumstances.

Please remember that the concept of doors is always a metaphor, one among many that I chose to use, and that it has a lot more to do with me than with the actual subject of God or ultimate realities, what lies beyond the doors.

In any case, I don’t exactly know what came first or what caused what, but the ability to cross this last door at will, in any moment and anywhere, came along with a complete change of perspectives.

It was the emergence of a new paradigm, but before I explain it further, let me first explain what I meant by previous doors being only temporarily open and subject to conditions. I was referring to religious conditions.

Religious conditions

Religion is a very big word that can signify many things, but at its more practical, social and informative level it presents us always with some necessary container in which to live more or less safely.

There are morals, rules, behavior control, group accountability, and it is all very needed, especially in the early stages of life. They are things that keep us from hurting each other and make us “good Christians”, even if only outwardly.

We all begin there, as children, in school, in the community and the church, but there is more. Apart from that body of morals and rules that ensure proper living, there is also a path for personal awakening, salvation, enlightenment, sanctification or whatever you like to call it.

The problem is that in many cases this second aspect is so closely linked to the first that you can’t even tell them apart. So, the spiritual life is also viewed as a moral issue and subject to our ability to obey rules and behave.

However, when we get to this second aspect of religion with the mindset of the first, we end up projecting our guilt, judgment, anger and moral deficiencies on the universe of God and ultimate realities. Simply put, we make a god after our own image.

This is how we get a god that often looks partial, exclusive, petty, vengeful, angry, violent, psychotic, schizophrenic and suffering such insecurity that he needs constant adulation.

Religion merely mirrors what we are and how we hope to get on the good side of a deity we shaped by our imagination. That how, usually requires work, discipline, some kind of technique or procedure by which we can obtain god’s gifts.

Even those Christianities that oppose the idea of “works” as a way to salvation do exactly the same, howbeit in a more subtle way. Though unwilling to admit it, they too make god’s gift contingent on “correct” belief, belief becoming the work, one which is never settled and which has resulted in endless debates on what and how to believe.

The fact is that religion is just a starting point, perhaps even a necessary one, but it can never have the final say. Religion merely points to something beyond itself, which is much greater, closer, in plain sight and universal than what we could ever work for or earn.

So the question is not whether to have religion or not, but what is religion pointing to? So, if you have religion, I would recommend for you to live it serenely and follow its path and let it teach you all it can. When doubts come, however, do not be afraid of them, but embrace them as opportunities for growth.

If you don’t have religion or you have lost it for some reason, do not worry about it. The real God cannot be lost; neither can you ever be lost to him, for he is the root of your very being. So, just do the same as the one who has religion and do not be afraid to doubt your atheism.

As Paul Tillich wrote, “It is as atheistic to affirm the existence of God as it is to deny it. God is being-itself, not a being.” And let me add also these words by Joseph Campbell, “Half the people in the world think that the metaphors of their religious traditions, for example, are facts. And the other half contends that they are not facts at all. As a result we have people who consider themselves believers because they accept metaphors as facts, and we have others who classify themselves as atheists because they think religious metaphors are lies.”

So we need to move past religious literalism or atheism, and into seeing with new eyes so that we discover what the metaphors were pointing to all along. The first step is being willing to get off our adamant opinions about religion and its symbols.

Doubts are no sin here, but being arrogant and cock sure of our ideas, of our beliefs or unbelief, that’s the real problem. If we hang on so tightly to whatever fills us, then there is no room for more.

He filled the hungry but sent the rich away empty. (Luke 1:53) no one who drinks the old wants the new. ‘The old is just fine,’ they say.” (Luke 5:39)

Doubts are an indication of honesty and humility, of the willingness to let go of preconceived ideas in order to be filled with something better. By challenging our carefully constructed certitudes, they make us go deeper, into seeking experience more than theory. That’s how they deepen our faith and make it move from the head into the heart.

Doubt is not the opposite of faith; it is one element of faith” – Paul Tillich

The typical Christian fear of doubt is rooted in the “works” aspect of the religion. If salvation is an after death event that hinges on “right” believing, then doubts are apostasy and damnation. Being a complex theological theory, salvation has to be guarded against the demons of doubt.

But this type of Christianity is all in the head and needs loads of apologetics to hold it up. The people living with this mental “faith”, can never experience the freedom of the children of God, instead they remains trapped in the “law” of their mind, in a circular mindset that fears anything alien to it.

In truth, our lives are hidden in God as much as He’s hidden in us, and in plain sight. He is the thread of our lives, which we cannot let go of, even if we tried. And if we think we don’t believe in him, it matters not, for he cannot let go of us anymore than we can of him.

As William Stafford beautifully wrote in the poem The way it is,There’s a thread you follow. It goes among things that change. But it doesn’t change… You don’t ever let go of the thread.”

Or as St. Augustine saidGod is more intimate to me than I am to myself” or more me than I am myself.” Or St. Catherine of Genoa who shouted in the streets, My deepest me is God!” This is the realization that faith comes to.

But faith is not a mental construct. It is instead the trustful surrender of the heart, which allows it to discover said reality, to live in its awareness and cooperate with it. Mental faith, instead, will always be “law” and “works”, a false gospel that pretends to be but fails to deliver.

Forgive my ranting. I didn’t intend to preach at you, but only to describe the type of religious conditioning that I was speaking of. That’s what I had to recognize and let go of in order to clear my misconceptions of God, to experience oneness with Him without being constantly drawn away by my head faith, beliefs, worries, doctrines, feelings and complex techniques for earning His favor.

That’s what kept me trapped in mental games. And it is not that I consciously believed these religious conditions, for I was one who openly denied them and professed faith in the power of His Grace. Subconsciously, however, they remained unresolved and provided me with rational excuses for missing out on the wonder of His presence.

I was still bound by a skewed image of God, and until I resolved that, the pattern kept repeating itself. Of course, it was largely my own image of God and it was I who was not yet ready to see any clearer than that.

Our idea of God tells us more about ourselves than about Him.” – Thomas Merton

Religion or not, the excuses would have been there anyway. But once humiliated in my head faith, my thinking that I knew so much by virtue of my religious career, I was finally ready for more. Then I could recognize the religious conditioning for what it was.

But recognizing it was only half the work. Dismantling it was the hard part. What I thought was my simple faith, was instead a very complex affair, and so was the process of clearing away the rubble of my interpretations and getting to the foundation, to what religious symbols actually pointed to.

It was hard work and, had I done it before gaining sufficient experience, before knowing what I was looking for, before tasting and seeing that the Lord is good, had I gone through the process merely intellectually, in my mind, I would have probably become an atheist.

That is why I do not recommend that anyone still satisfied with “that old time religion” read this. It would not help, but even if they do I suppose it will be gibberish to them and that they’ll pass it as heretical nonsense.

Yet, for those who are done with religious games, but have drunk form the spring and want more, I hope to show you where I found it, and more abundant than ever. There is an actual ocean of it and it is right here and now, always accessible and in plain sight!

God hides in plain sight

So let me step back a moment, to the times in which it felt like God wasn’t there anymore, and I know you’ve sometimes felt the same. Let me recall the times in which it felt like there was something wrong with me, that God was somewhat displeased, and to the many excuses I accepted for feeling separate and isolated.

Then to the times in which the lights came on again, then off again; when like the mystics in their “dark night of the soul” I worked frantically to get back to God, to earn his favor and have the lights back on again.

And all the while it was I who was playing “hide and go seek” with God, and not He with me. It was I who was blocking the light, and not He.

As in the joke about the man who dies and appears before St. Peter and asks if he can get into heaven, and Peter replies that he must have one hundred points before he can get through the pearly gates.

So the man starts telling Peter all the good things he’s done, only to discover that they are barely worth a handful of points. The man is in despair when another man dies and comes from behind him. Without even stopping or noticing St. Peter, he walks right past them and on through the pearly gates.

The first man then protests, saying that it isn’t fair, that he knew the fellow when he was alive and for sure he’s earned fewer points than him. Asked how he could allow such a man to go through, St. Peter answers that it was because the fellow did not play their game.

That’s the religious game, where our dealings with God are mostly in our minds, and not His. It is we who feel separated from Him, not He from us. If God appears hidden and out of sight, it is because we are looking with the wrong set of eyes, those of our mental imagination and religious conditioning.

Religion is a defense against the experience of God” – Carl Jung

God hides in plain sight” writes Dean Nelson, and it is so, yet unless we see it for ourselves, no amount of explaining will make it any clearer. Even the very idea of God means nothing, unless there first appears some inner awareness of it.

We can only recognize what we, at some level, have already known. None can actually show us anything completely new, because “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he” (proverbs 23:7) and so he sees. Our minds will only let through what we already agree on.

True conversion has to come from within. We may assist a person who’s in the throes of it, but we cannot make it happen, and unless we ourselves are transformed, we cannot help anyone else to be transformed.

That’s the meaning of the wordsMy sheep hear my voice”, (John 10:27) and “I stand at the door and knock, if any man hear my voice and open the door I will come in to him” (Revelation 3:209). It has nothing to do with our thinking, our being convinced and converted to a certain religion.

It is all about hearing a voice, with ears that are not on the sides of our heads. It is about opening a door that is not that of a house, but unless we have experienced this ourselves, we won’t even know what it is all about. At best, we will transform the experiences that we read about into doctrines to believe in with our heads.

We can study such doctrines, memorize scriptures on it and call ourselves born again because we believe this and that, but if it’s only in our heads we are fooling ourselves. We still don’t have hears to ear and eyes to see, much less do we know where the door is.

We speak of asking Jesus into our hearts, but if we don’t yet know what our heart is, chances are that we are merely asking Him into our heads and feelings. In any case, all things work for that same goal, in which we eventually come to hear the voice and see the door.

Too often, however, thinking that we have already tried Christianity and that it didn’t work for us, we go looking for it in another religion and get caught in their mind games. It matters not, for eventually the game gets boring and the voice gets louder.

Whoever has heard it, however imperfectly, and found that door, or maybe just a window, can call others to come, to hear and see for themselves. Others, however, will still need to work through their game and find their way out.

In the next chapter, I will speak of ways in which I learned to get off the game. I hope it will help, but I do not presume to impart anything that isn’t already yours. I also know that I am still rather new at this, but I will do what I can.

I could have given you a long list of books to read, and I might still do that, but you are reading this, you know me and my story, so let me say it the best I can and tell it as I have experienced it.

We do not want to be beginners, but let us be convinced of the fact that we will never be anything else but beginners all our life. – Thomas Merton

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