In the land of the individual psyche we encounter what is, at times, the extremely painful phenomenon of fragmentation in the privacy of personal consciousness.
Rumi and other mystical poets liken individual humans to drops of water in the ocean. For many of us, personal consciousness can be more like an ice cube, but the ice cube can melt into water and water can evaporate into air. Human consciousness makes us innately capable of imaginal shapeshifting.
Even though the Mystery is the context in which we live, any sense of a universal consciousness holding us can seem far away and the Mystery can seem like just darkness that we fear like little children.
Even though we perceive everything through consciousness and imagination, both can seem like concepts separate from our individuality. It takes trust and an opening of the deep heart to let it all become permeable and let the most inclusive of stories be the structure that holds it all. Many spiritual traditions stress the underlying interconnectedness of life (the seed of life mandala, Celtic interlacing) because being a self-aware smallness in the larger context of the Mystery can be so frightening without that awareness. That fear can lead to all kinds of harmful power plays and ego-based monstrosities.
The desire for wholeness and belonging, coupled with the fear of the Other, can lead to exclusionary belief systems meant to soothe the enormity of the tension between personal autonomy and the need for belonging to something larger than oneself. Rigid structure can give the illusion that one can lasso the Mystery, consciousness and the collective imagination for oneself and one’s group. When everything is commodified, it’s hard to imagine that some things are simply not up for grabs.
The human mind needs some structure within which to operate, but when the structure is built on exclusive constrictions of dogma and is not able in some way to acknowledge the underlying wholeness of life, it’s guaranteed to generate conflict. The belief system itself creates psychic pain, no matter how unconscious.
The inherent sadism of apocalyptic Christianity is a venting of that pain. This is what I would call the antichrist. The “body of Christ,” or “body of consciousness,” includes all of life. In its essence, the body of Christ is inclusion while the antichrist is exclusion. With exclusion comes threat, fear and violence; with exclusion comes the crucifixion of Christ consciousness.
The goal of human consciousness may be to experience both wholeness and autonomy, that is, to be aware of oneself as a cell in the universal body and at the same time an individual. The conditioning of the American Way fights the idea of “us” in favor of rugged individualism aspiring to freedom without responsibility. Some cultures focus on collective responsibility to the point of squashing individual development. Humans need both.
The ideology of us/them achieving wholeness through getting rid of “them” is the “vision” of genocide. It’s the perversion of a Hitler or Stalin and to a lesser extent all conditioned bigoted thoughts. A big version of the vision is to destroy a whole race, one that “God” wants eliminated. A small version is when reality does not conform to personal desires and one has violent feelings towards the ones who cut one off in traffic or offended one in some way. Note how prevalent the quick reaction with “enemy images” over even relatively small matters is in America today.
Even in this scenario there is a desire for wholeness, but the wholeness is attained by destroying that which is different. Rather than changing one’s worldview to expand to include all of “us”, a world of “us” is created by destroying all of “them.” ” Even without eliminating “them,” the fantasy is that one has brought the totality of God along when all one has is a little icon made in imagination.
This strategy can work to some extent. The shape is viable if one has no attachment to circles. Circles are the first shape children all over the world draw. The planet we live on is a sphere as are the sun and moon and the fellow planets of our solar system. The eyes through which we see the world, referred to as the “window of the soul” are round. The circle of wholeness is a shape with profound meaning.
Visions of the Apocalypse and end of the world and Second Coming of Christ shanghai God as Unity and Totality and carry the dream of separation into eternity with the saved/chosen going to heaven for eternity and the damned burning in hellfire for eternity. Even if one does not subscribe to this belief it’s clearly being played out all through our society and our world – there are those who matter and those who don’t — and different belief systems will have different ideas as to who matters and who doesn’t.
Mystery, Source, God is not only at the deepest center of a human being, it’s also the context in which we exist. The Mystery at the center of Life is God transcendent; the Mystery that permeates us is God immanent, sometimes referred to as the Goddess (also banished in Western thought over the last centuries). To unite within ourselves the source and the context, the God and the Goddess, to let that which has never touched the material world — but is the creative impulse that brought into being every atom — marry that which saturates every molecule in us is to offer our unique human expression as the bridal chamber of the Mystic Marriage.
If the Divine is infinite, then it follows that the manifestations of the Divine are also infinite. But a whole branch of religion is in denial about the Divine in manifestation. The divine is in its creation, but many people have been taught to put the Divine exclusively into their own image of the Divine. People become the Whore of Babylon, drinking from the cup of their fornication with their mental fantasies, but the lovemaking they are really seeking is between the manifest and unmanifest Divine.
The mystery of unity and diversity is the love story that is us.
By using the structure of circles, I examined things in one way. But life is not really separated into these neat distinctions, each with their own color and place. That’s easily forgotten in self-created structures. Another way to represent it all would be like this, which looks kind of like an eye. Consciousness, symbols, imagination, the individual and the Mystery are ultimately inseparable. We can separate them only through the capacity of our human minds.
When we fight a war, what is it we destroy? We can create belief systems to justify murder, but we really don’t know what it is we destroy, just as we don’t know what will happen to us after death, regardless of what we believe. To impose an exclusionary belief system on this interwoven “eye” is to live a self-mutilating life in which an individual plays out the famous scene in the surrealist movie ”Le Chien Andalu”— and cuts their innately mystical eyeball with a razor.
This gives a very graphic twist to a few Bible quotes : “Where there is no vision the people perish.” If thine eye be single ( variously translated as clear, single, or bright) thy whole being will be full of light.; Love your brother as your own soul. Protect him as you protect the pupil of your eye.
Perhaps humans are meant to enjoy both oneness and individuality. Perhaps Western religion has always grappled with sexuality because sexuality is one of our potentially most valuable spiritual tools. In conscious sex one can melt into wholeness then step back into autonomy. Sexuality is for the most part superficial and compulsive in the West, because people are frozen in some aspect of the individual autonomy ____________ collective wholeness scale.
In the West people are experiencing the fragmentation and despair that comes along with the lack of meaning one experiences when one cannot feel oneself as part of the whole. Islam has traditionally had more understanding of wholeness than the West, but has failed as well. The coercion of the veil, being forced into the collective, makes people crave Western individuality, which gets labeled as “freedom” but it’s not. True freedom involves being able to move along the full length of the autonomy_____________wholeness scale.
Some in the West feel threatened by Islam but it would behoove us to understand that the conversation between East and West has often been about this question of individualism/wholeness; that is, Islam has grown in the way it has partially because of the influences of the West. Both feel threatened by each other, politically, ideologically and emotionally. “What has a front has a back — the bigger the front the bigger the back” is a Japanese saying. If one looks at a phenomenon like suicide bombing from that point of view, the suicide bombing of Islam complements an opposite but equally strong nerosis about fear of death, and a penchant for distance killing, in the US.
Death and Fear of the Unknown
“You come from nothing. You’re going back to nothing. What have you lost? Nothing!” (Life of Brian)
In America, there’s a fascination with extending physical life, a lack of initiatory psycho-spiritual death, and in this Christian nation, a lack of inquiry into the words of St. Paul, “I die daily” or the suggestion in the Gospel of Phillip (The Other Bible) that one should become “not a Christian but a Christ,” which would suggest a personal crucifixion, visit to the underworld (What did Christ do there for three days?) and resurrection. This death/ underworld/return story is not specific only to the story of Jesus Christ: there are many stories of the dying / resurrecting godman.
Americans are urged to cling to beliefs, opinions and all that we identify as “I.” We don’t know how to lose ourselves in a healthy way, but in our fear of death we conversely find it all magnified all around us – murder, suicide, war, violence, the sheer excess with which we pursue ever greater weapons of mass destruction.
Our fundamental life is breath – inhalation and exhalation (and the often overlooked gap or slash line in between the two). Americans are conditioned to be a people who want only to inhale – to live without dying, to possess and consume and hold tight without letting go.
Tim LaHaye, in a 2002 interview with Terry Gross, admitted plainly that the “primary purpose” of the Left Behind series “is to encourage people to convert.” When asked if he would like to be alive during the rapture, he answers,
We [speaking of him and his wife] would love to be part of the rapture instead of either one of us having to face the death of the person we love. …the neat thing about it’s that everyone of our listeners today, if they would recognize that they would recognize that they need to receive Jesus, they could have that same hope.
Internal, mystical death becomes a fantasy of escape from death sparked by the mega-death of others – Rapture followed by the great War of Armaggedon. The blatant expression in this interview offers a clear insight as to the appeal of Christian fundamentalist apocalypse.
This isn’t about pointing a finger at Tim Lahaye — he’s the product of a murderous culture that lacks a way of being sacred with death. All humans need some sense of security and safety, some sense of belonging, some sacred relationship with the cycles of life and death. Without that, whatever we create in our minds will be a substitute for that, but often in ways that sacrifices the “other.”
Putting the fear of death in the drivers seat means the loss of a cycle that is implicit in the How Things Are on earth. Within a world view that involves an individual identity that goes through various life stages in a linear fashion in a world that is also moving in a linear fashion towards the End, the inherent belonging to a cycle is lost, some aspect of our primordial connection with the rhythm of the world is lost. Buddhists speak of the truth of impermanence, how things arise, remain for a time, then dissolve/ end. Hinduism has a trinity of Gods: Brahma (creator), Vishnu (preserver), and Shiva (destroyer) that speaks to this same thing. Cycles within cycles. And I’m certain we’ve all experienced the ennui that happens when things in our lives feel static and unchanging. If we look to nature, we see the beauty of emergence, fullness, harvest and death repeating in a cyclical rhythm. That beauty is us too.
The story of Apocalypse is a story of collective crucifixion and resurrection. It’s a story we are living in right now. According to Edinger,
Christ was the first attempt of the God-image to incarnate and transform itself. Now, the second time…God is going to incarnate in humanity as a whole.…humanity is now in the role of the “son of God.” And God is bringing about his own transformation by another self-destruction while incarnated in the “mortal body” of humankind. There will follow necessarily, archetypically, the same sequence of events as occurred in the life of a single individual but now in a larger arena. And this second act of incarnation likewise will bring about the same goal, a transformation of the God- image. The image of a totally good god—albeit pestered by a dissociated evil Satan—is no longer viable. Instead, the new God-image coming into conscious realization is that of a paradoxical union of opposites; and with it comes a healing of the metaphysical split that has characterized the entire Christian aeon.
If God wants to incarnate in all of us, who am I to say no? But I’m fully aware that some us of are more ok with this kind of a bumpy ride idea than others.
In Conclusion: Fire
Fire is the symbol of our nuclear age. Destruction by fire is the predominant symbol of our dark apocalyptic visions.Fire of course, is neither good nor evil, right nor wrong. Fire is an essential element of our world, and of our bodies (the digestive fire, fever) and personalities (passion for justice or for love). Tending fire is a survival necessity for warmth and cooking of food. Tending fire is a fundamental task in all alchemical workings. If you look around, you can see that the world is on fire. Whether it be the fire of destruction or transformation is a decision made in every breath.
In The Book of Thomas, Jesus says, “I have thrown fire on the world. Look! I watch it until it blazes.”
next up: Symbolism