Spirituality: Whence the Wind?

"The aim of the Spiritual Growth Network of Kentucky is to empower others to pursue their respective spiritual journeys." We seek to encourage the reader to listen to the inner journey and the promptings of the Wind, wherever, however, whenever. --facilitator is Paschal Baute. SGN of KY is a nonprofit, nondenominational, educational corporation established in Kentucky in 1989. www.lexpages.com/sgn "Be still and know that I am the Lord." Psalm 46:10

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Common Language is Mystery.

Note: This article was written for those desiring to increase their
skills in “Being a Spiritual Nurturer,” SGN workshop scheduled for
Nov 30-Dec 2, 2001, Knobs Haven, Loretto, KY. It is also a posted
paper for discussion in the :Finding a Common Language for Caregivers
Online Conference of the Wayne Oates Institute, Louisville,
www.oates.org Nov 1-16, 2003, for medical personnel, auxiliary staff and chaplains.

Away from Words: the Common Language is Mystery

(subtitles: Awareness of the Presence of Mystery
is More Important than Faith Concepts,
Or, Eastern, Orthodox and Celtic Influences: a Heart Wisdom.
Or, Is it possible that the Quaker view that theology and doctrine
are secondary to the primary experience of God within us, is valuable
in a culture that is increasingly pluralistic?)

c. Rev. Paschal Baute, Ed. D. Catholic priest and psychologist, 2001.
Co-facilitator, Spiritual Growth Network of Kentucky

“Concepts create idols, only wonder and awe
appreciate anything.” -Gregory of Nyssa, 6th century.

“Our first experience with God is not with concepts or belief.
It is with mystery.”
–Gordon Kaufman.

“The process of the desacralization of the world, of life, and of history, which triumphs today is due above all to our inability to grasp the mystery of the camouflaging of the sacred in the profane.” –Mircea Eliade, Journals.

“But most of all, above everything else, who in the Bible besides Jesus knew-- knew-- that we're carrying the Kingdom of Heaven around with us, inside, where we're too goddam stupid and sentimental and unimaginative to look.” --J. D. Salinger in Franey and Zooey

“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”
–Zen saying.

Synopsis. Too many people of faith say to someone hurting: “Here is the solution, take my prayer or belief about that, “let me pray for you,” Implying you will be better. In other words, “This is the answer I’ve found will work for you.” Just believe these things and you will be alright, (and a good Christian, Catholic, or whatever...)” That is, believing people tend to present their own beliefs as the answer to the another’s search for one’s own wisdom, for their place in the universe, for whether we can make sense of the mystery that surrounds us. I suggest that this common practice, as well as many others, undermines the call of the Spirit to each, and serves to sabotage a personal faith.

It is our aim to examine the priority of our experience of mystery because 1) this is the common experience of us all; 2) this is the very first step towards faith in a transcendent Being, and 3) we propose that those persons or religious organizations that offer God-concepts to others without helping them examine their personal spiritual journey are violating the natural process and integrity of the searching soul, at a time when he or she may be particularly vulnerable; 4) to assume that prayer meaningful to you will be also meaningful to the person you are now with is to miss the teachable moment. Filled with our own prayer habits, we can easily miss the opportunity for spiritual mentoring of the next step on the personal journey of another. Our purpose is to provide an awareness and beginning skills for those who seek to be spiritual nurturers in a pluralism of faiths and professional disciplines.

We experience mystery before we have much ability to think, certainly before we have any notion of “God”. In fact we are born in mystery, surrounded by mystery, haunted by mystery and fascinated by mystery. Is it not this mysteriousness of life from every angle and corner that pursues us? We begin by examining the priority of our sense of the mysterious.

We experience this mystery in a number of ways. In childhood, our parents have a mysterious aura of omnipotence. My daughter Michelle, when age 5, was overheard in the nursery saying to her younger brother: “David, you don’t know anything. (Pause) I know more than you do. (Pause) Mommy knows a lot. (Pause) But Daddy--he knows everything.” Mother is the goddess of the nursery, and father, if he is involved with his children, may be regarded as next to God himself. Why? Possibly he is more mysterious than the mother. We are faced with the mystery of the great unknown world into which we are born. Our parents when we are small, seem to have extraordinary competence about that unknown world. We admire them immensely and they become our first idols. They become the ultimate arbiters of every dispute, the source of all comfort and reassurance. Our parents are our first experience of mystery. How can any person know so much? Trust in the protection and wisdom of our parents is the first act of trust that we make. That act is so central and crucial that if it is not made early, belief later in this mystery we call God may be nigh impossible. It is many years later before we begin to question their values. Sometimes we are afraid to do it openly, so we just go “do our thing.”

We are also fascinated with the natural world around us, the birds, the insects, the trees, the rain, the sun, thunderstorms, the signs of the seasons. Then we are curious where our home is on the street on which we live, and then where is that street in the town, village or city in which we grow up. We slowly discover the geography of our lives. If we are taken to religious worship, we are introduced early to some religious symbols, a pulpit, a cross, an altar, singing, preaching, or maybe just prayers at meals at home. We may be invited to believe in an ultimate being, a Father in heaven, by prayers at home. We also can be scared by preaching of hell or punishment when we accompany parents to church. When we look at the stars at night, experience the rythmns of night and day, watch sunrises and sunsets, and feel the burning sun at midday and evening fireflies, we are in the presence of much natural mystery. We are an island of self-awareness surrounded and even supported by a sea of mystery. Later, our teachers in school attempt to explain all these natural phenomenon. But school does not explain why any of these, or ourselves, are here at all. Seldom does any one offer any guidance concerning the greatest mystery of our lives: “Why am I here?”

Slowly we discover that these parents and other adults are limited, full of human faults, and we withdraw our automatic trust and easy reliance upon their authority. We awaken to a larger world, but a world that is still full of immense and unexplainable mystery. Early or late we discover an exciting attraction to the other gender. That tension is soon filled with promise and mystery, which we seldom relinquish even if we are shy, unpopular or unsuccessful in high school or college transitions. The major human need is to have another person who is there for us. After the importance of parents and relatives during childhood, the adolescent search begins afresh. Whether this is successful or not often depends upon the level of trust and love established earlier in the family. One needs a certain trust level about oneself to risk relationships with the mysterious other gender. Some trust in another is necessary for our survival, for any relationship. The erotic is God’s poetry of love, inviting us into transcendence, out of ourselves. (See my paper, “The Erotic as God’s Poetry of Love.”published privately, 1995)

Thus, we are born into a web of human connections that entrance, entice, coerce, enable, frustrate and unceasingly engage us all our lives. We are confronted repeatedly with loving nurture, disappointment, frustration, anger, some caring, joy, distancing, and jealousy. Sooner or later, for many of us, we experience some betrayal, or sense of abandonment. Born into such a confusing world, the trust we must make in others is the beginning of faith. It is in and through recognition by others that we discover ourselves. We do not come into the world with a owner’s manual or a user-friendly tutorial. We have to sort out these enormously confusing feelings and impulses while deciding who we can place our trust in and what behavior will secure for us some satisfaction of our basic needs. It is often an anxiety provoking, scarey, uncertain world when we are little. Which is one reason when we are small, that children need affection and love like a plant needs water.

Who helps us to discover an inside-out spiritual identity?

Surrounded by the mystery of life and relationships, we have to find a place for ourselves, where we are affirmed, loved, wanted, cherished. “Who am I?” and “what is the meaning of my life?” are quiet preoccupations that seldom get specifically addressed, except indirectly through romantic love. Mostly we are supposed to figure those questions out on our own. Even if our parents are regular church goers, it is assumed that we should accept and learn their faith, and that this faith will give us the comfort and security we need. Our rebellion against this parental faith is often the first step in searching for answers from within that can guide us with some sense of our own autonomy and integrity.

Unfortunately, what we most often learn is a pseudo-identity, fitting in with our clique of peers in junior high and later senior high. We resist being compelled by other adults to “fit in”. We are encouraged by our families and our schools and churches, truth be known, to develop a pretending or false “public self” that may be different from my perceptions of myself and the world and others. But since we have no other choice except rebellion with the threat of withdrawal of all kinds of goodies, we usually decide to fit in, to be the kind of person others want us to be, more or less. We have adapted to a society based on individual accomplishment and merit. We are induced to accept the hidden idols, the assumptions and the addictions of our society.

Most people value themselves by the extent to which others in our society value them. Our culture alienates us from ourselves, does not encourage us to go inward to explore and decide and understand what is unique and unrepeatable about each of us. No agency, neither family, church, school, nor any place, teaches us how to begin from the inside out, valuing ourselves, valuing our own experience. We get caught up in the busy-ness of keeping up, performing, achieving, doing our own thing to pretend we are different. We get so caught up that it is often not until sometime in mid-life that we begin to wonder “Whose life am I living? How did I get to this place and time? Is this all there is? Only a few seem lucky enough to do deep wondering and searching early. Usually it will be some personal crisis that brings a person to examine one’s life and one’s assumptions.

Crisis is not the time to be given another’s solutions, prayers or creeds.

I suggest that the time of crisis, hurt, set-back, illness is not the time to receive someone’s else’s beliefs in the form of offered prayer. What needs to be encouraged at that time is the personal search, the awareness of the sense of mystery already present (which some of us believe is the motion of the Spirit) and the prayer of the heart. It is often crisis that brings us to the realization that our assumptions about the world are not working. Anxiety, depression, marital stress, or other symptoms may be a sign that our spiritual world has a void in it. Personal stress is often the threshold of a new examination of one’s attitudes and life style, a new beginning of wondering, “What is it I am about?”

Creeds, rituals, formal prayer, rehearsed prayer, led prayer can be a deterrent to prayer of the heart. Healing and guiding for the spiritual journey is an encouragement of the personal and the authentic response. I propose that this empowerment of the personal response is not done as much through any formal teaching or preaching or led prayer using concepts already known. Jesus said, when you pray, go to your closet. Prayer should lead us out of ourselves, even into a new space. When we believe that the Spirit of this mystery we call God is everywhere present, then words and concepts and creeds may be a deterrent for our grasp of this mystery.

Problems in naming “G*d,” the ultimate mystery

From here on, I prefer to use this spelling “G*d” as clearly implying that this word is unlike any other word. In thinking, praying, studying, and discussing matters of G*d, it is easy to assume that naming something helps us understand it. The opposite is true of G*d: names can have the strange power of hiding G*d. Whatever word or concept we use needs immediately to be qualified. No human word to describe this mystery we call G*d can be used without limiting G*d. Especially when we realize that G*d as masculine {Father and Son) has been employed historically to denigrate the feminine, to view women as second class citizens.

Think of how we satisfy ourselves with the name of something new, a strange bird or plant, or the name of some new law in nature, or aspect of being human. It is a mystery perplexing us before. As soon as we get the name, we fancy we understand something more than we did before. In truth we are MORE hopelessly ignorant. For before we felt that there was a something we had not attained, and so we inquired and searched. Now, because we have got a name by which it is known, we fancy we possess it. But the word actually covers over the abyss of our ignorance. And we often stop searching for further meaning, relieved of the discomfort of not understanding and no longer needing to remain in some awful wonder.

The truth is that this mystery we call G*d can never be understood by rational conception. It is approached more nearly by intuition, feeling and experience, in that which is indefinite than in that which is definite and distinct: in awe, wonder, and worship rather than in clear conception. By heart rather than by mind. A case can be made that our contemporary world has lost its sense of mystery. When the sense of mystery is lost, reasons and motivations for belief follow soon.

This Mystery we call G*d is more likely to be found in Darkness than in Light.

There is a sense in which darkness has more of G*d than light has. This Mystery dwells in deep darkness, in silence. In solitary, silent, confusing darkness, in fear, the Awful One is near, tender, vague mysterious presence, haunted by uncertain presentiments: the Mysterium Tremendum, Mysterium Stupendum. We need only to examine our own experience, which is where I suggest we start, with ourselves and others.

When we approach any encounter with our assumptions, our beliefs, our own frame of reference (“This person probably needs X”) we have already made the other into an object, an It. If we are to engage in an I- Thou relationship, we can only approach the reality of the other with respect, listening, openness and wonder. No preconceptions are to be confirmed. Many are still be waiting for that person who can invite them into an I - Thou relationship, where they feel respected and honored just as they are, without having to put on “Sunday clothes,” or to pretend anything.

To assume that we can bring some of our “wisdom” or G*d-talk to another’s unique life experience may be the height of arrogance. Yet so accustomed are we to our own G*d-talk that it may be difficult to realize that others do not have the same way of perceiving. Think of the easy way some ministers and devout people have of attributing something bad to G*d: “G*d must have a reason.” Maybe to assume any truth about this mystery we call G*d for another is pride-ful, and off-putting, most of all to someone who has not taken the first step in reflecting about the mystery of one’s own life.

I find sympathy with St. John Chrysostom that a conceptual knowledge of G*d is impossible, not only in It's Essence, but also in It's Works. This mystery is simply incomprehensible. It is wholly Other, something which not merely overtops our every concept but astounds us by its absolute and utter difference from our whole nature. Whenever I speak of G*d, I prefer to say "this mystery we call G*d."

The best reference in this matter is Rudolf Otto's The Idea of the Holy. Otto examines the Numinous in the Old Testament, New Testament, in Luther and it its processes of development. His is a classical approach finished well before the advent of the modern psychology of religion, but it permits us to see how many have viewed the Numinous. Another reference is The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, where the Orthodox have kept alive the sense that all theology is mystical.

All theology is mystical

Let us listen to a quote from Gregory Palamas, a Byzantine theologian of the 14th century....

"There is no name whereby it can be named, neither in this age nor in the age to come, nor word found in the soul and uttered by the tongue, nor contact whether sensible or intellectual, nor yet any image which may afford any knowledge of its subject, if this be not the perfect incomprehensibility which one acknowledges in denying all that can be named. None can properly name its essence or nature if he be truly seeking the truth that is above all truth..." (quoted in Vladimir above)

My own prayer life finds a resonance with my Eastern Catholic brethren and Orthodox, that the essence of the divine is shrouded in mystery, and that we should approach in awe, wonder and great respect and humility. As a psychologist fascinated with the psychology of belief, I also wonder if the great historical developments in theological doctrine have had the effect of alienating believers from a more inward spirituality, awe, wonder, and appreciation of mystery. "Concepts create idols, only wonder understands anything." Gregory of Nyssa, 4th century.

When we believe our concepts actually are synonymous with this mystery rather than merely represent it, always inadequately, we humans are too ready to judge others who have differing views of belief and too ready to believe they are further from G*d than we are because their beliefs are different. Has this making our very images of G*d into Icons become the root cause of much intolerance and persecution in G*d’s name throughout history? I have entitled one article: “Sin is Believing that G*d is on Our Side.” [Paschal Baute, 1985.]

My sense of the undeserved nature of grace, the gift of faith, and my sense of awe in this mystery leads me to not want to assume that I know anything for certain about this mystery, even while my personal faith holds Jesus as the best translator for myself. To use the word “God” as so many do, even so many ministers, as if one had an easy familiarity with this mystery, does not respect the very nature of this mystery: that is, to be beyond all human understanding. It does not respect the fact that the best way to this mystery is not through the mind, but via the heart. Have we westerners over-rationalized our concepts of this mystery? Over-formalized, and forgotten the mystery and the heart–the mystical way?

The meaning of Yahweh: ancient and modern?

I have a deep sense of connection with the Israelites who believed that wherever the name of Yahweh was known and invoked, there Yahweh was present and active. Yahweh’s name is glorious (Psalm 72:19), great (Kings 8:42), awful (Deuteronomy 28:58), exalted (psalms 33:21, 89:25), etc. It was crucial of Moses’ mission that he should discover the name of G-d. “When I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘the God of your fathers has sent me to you.’ if they ask me, ‘what is his name?’ What am I to tell them. God replied: “I am who am.” (Exodus 3:13)

What Yahweh actually means is difficult to determine, The distinguished biblical archaeologist W.F. Albright suggests it is the first word of the entire name, “yawheh-‘aser’yihweh,–He who brings into being whatever comes into being” Others have suggested that the name means “I am who I will be,” thereby revealing a G*d in process, one who summons us to collaborate in the building of the future. “Birther of All Life would be a meaningful title signifying the creative power. I myself prefer a “G*d in process” more than a Supreme Being somewhere outside this cosmos, that is, a Creative Mystery that is always just happening, inside the universe, inside relationships, inside us, still creating, still inviting us to co-creation. “Relational Aliveness” is my own term for this mystery. Whenever we are in genuinely reciprocal relationship, we are inside the Mystery, in whom we live, and move and have our being. “I - Thou.”

I believe the historical Jesus taught the Spirit of G*d was already present, here and now, and that his followers did not need the purity code of the priests and pharisees, that “brokers” or mediators were not needed, that wherever there was hospitality, and welcoming the outsider, there was the Presence, the Kingdom. He taught no creeds. He preached no “official doctrine.” He led no community prayer. He opened hearts to a different kind of wisdom. He welcomed the stranger.

If I use the traditional spelling of word “God” this seems to imply that I accept the traditional definitions which are more closed, definitive, and finished, more masculine than feminine, rather than open, still just now happening, like Spirit. Yet G*d has to be more verb than noun. So it is with a deep bow toward my orthodox brethren, and another toward my sisters in their writing of womanist theology, that I prefer to use the spelling “G*d,” or “Godde.” –which is half way between God and Goddess, and preferred by womanist theologians. What is curious is that one Old Catholic priest thought I was being blasphemous in that spelling, as if this mystery had told us “G-O-D is the way I want My Name spelled.” Funny.

Recognizing the above, that is, how we are already shaped by our family, society, culture which may alienate us from a sense of mystery in our lives, and that all theology is autobiographical, that is , we cannot but help conceive of mystery except through our own experience which has been mostly programmed for us, that words themselves can alienate us from our own experience, dare we make any suggestions for a “common language?”

We shall dare. Suggestions for talking about this mystery we call G*d with others:
1. Consider that every human being has been given direct divine access. Accept the possibility that you are not called to pray on the behalf of others, without listening first, without inviting them respectfully into the experience of mystery already present in their lives.
2. Most believers have a hard time praying without using their favorite concepts. Do not assume that your favorite words mean the same to others as they do to you. The very first mentoring of the spiritual person is “Stop. Become aware...” Consider that openness to mystery is a form of prayer. The Buddhist concept of mindfulness is also appropriate here.
3. When unsure (and we should be most of the time since we are living in a pluralistic universe), then use the term “This mystery some call G*d..” and encourage the person to talk about their experience of mystery. How is it they experience mystery in their lives? Have they their own favorite images and names for this mystery?
4. If you are a prayerful person, you will realize the significance of silence and contemplative prayer in your life. You can learn to invite others into this sacred space, by simply inviting, “Let us (can we) pause to recognize the presence of this mystery some call G*d always around us, always inside us, and always speaking to us through each other, through the wonders of nature, and through happenings in our lives.” Then pause to let the heart speak, however quietly it will.
5. Then ask, if some dialogue seems appropriate, “Is there mystery in your life that you are part of that you have been not paying attention to?” Note: to carry a share in this dialogue requires some openness and vulnerability by the inquirer. Further questions might be: “ What opens your heart?” “What breaks your heart?” “What moves your heart?” Ask, if so led, “Could it be in some way that this mystery we call G*d is speaking to your heart through this recent experience?” If the respondent asks “what do you mean,” the inquirer should be prepared to share something of their own journey into mystery, even their own stumbling.
6. Teach others, by your demeanor and presence, the value of the silent prayer of the heart, or what others have called “Kything,” that is, heart to heart prayer with this mystery that does not need any words whatever. To teach it, model it, one has to do it.
7. Remember: heart-felt presence is itself prayer: mindfulness, attention, respect and listening are already a prayer, whether or not any words are said. What many need is the affirmation of the divine goodness that is already within, and the mystery inside which they live and walk. We don’t receive that well from others through mere words.
8. Heart murmurings overheard: “Who among my care-takers will open the way to my sense of mystery and Inner Light that I have probably neglected? Who will help me find it and show me how to nurture it?”

Epilogue: Our traditional images affect the way we pray. As an experiment applying what has just been suggested, here is a prayer with non-traditional images. Please notice the effect on yourself of these different images.

(when renewing a spiritual search)

When I think of you, Holy Mystery, as She Who Is,
I know instantly that you are turned toward me.
for the female persons I know
are consistently gifted with relatedness.
I also know instantly you are the kind of God
who would never ignore
even the most insignificant, powerless child of your womb,
and who burns with fury over the abuse of any that are yours.
When I think of you as She Who Is,
I feel your motherly exuberance and vitality
passing from you to me,
and the force of your patient loving-kindness
in urging my best self into birth and action.
You are the God “in whom we live and move and have our being,”
By that I implicitly name you Creator Mother and She Who Is
since mothers are the only beings we know
in whom others live and move and have their being.
Although I know almost nothing about you except that you must exist
and be reflected in your creatures,
each day I launch into the search for you full of expectations,
knowing instinctively that my quest
pleases you immensely.

Creative Mystery, birthing, guiding, freeing.
In you we live and move and have our being.”
–William Cleary. Prayers to She Who Is.

“The most beautiful thing we can experience
is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.
He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer
pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe,
is as good as dead:
his eyes are closed.”
-- Albert Einstein.

“We know the truth not only by the reason,
but by the heart.”
–Blaise Pascal

[The wise man] will ask himself: Who am I that all this should happen to me? To find the answer to this fateful question he will look into his own heart.” –C. G. Jung, Psychology and Alchemy

“I don’t know enough,” replied the Scarecrow cheerfully. “My head is stuffed with straw, you know, and that is why I am going to Oz to ask him for some brains.”
“Oh, I see,” said the Tim Woodman. “But after all, brains are not the best things in the world.”
‘Have you any?” inquired the Scarecrow.
“No, my head is quite empty,” answered the Woodman, “but once I had brains, and a heart also; so, having tried them both, I should much rather have a heart.”
–L. Frank Baum. The Wizard of Oz.

“But the eyes are blind.
One must look with the heart.”
–Antoine de Saint-Exupery. The Little Prince.

“Understanding and love are values that transcend all dogma.”
–Thich Nhat Hanh, Living Buddha, Living Christ.

Recommended Readings:
The Education of the Heart. Thomas Moore, Ed. Harper Collins, 1996.
Kything (The Art of Spiritual Presence). Louis Savard and Patricia Berne. Paulist, 1988.
Idea of the Holy by Rudoph Otto. Oxford paperbacks, 1923
I and Thou. Martin Buber. Touchstone / Scribner, 1970.
In Face of Mystery. Kaufman, Gordon D. Cambridge, Ma: Harvard U. Press. 1993
The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, Vladimir Lossky, St. Vladimir Seminary Press, 1944
Prayers To She Who Is, by William Cleary. Crossroad, 1995.
She Who Is, by Elizabeth Johnson. Crossroad Herder Paperback, 1993.
“Traditions of Spiritual Guidance, the Real Presence, A Quaker Perspective.” Alan Kolp. The Way, July 1993.


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