A friend of mine has posted these observations, which were in turn put to her by a long term acquaintance. I thought I’d give answering them a shot.
1) “You’ve had all this time to reach intimately into yourself and your relationship with God and that sense of presence. Bear in mind what you say won’t make sense to most people, and you could lead them astray by describing how you live and what you see.”
I do bear in mind that what I say won’t make sense to most people, if only because I find that most people haven’t had a peak mystical experience, and a fair proportion of those who’ve had more moderate mystical experiences have largely dismissed them as “one of those things” (or, as one atheist friend beautifully put it “a brain fart”). I’m acutely conscious of the fact that if I do something to take apart someone’s existing belief structures, I can’t give them their own mystical experience on which to build. That is either given (as in my case) or acquired through a long process of practice. Possibly also via the use of pharmaceuticals or other radical ways of adjusting the brain, but I’ve no competence to suggest those.
That leaves me thinking of “No disassemble” from “Short Circuit” and the picture of a child surrounded by mechanical or electronic parts which he or she (usually he) has taken apart and has no idea how to put back together.
I do have some ideas about how to put things back together, but they take a lot of time (disassembly is far quicker!) and I made a decision many years ago that I didn’t want to be in the position of a guru. In part that was because I considered myself unfitted for that role, in part it was because I was scared of being the focus of a huge weight of expectation, and of what that might do to me.
Those who ask me what I really think, however… eventually, I’ll answer them truthfully, even if by doing so I’m taking them down the rabbit hole with no expectation of them ever coming out of it. It seems to me that the original speaker is terrified of that happening to them…
There is, of course, an implication there that the speaker thinks my friend is woefully misled herself. But hey, I think the speaker is woefully misled, and probably needs to listen long and hard to what my friend has to say.
I also need to think more about “could lead them astray by describing how you live and what you see.” I recoil at the idea that anyone should ever be told that sharing their experience or their perspectives (“experience, strength and hope” if you like) is a bad thing. I do self-censor when talking to people whose beliefs I judge to be fragile – and rigidity and brittleness often go together – but as an overall objective, I think there’s little better than being able to share about how you got where you are, what assisted you in getting there and how you now view the world at large.
2) “When you hear people talk about their own spiritual experience you need to connect them up specifically with Jesus, in case they get deceived by other spirits. It’s all about that name – the man on earth who died and rose again.”
My goodness, how many ways is that statement bad? There’s the magical thinking of there being power in a particular name (which, of course, wasn’t actually “Jesus”, but something more like Yeheshua, or if you like Joshua). There’s the equally magical thinking of seeing a world of disembodied spirits, which is (with thanks to Walter Wink in “Naming the Powers”) pretty definitely not how Paul, the writer of most of the early attempts at theology on which the speaker probably relies, saw spirits – the Hebrew concept was that no spirit could ever be disembodied. There’s the issue of ignoring Matthew 7:22-23 “Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!”.
Then there’s the concept of “The man on earth who died and rose again”. Concepts, unlike mere words, do have some power (and OK, words might have power inasmuch as they are signifiers for a concept). What a horrendously denatured version of the gospel! Implicit in that is the idea that at root, Christianity is nothing more than an escape plan (and, of course, “Jesus” is its label).
It’s almost enough to make me think that deconstructing such a belief would be a good thing irrespective of whether you could construct something better to take its place (and get that to take root in the consciousness of your interlocutor…)
3) (In the context of mentioning mutual friends of mine who are 10 years older than me…) “…we can be in turmoil as we reach the last part of our lives, because we are being prepared for eternity.”
There’s the escape plan again. Now, in my own perspective, our whole lives are preparation for “eternity”, inasmuch as we don’t manage to taste it during our lifetimes – and I can think of no gift greater than being allowed to taste it ante-mortem (or from Luke 9:27 ,“Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.”) given that I don’t actually know what happens post-mortem (and I don’t think anyone else does either). By “eternity” there, I obviously mean the concept rendered in the original as “zoe aionios”, which is usually translated as “eternal life” – but that is a terrible translation. It might mean “the life of ages” or “the life of the aeon”, but I think the true sense is more like “the fullness of life”.
If I’m right about that, the implication of “prepared for eternity” is that they are being persuaded that the life they are actually living is worthless in comparison to that which they can anticipate after death, and that is, to my thinking, a deeply immoral thing to suggest to anyone.
4) (I mentioned 7 chakras in eastern thinking, and how they were about balance and energy, which I said I found helpful in dealing with my faith at a level beyond words.) “Words like ‘chakra’ should be avoided because they belong to another way and there is only one way (Jesus) that leads to God. ”
Again, we have the magical thinking that words have power in and of themselves, coupled with an implicit equation of what is almost certainly one of the “many mansions” of John 14:2 and the “other folds” of John 10:16 with (and there is no way of putting a finer point on it) Satanism. This is the kind of thinking which, were I to put a cover saying “War and Peace” on my Bible (as I might, in some circles, be slightly embarrassed to be caught reading the Bible), I would have in some way changed the contents. OK, I did originally think of using the cover of, say, The Bhagavad Gita, but I don’t have a Bible thin enough to fit that dust cover… though, come to think of it, Crowley’s “Magick in Theory and Practice” would fit on my RSV.
Back, I think, to Matthew 7.
As it happens, I am very much with the Dalai Lama on this point. If someone is using the language of chakras (whether in conjunction with other Hindu, Buddhist or Jain concepts or not), I am far more disposed to try to assist them in being the best Hindu, Buddhist or Jain that they can be than to persuade them that they are following the primrose path to the everlasting bonfire, as Shakespeare put it. If they’re merely using them as a language (and set of concepts) to assist healing, I might even point out that there are much wider systems of concepts into which that language fits, and which they should probably be exploring. (The Dalai Lama has famously told many people that, rather than converting to Tibetan Buddhism, they should strive to be a better practitioner of the religion they grew up in).
Actually, of course, the Dalai Lama’s point rather indicates that those from the West who are talking about chakras should maybe be exploring traditions more native to them, and that is something I am always keen to mention. I suppose, in so doing, I’m actually going to be “connecting them up with Jesus” for some value of those words. Probably not the value my friend’s acquaintance had in mind, though!