Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Closing the Circle, Squared

At least. And there may be more than two... circles that are being closed, I mean.

When picking a name for this book, I quickly noticed that the name that suggested itself to me was not all that original, and that the subtitle would have to clarify exactly what circles were being closed here. Nevertheless the name seemed appropriate, and the publisher agreed, so closing the circle it was.

The main circle that was being closed, and the overt point of the book, was for me the living connection between the Jesus of the Thomas gospel and the protagonist of A Course In Miracles.

Another circle that is being closed by means of this book, starts with my connection with the work of Johan Willem Kaiser, whose work early in life set me on a track of understanding that the issue was not a moral conversion as in the Pauline traditions of Christianity, but the actual following of Jesus as a living reality, i.e. experience. Therefore the issue was not theology to clarify in terms the world can accept what the meaning of Jesus might be, which after all boils down to us telling Jesus what it is he said, but rather, it was to make oneself available to learning what Jesus might have to tell us, which means to accept him as a teacher, and shut up ourselves, until we begin to hear what he has to say. In the end, this historical issue turns out to be merely a special case of the ego's resistance to salvation, and it has nothing to do with the fact that Paul from time to time also wrote some brilliant, as well as beautiful things that seem undoubtedly inspired and inspiring.

The choice however is between the crucified Jesus of Christianity, and the resurrected Jesus of the living spiritual tradition of which for me personally J.W. Kaiser was an exponent and A Course In Miracles is another, for either, the point would be to help us live in a living relationship with Jesus, which they might help facilitate, but hardly define or limit. Not for nothing does the Course say of itself (ACIM:W-189.7:5), "Forget this world, forget this course, and come with wholly empty hands unto your God." In short it wants to be a conduit to the living experience, and with that its function is over. Kaiser takes a similar position when he says in the dedication of one of his books: "If it [the book] could here or there accompany a lonely Traveler through the desert in his hour of difficulty, then this work of one who had to bend over backwards towards the light, has already fulfilled its function." (In  "De mysteriën van Jezus in ons leven," not yet available in English). In other words again, he can only point us in a direction, and the last thing he would want is for his words to become important and be given meaning in lieu of experience, as opposed to leading us to experience.

To intellectualize spirituality is to pretend spirituality with the ego as our guide, and it is another last-ditch attempt by the ego to prevent us from leading a spiritual life in practice, which is all Jesus ever meant with "following him," i.e. take the risk of living in his spirit in our own lives. Paul is perhaps the prototype of this symptomology, but we see it every day, everywhere, and if we dedicate ourselves to spirituality in our own lives we will see how we ourselves are tempted to remain stuck in such intellectualizations, which prevent us from actually living the reality of spirit, and keep us sound asleep in the dream. The ego values intellectual accomplishments very highly, and the world likewise rewards the study of itself, including its spiritual dimensions, for confining it to an intellectual understanding, as opposed to a living realization, means that it has been reduced to a theory of life, instead of a life. To spirit therefore this is all dead matter, but it sells well, so you can make a career out of it. The effect however is to put the ego in charge of our spiritual development, which may produce an effective stage prop, never any spiritual accomplishment. This is why the Course is so clear that the choice is completely either/or, the Holy Spirit(Jesus), or the ego. There is no other choice to be made.

J. W. Kaiser made me very aware early on about the unbridgeable gap between the teachings of Jesus and the teachings of Paul (ostensibly about Jesus), the latter of which became Christianity. He was also familiar with much of the debate about Jesus and Paul that had raged in theological circles in the 19th century (Radikalkritik, et. al.), about which he observes that Paul always won out in those circles. He furthermore was very clear that the relationship with Jesus was about inner experience (change of mind), while Paul shifted the action towards morality, confession, and conversion (repentance). Thus Paul represents a typical example of skipping steps in our spiritual development, and underestimating the radical nature of the fundamental change of mind Jesus is talking about. In this way intellectual accomplishment, theology is the meat and substance of this stage prop ("All the world's a stage," after all), and repentance, and contrition in our condition as miserable sinners, ensure that we safely exclude ourselves from the possibility of spiritual achievement.

In Kaiser's time the Gospel of Thomas was just being discovered--the first translations appeared in the 1950s, and he died in 1960--but for the time being its historical significance was not well understood, particularly not that--as is now fairly generally understood--the fact that it must be dated before Paul, which nicely explains why none of the elements of Christian theology even make an appearance in the sayings of Jesus which are in this Gospel. For me, this is definitely the closing of another circle, meaning that it substantially solidifies the record of the pre-Pauline Jesus of Thomas, free of Christian theology, as the teacher I was looking for all along, and who I have found speaking to me in a very authentic way, albeit in a very modern form in the pages of A Course In Miracles. Kaiser in his day suggested in one of his books that the time might come that psychology might enable a movement to abandoning Paul, and returning to the teachings of Jesus. Little did he know that within ten years after his death Dr. Helen Schucman, a psychologist, was to have this channeling experience, the fruits of which we now know as A Course In Miracles. Therefore the early dating of the Thomas Gospel is compelling not only as a matter of literary form, in that sayings Gospels predated narrative Gospels, but it is also compelling because Jesus speaks only directly of spiritual experience in the form of quotations that express his teachings in the parabolic koan style, with which we have now begun to become somewhat familiar, and which are clearly geared to living experience and not to theological ruminations. This is evidently the reason why this little book has caused some mild indigestion at times in Christian circles. It would seem better to deal with it forthright. The fact that the Pauline tradition became historically dominant is hardly proof of its authenticity. The two are simply different and hence totally incompatible.

We might see this in yet a different light by observing that the theological development always follows, and never precedes the spiritual development, and that alone should make us sceptical of the value of intellectualizations as a facilitator of spiritual experience. Within the context of the Course, it is very clear that intellectualizing the work can short-circuit the experience, and thus delays us on the trip. Understanding is helpful only to the extent that it leads to experience, but it becomes harmful if it prevents the experience, and in the Course context this problem is known as skipping steps, i.e. where we act as if we are further along in the process than we are, and thus prevent ourselves from having the experiences we need, and which our ego is always desperate to prevent us from having, such as to "question every value that we hold," which the Course posits as absolutely crucial to our process (c.f. ACIM:T-24.In.2:1). Skipping steps is a nifty way of safeguarding some of our dearest sacred cows and assumptions, meanwhile pretending to accomplishment we don't have. It is at that juncture that often times cults and religions are formed, which pretend to be something different, but always end up being yet another rehash of the ego's thought system, which we do not want to let go in the worst way. A Course In Miracles at least helps us understand the basis of our resistance.

In conclusion, I feel that this second circle that this book closes has to do with Kaiser's comment about why in theological circles Paul always ends up being reasserted, he has to be, because of the inner consistency of the theology of Christianity, which started with Paul, not Jesus. Hence it should surprise no-one that among Paul's disciples, Paul's intellectualizations of the meaning of Jesus will always take precedence over the actual teachings of Jesus themselves. It is merely a cultural stereotype that substitutes intellectualization for living experience.