Who were the pioneers in the concept that
Religion is a ‘feeling’?
"We must not dare resort to words or conceptions concerning that hidden divinity which transcends being."
“There are few figures in the history of Western Spirituality who are more enigmatic than the fifth or sixth-century writer known as Pseudo-Dionysius. The real identity of the person who chose to write under the pseudonym of Dionysius the Areopagite is unknown. Even the exact dates of his writings have never been determined. Moreover the texts themselves, though relatively short, are at points seemingly impenetrable and have mystified readers over the centuries. Yet the influence of this shadowy figure on broad range of mystical writers from the early middle ages on is readily discernible. His formulation of a method of negative theology that stresses the impotence of humans' attempt to penetrate the "cloud of unknowing" is famous as is his meditation on the divine names.”
Pseudo Dionysius is mentioned, because he is usually thought of as having much influence on the author of the Cloud of Unknowing.
The Cloud of Unknowing
Although the exact identity of this text's author remains obscure, he was probably an English country parson of the late 14th century (say 1375). The main theme of this book is that God cannot be reached by human intellect but only by a love that can pierce the "cloud of unknowing".
The premise here is that in order to really know God, mysticism must be practiced–the [Rational] mind has to be shut down or turned off so that the cloud of unknowing, where the presence of God awaits, can be experienced. Practitioners of this method believe that if the sacred words are Christian, you will get Christ–it is simply a matter of intent even though the method is identical to occult and Eastern practices.
More on The Cloud
Evelyn Underhill - Mysticism (1911)
Rationalism is not the only path to reality in fact, according to Evelyn Underhill, it may even be an impediment. Born in England and educated at King's College for Women in London, Underhill wrote several novels and books of light verse, but has found lasting fame through her writings on Christian mysticism. Written in 1911 on the eve of World War I, Practical Mysticism reviews the greatest Western mystics, including Teresa of Avila, Julian of Norwich, and Thomas of Kempis, and urges readers toward a disciplined investigation of the reality that lies beyond the senses.
In the Enneads Plotinus presents the Divine as an unequal triune, in descending order: a) the One, perfection, having nothing, seeking nothing, needing nothing, yet it overflows creatively, the source of being ; b) the emitted Nous or Spirit, intelligence, wisdom, poetic intuition, the "Father and Companion" of the soul [121-122]; and, c) the emitted Soul or Life, the vital essence of the world, which aspires to communion with the Spirit above, while also directly engaged with the physical world beneath .
A Persian Mystic Encyclopædia Britannica Article
born April 14, 216, southern Babylonia – died 274?, Gundeshapur
also called Manes, or Manichaeus Iranian founder of the Manichaean religion, a church advocating a dualistic doctrine that viewed the world as a fusion of spirit and matter, the original contrary principles of good and evil, respectively.
Today modern theologians see the world as a fusion of spirit and matter. Augustine was a Manicheist for many years.
Manicheism - Augustine comes across the Manichee sect in Carthage, when he goes there for his studies. He ends up believing strongly in Manichee doctrine for nearly ten years, until rational philosophy and astronomy persuade him that the colorful Manichee cosmology is false. The self-declared prophet Mani claimed that God was not omnipotent and struggled against the opposing substance of evil. The Manicheans also believed that the human soul was of the same substance of God. The opposition of these views is one of the main themes of the Confessions. Manichee doctrines depended heavily on visualization of the concepts of God and evil, and this dependence greatly delayed Augustine from coming to know God without imagining him.
John Wesley, in the first years of the Methodist Movement, developed many instructions and disciplines for spiritual growth among his followers. One of these practices was to open each meeting of the gathered Christians with the following question: Is it well with your soul? In other words, how are you doing – are things right in your heart? This inquiry would set the tone for the rest of the meeting. After relating this to us, the chaplain asked each of us that same question – 'Is it well with your soul?'
So also my Feeling Brain asks, “Is it well with my soul?”
How do we find out?
We can’t just ask, “Do I love my neighbor? Do I suffer when he suffers?”
Because there is no guarantee that we have the ability to love, or to feel compassion. All too many of us have let the Feeling Brain atrophy – some deliberately – some through simple neglect. How can we know when we have a functional Feeling Brain? Take this test:
Find a person whom you know is suffering – someone you know personally, or someone you see on the news.
Does it matter to you that that person is suffering? Ask yourself whether or not you ‘feel’ any sympathy for that person. Does what you feel hurt? Do you wish there was someway you could alleviate that person’s pain?
This is fundamental compassion – if you feel it, at least you have a functioning Feeling Brain.
Consider the situation where you have a pet that has been injured – say hit by a car, or by an air rifle. How do you ‘feel’ about this situation?
Ask yourself the same questions as before. If you feel any compassion for your pet, let’s say that you have Secondary Compassion.
Now suppose you see a farm calf that has had TLC all its life on the farm. Now you see this calf being loaded onto a tractor/trailer – urged on by a cattle prod, an instrument that delivers 50 to 100 thousand volts of electricity as it touches the calf – an instrument that has been designed to hurt the calf.
What do you feel?
Or suppose that the calf is a range calf – never having had any special care, but yet has no reason to fear the human. Now suppose that calf is rounded-up, and tied so that it cannot move, then branded with a red-hot branding iron, and, if it is a male calf, have its testicles cut out, for the sole purpose of keeping it manageable, and so that it will eat and put on weight.
Do you feel anything when you see or hear of this situation?
Suppose you are walking in the woods and you see a deer with its lower jaw shot off. This in itself is not a mortal wound, but this deer will slowly, and painfully die, because it cannot drink water, nor can it eat grass, or anything else.
Do you feel anything about this situation?
Suppose you see a domestic mother cat that has caught a mouse. She has chewed the feet off of this mouse so that it can barely run. She does this so that her kittens can practice catching the mouse, and get the taste of blood associated with the kill.
You know rationally that this is the way nature works. Do you dismiss this situation as ‘acceptable’?
Suppose you see an ant carrying a weed seed home to his extended family. As far as we know, this ant is very low on the evolutionary scale – he may not even have feelings as we know them. And yet he is a living, breathing, functional creature. Does that mean anything to us? Do we step on him as he crosses the sidewalk?
When I was a boy, with my first gun, I felt powerful – I felt in charge – I felt in control – the master of my little world. I felt that living creatures were there for me to kill. And I killed pretty ruthlessly for a while. Then one day, I killed a Jack rabbit, who turned out to be crippled. He had been shot before in the hind leg. The bullet had severed his thigh bone, which had immobilized that leg but which had not killed the rabbit. He continued to live and thrive after a fashion, dragging that immobilized leg behind him. The situation had a profound effect on me. I felt empathy for the rabbit.
I wish I could say that I never killed or hurt a creature after that, but I cannot. It took years for that incident to register, but it finally did. I hope that this telling of the story is its final resting place.
What is central to the Christian faith? I have no doubt that it is LOVE. What is central to the command ‘to Love’? Surely, it is the command to act on it. Jesus did not know anything about the Orient, China, India, or about the continents of N & S America, even though these parts of the world contained millions of people. Can you believe that when he said ‘Love your neighbor.’, he meant only the person near to you?
Those of us who know Jesus in our hearts, know very well that Jesus meant every person on this earth, and if there might be life elsewhere, he meant ‘all of God’s creatures, wherever they might be. ‘Creatures’? Dogs, cats, fish, too?
If we believe what is written in Genesis, we believe that God looked at what he had made, and behold, it was good, very good. So also, God created a Garden of Eden, not just in the Mid-East, but in most of the world. Your Garden may not be the Gardens of So Calif, or So Texas, or of Florida, but it is a garden of some sort. Surely the Polar Bears think of their home, the Arctic Circle, as a Garden of Eden. Surely, the Leopard Seals think of their home, the Antarctic, as a Garden of Eden.
The bottom line is that the Human – not the Polar Bears – not the Leopard Seals – is in the process of destroying this Garden of Eden. God’s instructions to Adam and Eve were to take care of it and to enjoy it.
Well if you cut down all of the trees, and let the topsoil wash into the ocean, how long are you going to have a Garden of Eden? Clearly, God is concerned about Environmental issues. Whatever affects the environment affects all of us, And whatever affects all of us, is God’s concern.
“I Saw the Lord” – the sermon that I am working on. In the year that King Uzziah died (742 BC) I saw the Lord, sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up (the position of POWER), and his train filled the temple (We are in a building).
Seraphim – Pl of Seraph – KJV doesn’t know that; so they add the pluralizing ‘s’ to form ‘seraphims’.
Holy, holy, holy (The Sanctus) – in English, we have the comparative and superlative – good, better, best – Hebrew repeats the word three times for the superlative. Thus holy, holy, holy means ‘holiest’, or ‘most holy’.
The whole earth is full of his glory – living here in one of the most magnificent areas in the whole world, we are reminded every day of this truth. ‘Sangre de Christo’ means ‘Blood of Christ’, and that surely adds spiritual meaning to the natural beauty of the area.
I am now listening to the Journal of Thomas Merton – 1960-1963 – Turning Toward the World (NMLBPH # 49272). Merton is a faulty human like the rest of us, but he is still far and above most of us in his ability to meld the two Biblical Worlds – as I see them, the Physical World, and the Spiritual World.
In my sermon, ‘I Saw the Lord’, I elaborate on what we mean by ‘The Physical World’. Merton too, is working on this distinction in his book.
There is the Natural World; there is the Man-made World, and there is the System by which man governs the parts that can be governed.
Like me, Merton quotes extensively from other writers. But Merton does not have the Net in 1960 that I have in 1990-2007. Thus, it is much easier for me to quote from other writers, than it was for him. It is also easier for me to locate writers (observers) that he never heard of. Thus, my writing became mostly quotes, some of which scattered my own thoughts to the four winds.
Merton is well-read, especially in spiritual matters, but also in secular matters. As we might expect, Merton always seems to have his mind firmly planted in the Spiritual World. This I am not able to do. Even so, I always seem to be able to find the Spiritual World, just when this Physical World seems about to overwhelm me.
So, being overwhelmed as I am with input from the Physical World, it begins to look like I have no spiritual life at all. Not so. It is just that I am not recording it. This morning, I resolved to be more faithful in keeping my Journal, and more faithful in reporting my soul-searching.
This morning, I down-loaded several Pages; two of which I have converted into printable versions. The first is from Carolyn Baker’s Web Site, http://www.carolynbaker.org/ Called ‘Speaking Truth to Power’. In it is a review of ‘American Fascism: The Christian Right, and the War on America by Chris Hedges of the NYTimes.
The second is, ‘The Growth of Progressive Churches’ by Jesus Politics.
Even though these articles are about religion, they are primarily secular articles. These articles like most of these in my collection, demand your attention. Very few spiritual articles do that. Does this mean that Spirituality is not important?
What it means is that I must keep spirituality ever before me. I am sure that I have said this before, but it is probably lost in the haystack of verbiage in my files.
Since, I am not dead yet, my goal should be to try to re-establish my relationship with my Journal. It is not that Spirituality is that all-fired important, it’s that Spirituality is Vital.
My feeling is that it should occupy at least 10% of your time. If you can function with this allotment, fine. If you find that this world is still leaning on you too heavily, then give spirituality 20%, or 30%, whatever it takes.
Now, I don’t mean by this Physical World, the tangible part of it, I really mean, the way it is governed – managed – controlled – the way we humans behave in it. We seem to have a compulsion to hurt or kill each other – and our fellow creatures. I suspect that this compulsion is related to our inherent Lust for Power.
We just seem to strike out at each other for no reason. We seem to have inherited John L Sullivan’s boast, ‘I can lick any man in the world.’ These thoughts have to do with “How we are.” Or “How it is.” Activists seek to create a world of, “How it ought to be.”
“Mani claimed that God was not omnipotent and struggled against the opposing substance of evil.”
Mani saw a pitched battle between Good and Evil – between Right and Wrong. How is it today?
Voltaire has said, “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.” Nobody (well hardly anybody) likes the idea of an invented God. Almost everybody agrees that we can speculate on the nature of God. The Rational Brain likes to explain what it sees, but it doesn’t like to create myths or imaginary worlds in order to do this.
Theology explains to the Feeling Brain what we see. EG, the Elohist story of Creation was created by the Priestly Writers in order to explain the seven-day week, and the Sabbath. Theology answers our questions. Theology is basically etiology (the study of causes or origins).
To think of God as omnipotent seems like wishful thinking – it’s that we wouldn’t want to worship anything less. John Cobb points out in ‘Christianity and Empire’, that Scripture never did refer to God as All-powerful. This tradition comes from two faulty translations: In the Septuagint, the term ‘Shaddai’ was translated with the Greek word, Pantocrator, meaning ‘ruler of all.’ Secondly, Jerome translated the term ‘Shaddai’ (in the Vulgate) as ‘omnipotent’. (As in God almighty). Cobb says that the term is simply a proper name for God.
Today, we see the same struggle between Good and Evil, that Mani saw. The bible sees a similar struggle between God and Satan. Nobody denies that Satan has Power. The assumption has always been that God has infinite Power, but Satan still exists and is still working his Evil. Christians say that he has been overcome, but is that in accordance with what we see? It has always been a part of the culture that Satan is always recruiting – ie the Faust Legends. And we know that Satan has a lot to offer – re the third temptation of Jesus.
The struggle is also seen as a struggle between Right and Wrong. We have always assumed that we were right, but are we? Humanity got where it is because the ‘fittest’ survived. They weren’t necessarily ‘right’, they were the ‘fittest’.
The philosophers ask, “What is Right?” Meaning – we don’t know for sure. Surely the Republicans think they are Right.
I have defined ‘Evil’ as, ‘hurting a creature needlessly’. But that is my definition. I am not in charge of definitions. I do not feel like wading through Augustine’s Confessions, in order to find his definition, but he is not in charge either.
The Church does not know either. For example, the Church has always sought to ‘feed the starving millions’. They have ignored or condemned the idea of population control. They ignore the fact that if you feed the ‘starving millions’ today, you will have to feed the ‘starving billions’ tomorrow.
Prayer and Progressive Theology
Prayer is central to the Christian Faith. It should continue as such. A prayer is a statement of faith. The author of it is stating his theology; therefore a proponent of the ‘New’ theology needs to use his pastoral prayers as much as his sermons, to explicate his theology.
Prayer is very much a part of the faith, therefore it needs constant attention. I use quite a few prayers from the Net. These are usually a mixture of the ‘new’ and the traditional. What we need to do is to clarify, and to eliminate the traditional, insofar as it conflicts with our present views.
Examining an ‘Episcopal Prayer’; there is a phrase, ‘your servants, created in your image’. This expression is risky, because it promotes the ‘anthropological’ God – an image of ourselves. We must abandon completely the idea that an image can represent God.
From the Prayers of Larry Ellis (he did not write all of them), he includes the phrase ‘giving up your life so that we might be restored’. We must be very careful with the Doctrine of Atonement. Today’s theology rejects the literal story, but tries to see it as an allegory, or metaphor. Something like, “You gave up your life so that we might have life eternal”. So also, in funeral services, we keep harping on the ‘resurrection of the body’. Paul has made clear that there is no ‘resurrection of the physical body’, only of the immortal body. (Resurection)
The primary purpose of prayer is to remind us of our own obligations. Praying for the less-fortunate should mean to us: Help us to do something for the less-fortunate. We do not pray for healing for a terminally ill person, as we do not pray for a deceased person. Of course we pray for support for the terminally ill person, for his/her family, and for their loved ones. We also pray that medicine find a cure for the disease afflicting the loved one, because we need to be reminded that this cause needs and deserves our support.
This prayer and this action remind us persuasively that the human race is one, and that we are inextricably bound to it by our faith.
Let us use as our paradigm, the prayer of St Francis of Assisi:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much
seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Our prayers should always be, “Make us your instruments.” “Use us to do what needs to be done.”
“Pointers for Prayer : Sometimes Christians are called to turn the world upside down. To bring the exact opposite of what we find in our world. St. Francis' prayer is a bold one, asking for strength to give of ourselves to meet the needs of others. He recognizes that it "is in giving that we receive", that as we give of ourselves, we receive the peace and blessing of our risen Lord Jesus. We cannot earn eternal life, but that we are pardoned from the sins that block our claim on it.
Think about the situations that you are involved in that require peace, consolation, hope, light and joy. Then, if you're bold enough, pray the prayer!”
What is prayer? The New Catholic Encyclopedia gives three definitions of prayer, one of which is taken directly from Evagrius. Evagrius gives us a very succinct definition when he says that "Prayer is an assent of the mind to God." (Chapters on Prayer, 35, p. 60) This simple statement is the very center around which Evagrius developed his thought. He stressed a solitary, monastic life, strict asceticism, control of passionate thoughts and development of virtues, especially charity. For Evagrius, all of these help to free the mind from cares and concerns of the flesh, to separate ourselves from the material world, to allow the mind to perform its proper activity, contemplation of God. "But prayer makes the spirit strong and pure for combat since by its very nature the spirit is made to pray." (Praktikos, 49, p. 29) Evagrius took elements from the thought of Origen and added to it the ascetical practices and teachings of the Desert Fathers. Meyendorff calls Evagrius "the first great codifier of the monastic doctrine of prayer." (Meyendorff, p. 21)
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