Reflections 5
A New Image of God



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Woman as Custodian of Life
by Anne Baring
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Spirit and Stardust
by Congressman Dennis Kucinich
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Gaia - Myth and Science
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Devastating the Earth
by Jane Goodall
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A New Image of God
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The Incarnation and the Mystery of Suffering
by Joy Ryan-Bloore
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The Miracle of Death
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The Survival of the Soul
by Anne Baring
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Near Death Experience
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Alchemy: The Light of Darkness
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Dreams: Messages of the Soul
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Animals in Dreams
by Anne Baring


 


NEW WINE IN NEW BOTTLES: A NEW IMAGE OF GOD
Copyright Anne Baring


(This is a work in progress for a book I am writing and may be altered from time to time but as I am getting rather ancient, I wanted to put it on my website for anyone who, like me, might be reflecting on the need for a new image of God)

The world of today is ardently searching for a God proportionate to the new dimensions of a Universe whose appearance has completely revolutionised the scale of our faculty of worship.        Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Future of Man

The world is in the midst of a great metaphysical revolution which will shake the
foundations of human thinking.
"                      Ravi Ravindra, Science and the Sacred

If it be true, that Spirit is involved in Matter and apparent Nature is secret God, then the manifestation of the divine in himself and the realisation of God within and without are the highest and most legitimate aim possible to man on earth.        Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine


It is spring and I am walking in a wood full of bluebells – a sea of blue flowers suffuses the air with the exquisite scent of lilies. As I walk I reflect on my need for relationship with the transcendent and the need to see matter translucently, infused with the perfume of spirit. This need is not only personal to me but seems to be rooted in the profoundest needs of the human heart; it is as old as humanity. The image of the transcendent may from time to time be discarded or dismissed but it will always be re-discovered.

It seems to me that from the first stirrings of conscious awareness, we have sought relationship with the cosmos. This is perhaps our deepest instinct. Gazing in wonder at the stars, naming the constellations, minutely charting the rising and setting of the sun and the moon (the earliest lunar notations date to 40,000 years ago), imagining a divine intelligence which has created the awesome beauty and marvel of the earth, and longing to communicate with that intelligence, we have created images of a Great Mother, many goddesses and gods, and a Father Creator God to reflect a dimension of invisible reality felt to exist and to interact with humanity. These images have been hugely influential in providing a focus for the evolution of human consciousness. The transcendent image gave us an Archimedean point beyond ourselves to which we could aspire, to which - though still ignorant of the reason for our presence on this planet - we could in some way relate. It gave us the foundation for the moral values which have been articulated over millennia.

All theological systems must perforce be transitory because they are the creation of a particular phase or level of our understanding. It may be that relinquishing an image of God when it is outworn or outgrown may be essential for the further evolution of human consciousness – even perhaps for the evolution of “God.” The great mythologist, Joseph Campbell, writes in The Inner Reaches of Outer Space that "the most essential service of a mythology is to open the mind and heart to the utter wonder of being." He also says that from time to time, the image of God has to die if it is not to become an idol. It has, he says, to become transparent to transcendence in order to be renewed. The same theme is found in the alchemical image of the death of the Old King. (see seminar 11)

The need for the periodic death and regeneration of the supreme value embodied in a sacred image arises from the deepest recesses of the soul. It is possible that the tumult and violence of the present time may be due in part to the disorientation caused by the fading of an outworn concept of God, the collapse of the moral values associated with it and the failure to move towards a new concept of a transcendent reality that would draw us together instead of dividing and isolating us from each other. The image of the monotheistic God which has structured the three patriarchal religions and Judaeo-Christian civilisation for two and a half thousand years, is dying and we are living through an interregnum, made critically dangerous because of our immeasurably enhanced capacity to destroy each other and irreparably damage the fabric of life on this planet.

To understand how we have arrived at our present situation, we need to look far back into the past and, more specifically, at the formation of the image of the sacred that developed in Judaeo-Christian civilisation. Modern Western culture is still deeply influenced by a mythological tradition which worshipped the deity as a divine father transcendent to creation; a deity who was not immanent within it, not the unseen ground of the entire cosmos, including nature and human nature, as if the creator had become disconnected from creation. But this tradition superseded an older one, rooted in the Palaeolithic and Neolithic eras, where the cosmos and the earth were imagined and experienced as a Great Mother who contained all levels and dimensions of life within her being.

The increasingly male emphasis in the image of the divine led to a gradual dissociation between spirit and nature, heaven and earth and, eventually, between two aspects of our own nature - mind and soul. The father-god came to be associated with invisible spirit, heaven and the sky; the mother-goddess with visible nature, the earth and matter. Increasingly, as the god-image replaced the goddess-image, spirit came to be identified with light, order, good and man; and nature with darkness, chaos, evil and woman.

For many reasons over the last three to four thousand years, reasons which are gradually becoming clearer, the image of cosmic soul as the matrix in which all is contained – a kind of immense womb or web of interconnecting patterns of relationship – was gradually lost as the image of the Great Mother was lost. It seems only to have survived in Kabbalah—the mystical tradition of Judaism, where it was conceived as the Shekinah or feminine face of God, and in Neo-Platonism where it was called the Anima-Mundi or Soul of the World.

The end-result of this profound shift of focus from the feminine to the masculine archetype has been the de-sacralisation of everything that was once associated with the image of the divine feminine. Since the seventeenth century, the ethos of Western culture has increasingly, with the development of science and technology, become the drive for power and control over nature. Matter (a word derived from mater, the Latin word for mother), is now described as something inert, dead, without life or consciousness, something we can control and manipulate to serve our own needs and desires. In the mechanistic paradigm inherited from Galileo and Newton and Descartes, atoms came to be viewed as lifeless particles, floating randomly in a random universe. Nature is no longer a theophany ensouled and informed by divine spirit. The human species is believed to be the only conscious, intelligent form of life in an inanimate universe. The dominant ethos of a predominantly secular culture recognises no principle transcendent to human consciousness and has contracted our view of reality to a purely sensory view of life. The deeper questions that preoccupied the greatest intellects of previous ages: the question of who we are, why we are here and what our relationship to the universe might be are no longer considered worthy of consideration or even relevant to our lives.

The secular culture of the modern western world has declared that God is dead and the idea of a transcendent value irrelevant. However, it may not be God who has died but rather the image we had projected onto Him, an image that was formulated according to the level of our understanding at a specific historical time. This image has lasted for nearly three thousand years but may now be in need of renewal. “God” may be longing for release from His immolation in the structure of our beliefs. To use a gardening metaphor, God has become pot-bound, fixed and constricted by the anthropomorphic, gender-biased, paternalistic image that we have projected onto Him. As Teilhard de Chardin suggested, we need to formulate a new image of God that is related to the phenomenal discoveries science has made about the new dimensions of the universe.

What have we done to God? The old image we have inherited from the Iron Age portrays God creating the Earth from a distance; God as something transcendent to, different from, creation and ourselves; God as male; God as fearful Judge, God as both punishing and loving Father. We have divided life into two – spirit and nature – and have lost the sense of the divinity of nature. We have fixed the image of deity in the masculine gender, refusing until very recently to entertain the idea that the feminine aspect of spirit is essential to its wholeness or that we need to move beyond gender and anthropomorphic imagery to apprehend a different understanding of spirit. We have co-opted God to justify every savagery inflicted by us on others, in effect to approve of human sacrifice, even to support the use of weapons of mass destruction designed to obliterate the life He is believed to have created. We have called upon Him to ratify our prejudices in the persecution of many groups: women, homosexuals, blacks and peoples with a different belief system from our own, whether Jews, Muslims or the indigenous people of different continents (India, China, Africa, North and South America). With insufferable arrogance we have claimed that “our (Christian) revelation” is superior to theirs, and tried to convert them to the “true” path. We have outlawed shamans, visionaries, prophets, mystics and all those who might have introduced us to a different experience of God altogether. This abuse of God has been the major flaw throughout the history of patriarchal religion. With the “death” of God within a secular culture, many of these old habits and beliefs are thankfully being challenged and discarded. Yet still we hear religious leaders condemning contraception, homosexuals and women priests in the name of God. We even hear them speaking of the “redemption of sexuality”. They seem to have conflated ancient tribal custom (as manifested in certain biblical texts) and human prejudice with divine revelation.

A huge vacuum has been left by the loss of God and into this have poured the secular ideologies which have ravaged the world and, most recently (2014) the rise of new theocratic totalitarian regimes such as ISIS. In the twentieth century these ideologies seduced millions of individuals into belief systems which brought enslavement and death to millions of others. The men who promoted them became inflated with a god-like omnipotence, as have contemporary leaders who proclaim to be guided by God and have unconsciously identified themselves with the power of the missing archetype. They may even announce, as George W. Bush, Tony Blair and Osama bin Laden have done, that they are being guided by God in embarking on a war against an evil enemy. And the followers of ISIS are convinced that they are following the will of Allah in establishing a theocratic caliphate.

Despite this dark background, over the past fifty years a gradual restoration of a sense of the sacred has been taking place beneath the surface of our culture. A deep instinct is restoring balance and wholeness in us by trying to define a new image of the transcendent which includes the feminine value and looks beyond gender stereotypes. We are awakening to awareness of our relationship with the greater organism of the planet in which our lives are embedded and beyond that, to our relationship with the cosmos. The new focus on ecology is beginning to heal the great split between spirit and nature which has so tragically flawed and undermined the patriarchal religions. (The recent Papal Encyclical 'LAUDATI SI’(2015) implicitly addresses this split and the defines the disastrous results of it). However, because neither religion nor science are apparently aware of this split and its influence on our attitudes, our beliefs and our behaviour, neither seem able adequately to address the immense challenges we face today. Something beyond either needs to come into being - a new understanding of and relationship with spirit, a realisation that we participate in the life of a sacred universe - a new myth, as Joseph Campbell recognised when he wrote: "The old gods are dead or dying and people everywhere are searching, asking: What is the new mythology to be, the mythology of this unified earth as of one harmonious being?” (1)

Jung asked the question which seems to confront us ever more urgently: “Is man related to something infinite or not? That is the telling question of his life. Only if we know that the thing which truly matters is the infinite can we avoid fixing our interest upon futilities, and upon all kinds of goals which are not of real importance.” (2)

Many individuals are searching not only for the unified field in science but for a unified vision of life – a unified vision of invisible spirit, nature and humanity that could be in time to save us from the catastrophic effects of our fragmented view of life. The birthing of this vision asks us to relinquish many cherished beliefs - ultimately a fundamental transformation of our understanding.

Many years ago I had a dream that I was walking in a wilderness of rock and shale, something like the landscape above the tree line of the Alps. Suddenly I heard a faint voice crying "Help me. Help me." I looked around but could see no-one. The cry was repeated and seemed to come from the ground at my feet. I looked down and saw a tiny leather purse lying in the dust, almost hidden among rocks and boulders. I picked it up and opened it. Inside was a small stone and it was from this that the voice was coming. Does a stone have consciousness? I wondered. Can it communicate with me through these words? “Why not?,” I thought. “How can I help you?” I asked the stone, as it warmed to the touch of my hand. It gave no answer then but the urgency of its plea haunted me. I had to find out what needed help and how I could help. Finally I understood that what needed help was the consciousness that is buried in the deepest aspect of our psychic life as well as in the densest aspect of matter that we believe has no life or consciousness - a lost aspect of God or spirit that has not been recognised as spirit, something that is longing to be redeemed from a state of immolation created by our ignorance. Years after this dream, I found this passage in a translation of a text written by a sixteenth century Spanish Kabbalist called Moses Cordovero:

The essence of divinity is found in every single thing - nothing but it exists. Since it causes every thing to be, no thing can live by anything else. It enlivens them; its existence exists in each existent.
Do not attribute duality to God. Let God be solely God…Do not say, "This is a stone and not God." God forbid! Rather, all existence is God, and the stone is a thing pervaded by divinity… Nothing is devoid of its divinity. Everything is within it; it is within everything and outside of everything. There is nothing but it.
(3)

These words seem to reflect the words of Jesus in the gnostic Gospel of Thomas: Cleave the wood and there I am; Lift a stone and there am I. (logion 77) I feel that the insight that the essence of divinity is found in every single atom of life is precisely what has been missing in the three patriarchal religions and it is this which, through the ecological movement, is slowly returning to consciousness. However, once again, as in the early centuries of the Christian era, it seems as if the old bottles cannot hold the wine of a new understanding. As Jesus pointed out two thousand years ago, bottles become worn out and have to be replaced:

Neither do men put new wine into old bottles; else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles and both are preserved. (Matt. 9:17; Mark 2:22; Luke 5:37,38)

But how do we create the vessel which can assimilate the wine of a new understanding of reality, a new image of God? How do we relinquish the dogmatic beliefs and certainties which have, over the centuries of the Christian era, caused indescribable suffering and the sacrifice of so many millions of lives? I cannot answer these questions. But I know that as the new understanding, the new wine comes into being, we have to learn to hold the tension between the old and the new. It must have been like this two thousand years ago when the disciples of Jesus tried to assimilate what he was telling them, something so utterly different from anything they had heard before, which didn't fit into the belief-system or the values that governed the world of their time. That new teaching and those different values have still barely touched the consciousness that currently governs the world.

The biggest problem created by the religions of the past is the belief that this physical, material dimension is not co-inherent with spirit, participating in the dimension of spirit and, therefore, sacred. It was regarded as something created by spirit, inferior to spirit, something, in the Christian tradition, flawed, sinful, fallen; something, in the Eastern traditions, that was regarded as illusory and named maya. How then could human life, human experience, human relationships, be valued and honoured as something precious, something sacred, a vehicle of divinity? How could the life of the Earth be respected? The old atavistic behaviour pattern of predator killing prey, already deeply embedded in tribal rivalries, was unconsciously incorporated into religions: human sacrifice in defence of a belief system or an ideology was sanctioned as something that was acceptable to God, something that God might even approve of and support. We can see this clearly in the barbaric behaviour of ISIS. The idea that a particular belief system was more true, more pleasing to God than others and offered a path to salvation denied to those following another belief system was accepted and taught as part of a religious tradition. Worse, the idea that anyone who was a threat to that tradition could be sacrificed in order to preserve or promote the “true” religion was woven into the fabric of the teaching and from there found its way into ideologies and relations between nations. The Christian Church was flawed from its inception by the repression of what did not conform to the view of a handful of very powerful individuals. (4)

                                                                       *

Our knowledge about the world and the universe is accelerating geometrically. We are overwhelmed with information about every aspect of what we observe. The microscope and the telescope have enormously extended the range of our vision and our power to control our lives, yet we understand almost nothing about the mystery of why we are here and what our connection to the universe might be.

Suppose the source we come from is attracting us back to itself, helping our consciousness, our understanding and our insight to connect with it, to evolve further? There is today a yearning for a new way of living and relating to each other and the cosmos. This longing emanating from the core of our being is urging us to break through the veil separating our consciousness from the consciousness of the cosmos. It is reflected in a poem written in 1945 by Christopher Fry in a play called “A Sleep of Prisoners.”

   The human heart can go the lengths of God,
   Dark and cold we may be, but this
   Is no winter now. The frozen misery
   Of centuries breaks, cracks, begins to move;
   The thunder is the thunder of the floes,
   The thaw, the upstart Spring.
   Thank God our time is now when wrong
   Comes up to face us everywhere.
   Never to leave us till we take
   The longest stride of soul men ever took.
   Affairs are now soul size,
   The enterprise
   Is exploration into God.
   Where are you making for? It takes
   So many thousand years to wake
   But will you wake for pity's sake?

The old idea that we are separate from God is breaking, cracking, beginning to move. A regenerative spring is urging us to take the longest stride of soul we have ever taken into the heart of God. The passionate longing for a new way of living and relating to each other and the universe is bringing about a breakdown of old belief systems, old images of God and nature and our own human nature. It is challenging our political structures, our enslavement to obsolete beliefs and atavistic habits of behaviour. This longing coming from the core of our being is urging us to break through the veil of our present level of consciousness to discover a unified vision of life. It is a time of immense possibilities and also immense dangers. The disintegration which is taking place before the new vision can fully emerge could precipitate a regression to an earlier phase of consciousness. Once again, we could lose the priceless treasures of civilisation. Everything depends on whether we assist or resist the process of death and regeneration that is taking place within ourselves and our culture. I feel that at this time, all ages are meeting, all doors are opening, all energies are connecting. It is a time of awesome responsibility.

The problem now is that the culture is in a dilemma. Part of it, particularly that concerned with established institutions, whether religious or political, is still focused on the old paradigm of the separation of spirit and nature. It still thinks in terms of competition between national and tribal units; it is still intent on conquering and controlling nature for our benefit and exploiting the resources of the planet for financial gain. It glories in the technological achievements of science such as the ability to put man into space or to invent a new weapon but neglects to address the poverty and suffering of billions or the negative effect that the rapidly growing human population is having on the life of the planet. The other part is rapidly learning how to think in global terms, how to develop participatory skills and a totally different perspective on nature, understanding that our species cannot be separated from the planetary biosphere, or indeed, from the life of the cosmos. It realises that nationalist power struggles are becoming increasingly obsolete and dangerous and that war is no longer an option for us.

People who are educated to the idea promoted by reductionist science that the brain is the horizon of consciousness may find it difficult to accept this awakening global consciousness. But the deep malaise in society may help us to grow beyond this limited belief system, beyond the religions of the past towards a new spirituality which could unite the whole of humanity; a spirituality which includes yet transcends all previous revelations: not a new image to worship, not a new belief system nor a restatement of the old but a growth into a radically new relationship with each other and the life of the planet.

Consciousness is our greatest treasure and one of the important questions being asked today is "What is consciousness?" Science is searching for the answer to this question, rightly recognising that it is the key to everything else but it is hampered by its belief that consciousness is an epi-phenomenon or product of the brain. It simply does not entertain the idea that our mind might be embedded in a cosmic mind, that it is an expression of a universal cosmic consciousness. What is this energy that can communicate through sensory perception and also through instinct, emotion, thought, the capacity to reflect, and the vast potential of the imagination? Is our consciousness the creation of the brain or is it part of a greater field of energy with which it interacts and which may have many levels or dimensions? Science does not yet know the answer to these questions but could it at least keep an open mind and ask them?

Supposing you were God. How would you make yourself known to humanity at this present time? Revelation can come through visions and dreams but it can also come through a questioning of the doctrines and beliefs that we have received as ‘revelation’ from the past. I find it astonishing that so many millions of people accept without question what they are told about God by the different religions, why they conform, in effect, to mass indoctrination. So I imagined what might God say to us today. These are the words that came to me:

Many people have turned away from Me because they have felt abandoned by Me or because I seemed irrelevant to them. They could not understand how I could allow such suffering to afflict them, why I couldn't protect or rescue them from evil. But there is so much I could tell them if only they could see Me in a different way. How can I help them to understand that I am all that is – that I am their life as well as the life of the cosmos, the life of the most insignificant stone as well as the remotest star? How can I undo the old image that has made Me seem something different and separate from them, so far away from them, in a place they have called heaven? How can I undo the image of the stern, unforgiving, judgmental God that has instilled such fear in their souls and such a determination to condemn others? The problem all along was that people were taught and are still taught to believe in Me rather than to know that they exist in Me, that they are part of My Being.

"This is a total reversal of everything we have been taught to believe over many centuries. One cannot immediately grasp the implications – You say you are all that is; Every one of us exists within your being. You are every one of us, body, mind and soul. You are the life of the planet, our universe, all universes. You long for us to know You, to communicate with You, to discover You. You have waited aeons for this moment, for this rendez-vous between Yourself and your creation. Why has it taken us so long to understand this mystery?"

Because you would not listen to your greatest teachers. Because you could not hear My message about the oneness of life. Will you listen now?

"Can you define a new image of yourself?"

I am All That Is.
There is nothing outside or beyond Me.
The boundaries of My being encompass all universes,
known and unknown.
All life on this planet lives within My embrace..
All life seen and unseen is My life.
You live eternally within My Being,
I am the Mother-Father of life,
The process of creation continually coming into being.
Your being is of My essence, My light and My love.

"You are saying that there is no division in spirit. There is nothing outside spirit. Therefore there is no essential separation between spirit and matter or between what is unseen and what is seen." For centuries we have been skirting the periphery of this mystery without understanding that the key to solving it lies within our own consciousness. For many reasons, not least the persecution of individuals by religious institutions, it was not possible to speak openly about these things until very recently. In certain parts of the world persecution still flourishes. Individuals may even be condemned to death for apostasy or for rebellion against an oppressive regime (as in Saudi-Arabia, Iran, Pakistan and other Muslim States).

You are embarked on a great adventure which is nothing less than the creation of a new kind of civilisation - a civilisation that is grounded in a marriage between your head and our heart, between the intellectual knowledge of the head and the instinctual knowledge of the heart. The longest stride you need to take is to go beyond your belief systems, to reconnect your mind with your soul. Soul is the lost invisible dimension of your psychic life, the tap root of your creative imagination and the door to relationship with Me.

Every mystical tradition says that at the core of our being, we are one with the divine. We are one with the immensity we contemplate. Each one teaches that the eye of the heart, the eye which perceives with gnosis or insight into the nature of reality can only slowly be opened to awareness of this mystery. The ground has to be well prepared to hold the numinosity of this vision and this preparation requires much time for contemplation as well as a growing respect and love for all aspects of life – which is often described by mystics as the opening of the heart. The great Indian sage Sri Aurobindo writes about this slow psychic illumination in his book, The Life Divine:

As the crust of our outer nature cracks, as the walls of inner separation break down, the inner light gets through, the inner fire burns in the heart, the substance of the nature and stuff of consciousness refines to a greater subtlety and purity and the deeper psychic experiences…become possible in this subtler, purer, finer substance. (5)

What seems to be happening to us now is that a new or perhaps very ancient understanding of spirit is returning to us. I remember a dream in which I was with a scientist looking through a telescope and he was struck dumb with wonder at what he saw. Although it is not yet fully conscious in us, the realisation that our brain acts both as a receiver and transmitter for a greater field beyond our “normal” range of awareness is leading us to the point where we may be able to say, as Arjuna says to Krishna in the Bhagavad-Gita:

Thou art the Knower within me and the One to be known. By Thee alone this universe is pervaded. Overjoyed am I to see what I have never seen before.

Spirituality to me is about relationship with spirit and about discovery: the discovery of what life is, of why we are here on this planet. It is not about belief but about illumination, although belief may sometimes lead to illumination. Spirit is revealing itself to many different people to be utterly different from what we have accepted as a definition in the past. In these discoveries there is no division in God. There is nothing outside God. There is no separation between ourselves and God except through our inability to see reality as it is. We have learned to think of spirit and matter as separate but there is no essential separation between them nor between what is unseen and what is seen. We need an image of God which is related to these new insights. (for the problem of evil see the chapter on the Shadow in The Dream of the Cosmos)

Of all the challenges we have to face, this is one of the most difficult, because it means that we have to relinquish certainty, relinquish a structure of thought by which we have lived for millennia. There is huge resistance to change because instinctively, we perceive change as a threat to survival.

From a perspective nearer to us, our human story begins on our planetary home, the Earth. It has taken some four and a half billion years for life on Earth to evolve into what it is now. It has taken perhaps 5 million years to evolve the vehicle of the human form and human consciousness out of animal form and animal consciousness. We have developed the capacity to understand what we are and where we have come from, even the technology to observe our planet from space. We are discovering that life on this planet is one vast organism, connected to the even vaster organism of the life of the cosmos. We carry all this cosmic and terrestrial experience in our cellular memory. Nothing in the universe dies. It is transformed into new forms and returns to the great sea or field of energy that underlies matter. We are not dust but star-dust or better still, star-light..

The image of God we have inherited from the past cannot easily be related to these new discoveries. As Susanne Schaup points out in her book on Sophia: Aspects of the Divine Feminine:

That which gives a culture legitimacy is, ultimately, its underlying concept of God. If this concept does not change, nothing can actually change…No scientific, ecological, or social paradigm shift can take effect, as long as the theological paradigm does not change along with it. (6)

Millions of people including myself have turned away from the established religions because the contemporary institutional images of God no longer evoke a response in their soul. They are too literal, too remote from ourselves, too male and paternal, too tied up with the inflexibility of dogma, too ignorant and intolerant of other traditions, too fanatically convinced of the infallibility of their own. People have turned to shamanic traditions and to the writings of the mystics, seeking a direct relationship with spirit and they have gone in search of what has long been missing in the patriarchal image of God - the feminine dimension of the divine. They have recovered a great deal of what was lost to Christianity during the centuries of persecution and are beginning to become aware of how much Christianity has repressed and rejected. But there is as yet no vessel to receive it, no way in which it can be integrated with orthodox religious traditions because these cling tenaciously to beliefs established centuries and millennia ago.

The mystics of all the great cultures of the past discovered that our consciousness can interact with the invisible field or ground that they named God, Brahman, or the Tao, or simply, Light or Divine Darkness. In our normal state we cannot initiate or perceive this interaction, but this does not mean it does not exist.

The Vedas, the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, the Jewish mystical tradition of Kabbalah, the Christian and Sufi mystics, all suggest that God can, ultimately, only be known or apprehended experientially, and that spirit is omnipresent, at once transcendent to and immanent within the forms of life. There is no better text to describe the dialogue that is possible between the human and the divine than the Bhagavad-Gita. There, Krishna, speaking to Arjuna says:

I am the one source of all: the evolution of all comes from me.
I am beginningless, unborn, the Lord of all Worlds.
I am the soul which dwells in the heart of all things.
I am the beginning, the middle and the end of all that lives.
I am the seed of all things that are:
And no being that moves or moves not can ever be without me.

I don't think we can really understand ourselves unless we understand the history of the evolution of life on this planet and begin to bring together all the different branches of knowledge that have developed with such extraordinary rapidity during the last hundred or so years. Before we were human, we were mammal and reptile, amoeba and bacteria; before the formation of the planet we were galactic dust and cosmic energy. We are of the same essence as the stars. Therefore, what we are, invisible and visible, mind, soul and body is 13 billion years old. And what were we before that moment of cosmic birth if indeed there was a “before”? Did we belong to an earlier universe, several universes? All that millennial experience is within us, stored in our molecular memory. But what does all this mean to us? That is the question.

As we discover this incredible story (and so far it is only reaching a tiny handful of people), the realisation is dawning that we are participating in a cosmic consciousness which is co-inherent with every particle of our being and every particle of matter. If we connect these ideas to God, then God or Spirit or Divine Mind is not something transcendent to ourselves. We are co-inherent with It, at the very heart of It. To co-inhere means to be together, to abide together. This realisation calls for a huge shift of awareness in our values. If God is not something separate from ourselves, something transcendent to nature and to life, but is the life process itself, flaring forth at every instant in the cosmos as well as in ourselves, then how we are treating matter, planetary life and each other becomes a matter of how we are treating God. Truth is then no longer a system of belief but the revelation of what we are.

Could we perhaps understand the story of our evolution on this planet as the story of the ‘incarnation’ of cosmic spirit in our time and space, the story of its long evolutionary immolation and its awakening, through our own human consciousness, to awareness of itself? Seen in this way, the whole evolutionary process of the universe becomes a divine drama, the drama of spirit incarnating in the infinitely slow forging of consciousness in the crucible of nature, and then constrained within the limitations of that consciousness until it can reach the point of self-recognition. Cosmic consciousness, hidden from us by the filter of galactic and planetary evolution cannot be recognised by us for what it is until our consciousness becomes capable of recognising it.

Precisely as two of the greatest sages of the last century - Bede Griffiths and Sri Aurobindo - have suggested, spirit may have always been immanent in this dimension of experience, leading us to the revelation that we, both in our spiritual and physical substance, are divine, that everything we can see, perceive and reflect on, is divine. I remember how excited I was to find this passage in Bede Griffiths’ Return to the Centre:

The evolution of matter from the beginning leads to the evolution of consciousness in man; it is the universe itself which becomes conscious in man…It is the inner movement of the Spirit, immanent in nature, which brings about the evolution of matter and life into consciousness.

His words helped me to see that the evolution of life on this planet is like a plant, an organic growth, which has its roots in an unknown depth. Its flowering is a potential within us, something that we have still to experience, that only a few pioneers of consciousness have experienced. Again, it is something which is unfolding and evolving from within, as the potential growth of an oak is contained within an acorn. We cannot know the end of this unfolding until we have reached it but we can begin to understand the process of evolution which has formed us and begin consciously to co-operate with and assist it. Our consciousness is now poised at the threshold of the encounter with cosmic consciousness. The invisible field relating us to galactic life resonates with the call to relationship with it and many people are responding to this call. There is a new perception of life pouring into the culture through many individuals: the perception of the universe as an organic, sacred and living whole with ourselves as part of that living whole. We seem to be reaching the point where we can experience cosmic consciousness, cosmic mind or cosmic soul (I use these terms interchangeably) as the greater field or ground from which our consciousness derives. How could this new (yet very ancient) idea, this new myth, transform our relationships with each other and with the earth?

Writing these words, I remembered that a hundred years ago or so ago, a man called Richard Bucke wrote an extraordinary book called Cosmic Consciousness, in which he described the kind of consciousness we could aspire to, a consciousness that has already been experienced by a few pioneers of our species and that he himself had glimpsed. So I feel I cannot do better than end this essay on a new image of God with this description of his own experience at the age of thirty-six, which describes the quality of insight that comes to an individual who is blessed with an experience of sudden illumination and which he names "cosmic consciousness".

I had spent the evening (in 1872 in England) in a great city, with two friends, reading and discussing Wordsworth, Shellley, Keats, Browning, and especially Whitman. We parted at midnight. I had a long drive in a hansom to my lodging. My mind, deeply under the influence of the ideas, images, and emotions called up by the reading and talk, was calm and peaceful. I was in a state of quiet, almost passive enjoyment, not actually thinking, but letting ideas, images, and emotions flow of themselves, as it were, through my mind. All at once, without warning of any kind, I found myself wrapped in a flame-colored cloud. For an instant I thought of fire, an immense conflagration somewhere close by in that great city; the next, I knew that the fire was within myself. Directly afterward there came upon me a sense of exultation, of immense joyousness accompanied or immediately followed by an intellectual illumination impossible to describe. Among other things, I did not merely come to believe, but I saw that the universe is not composed of dead matter, but is, on the contrary, a living Presence; I became conscious in myself of eternal life. It was not a conviction that I would have eternal life, but a consciousness that I possessed eternal life then; I saw that all men are immortal; that the cosmic order is such that without any peradventure all things work together for the good of each and all; that the foundation principle of the world, of all the worlds, is what we call love, and that the happiness of each and all is in the long run absolutely certain. The vision lasted a few seconds and was gone; but the memory of it and the sense of the reality of what it taught has remained during the quarter of a century which has since elapsed. I knew that what the vision showed was true. I had attained to a point of view from which I saw that it must be true. That view, that conviction, I may say that consciousness, has never, even during periods of the deepest depression, been lost." (7)

1. Joseph Campbell, The Inner Reaches of Outer Space, p. 17, Alfred van der Marck Editions, New York, 1986
2. C.G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, chapter Xl, p. 300 (1963 Collins & Routledge edition)
3. Daniel Matt, The Essential Kabbalah - The Heart of Jewish Mysticism, p. 24, Harper Collins, New York, 1995
4. see Elaine Pagels: The Gnostic Gospels and Beyond Belief, 2003
5. Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Lotus Light Publications, Wilmot, WI, 1990
6 . Susanne Schaup, Sophia, Aspects of the Divine Feminine, p. xi, Nicolas-Hays Inc. Maine, 1997
7. Richard Maurice Bucke, Cosmic Consciousness, E.P. Dutton & Co., 1923

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