Monday 5 March 2018

True Awakening Demands Deep Penitence

It seems to me that the way things currently are going any spiritual awakening is unlikely unless people are brought low by suffering. We are just too comfortable and too set in our materialistic ways to change course unless something dramatic, which forces us to change, takes place. I believe the powers that be have sought to avoid a scenario of suffering for some time but, spiritually speaking, humanity has just gone from bad to worse and is currently as far away from God as it has been for a long, long time. Our culture and our politics are all corrupt, our religion, such as it is, is ineffective and when we do turn to some idea of spirituality in the modern spiritual but not religious way, it is usually on our own terms and with no real sense of the Creator. Hence any spirituality of this sort is directed towards personal growth and does not include the metanoia that is essential for any genuine awakening.

We need to change and we need to do so at the roots of our being. Change in the spiritual sense cannot simply be an external thing. It is not just swapping one set of beliefs for another, supposedly more enlightened. Even if the new beliefs are truer, more spiritually correct, that is nowhere near good enough. Real change requires substantially more than just changing one's thoughts or even one's behaviour or way of life. It requires deep penitence, something that goes right down to the very core of what we feel ourselves to be and leaves our old self lying shattered and in pieces on the ground. Do you remember how Eustace in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader turned into a dragon? Perhaps that dragon was just the materialised form of what he really was like inside. He became in body what he already was in soul, and it was only when he experienced a radical restructuring of the soul that he was able to be liberated by Aslan from that terrible dragon exterior. What if we too appeared outwardly as we are in our souls? Is that a challenge you would wish to take up?

We have to remind ourselves that before Jesus could carry out his mission, the way had to be prepared by someone of a much rougher disposition. Someone who called out evil for what it was and who actually ended up paying with his life for this. He did not accommodate himself to the world or to the authority of the day. When he condemned sin, he did not pull his punches. He simply spoke the truth. John the Baptist had the mission of calling the people to repentance. Jesus could not have spoken to these people unless they had first been awoken to their sinful state by John. Once they had started to see themselves as they were then Jesus could direct them towards understanding how they should be. But there could be no spirituality without prior repentance. The ground of the soul had to be ploughed and tilled before the seed could be sown. A hard ground could not have taken the seed.

At the moment, the ground of the human soul is very hard. What can soften it up so that the seeds of renewal can be sown? Heavy rainfall is probably what is needed. Nobody can look forward to suffering but we have brought this upon ourselves by our arrogance and vanity, by our rebelliousness and cold-heartedness. (By the way, a sentimental age such as ours usually is cold-hearted, the sentimentality replacing true feeling.) If we will not turn to the truth of our own accord that will create a reaction in the fabric of being. We are not being punished. We will just experience the consequences of our anti-life behaviour

There is no moving forward without repentance. And this is a matter of the will for real spirituality is not so much about overcoming ignorance, as in many Eastern approaches to spiritual truth (even though that is important), as about reorientation of the will. It is in our wills that we are bent and it is that we must address if we are to awaken from our spiritual sleep. Maybe it will not require suffering, let us hope so, but realistically how long can we continue as we are now?


Edwin said...

The one idea to which most everyone gives his allegiance is that we are here to be happy. When we are unhappy, someone or something is to be blamed. The cause of unhappiness is always thought to be external to us, a structure of some sort that can, and must, be fixed. Anything that keeps us from getting something we want, or from feeling good about who we are (no matter who we are), is an obstacle that must be removed. It is unjust that we should not be perpetually pleased with our life. Someone must pay for this injustice. This is the motive force of politics: righting the wrongs that make us unhappy. It seldom occurs to us that we are not here to be happy but to learn how to love one another, and that love requires sacrifice. Love is sacrifice: it is what makes a thing holy. Perhaps, as you say, only a rude awakening will do at this point in our spiritual blindness.

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - Agreed, but one significant modern difficulty is that the modern mind jumps from sensing the need for radical penitence straight to radical plans for socio-political reform. Which seems to be overwhelmingly impossible - and perhaps is impossible - so serves as an excuse to do nothing.

One thing that the evangelical tradition does extremely well is to emphasise that God will take you 'just as you are', without prior reform or indeed any external change - on the basis of a heartfelt committment to him. This can be seen in the New Testament, where there are instances of instant decisions.

So, repentance needs to be deep in the sense that any less is insufficient - but the change of heart can be and often is instantaneous.

My understanding is that repentance is the recognition of the gap between how we are and how we should be, thus it needs to be an hourly kind of thing - the depth comes from the continual working of reprentance over time.

But - as well - this ought not to be regarded as a miserable matter - some Christians are gloomy, others very cheerful, most in-between; but this is mostly a matter of temperament, not religion.

For myself; Christianity has made me much happier in a deep way, although I don't suppose this is very visible - and the on-going process of repentance is simply a recognition of a multitude of 'facts' regarding the nature of mortal life in this world.

William Wildblood said...

I think your definition of repentance is a good one Bruce. And yes it's an ongoing process even if it may start off in a dramatic fashion with a sudden realisation of the gap you mention and a kind of revelation of the rotteness of the ego self.

Edwin said...

As for Christians being gloomy, I think it may be more than a matter of temperament. In studying the lives of great saints, one thing that stands out is that sacrifice and suffering become a source of joy; penitence becomes a source of joy. This is, I think, because whatever we do in love puts us in touch with our deeper self, with God in us, who is joy itself. When we are gloomy it may be because we have lost contact with that deeper self and whatever sacrifices or suffering is taking place in our lives is regarded from the standpoint of the ego, which wants immediate and superficial pleasure that it is being denied. Hence, the gloom.

William Wildblood said...

Yes, gloom does seem to indicate being enclosed in self. I think one of the qualities of the sannyasi is traditionally supposed to be cheerfulness.

Unknown said...

Some time I am afraid that my spiritual deformity may turn into physical deformity, a feeling that motivates me to enter the abode of repentance to engender the necessary saving transformation. Oh! your post raises so many sighing questions that I can not know what my unseen soul will come out with. First it reminds me of Moses asking god to impose hardship on Pharaoh and his people in order that they may become more susceptible to change. God responded positively to Moses despite his knowledge that these people will not change until they face their real punishment. The story of the red sea, that reminds me of the impossibility of describing redness to others. It is the path of the prophets is the only successful path under the umbrella of god that speak the truth without throwing punches. A civilization that overuse its head on the expense of neglecting the heart the main spiritual organ in the humans, undoubtedly will create to itself all this mess. Some mystics give the advice of cutting the head not in the physical sense but in the mental sense to let the meek hearts enjoy the simplicity of the divine truth. Some time I feel the Druids are better than most of those who call themselves religious when I realize how they understand their Awen as the flowing spirit or the flowing inspiration that fill the self and the cosmos. It is this calling on the humans to mobilize their inner energy to interact with the universal energies and with its main divine source in order to effect the true spiritual change. It is faith that lights the heart and activated in the divine circle. It is his grace and not any humans wishful thinking that built the human correct narrative in the world of god who loves to read these narrative bad or good only to say on the day of gathering oh! humans read your books, suffice that you yourself is the one who bears witness on your performance. We should not be sad but be patient in this imposed wait that preludes the disclosure, exercising our major obligation that is of bearing witness for truth and for the words of god that most of our educated people deny. I highly appreciate your contributions in the way of the One.

David Balfour said...

On the positive side of suffering, and its a strange kind of positive at best, my experience has been that there is nothing quite like a total and all consuming fear to clarify the mind about what is important. Fortunately I have only had a few experiences of this kind but they have left an indelible mark. Without going into too many details one situation involved being kept prisoner by men with machine guns overnight in a foreign country (a sobering experience) and being subjected to threats of physical violence and death. In the other situation I almost drowned during a SCUBA diving accident in Central America. During the first experience I was still an atheist, but you better believe it when I say that I got down on my knees and sincerely repented for my sins and prayed to God in that jail cell, and asked him to forgive me and help me in my, what then seemed like a dire and potentially fatal predicament. It was the first time I had said the lords prayer since I don't know when, probably since I had learned it as a boy. I felt extremely afraid and completely alone but suddenly what was important in my life became crystal clear to me and I was stripped bare of all my arrogance, pride and ego; even if just for that short time. During the near-drowning event, there wasn't much time to pray, just a sudden sense of impending doom, as I began inhaling water and no longer had air to breath at 30 metres underwater. But I tell you what I did experience, and it lies permanently beyond the scope of any kind of 'proof,' I believe I was aided by higher forces on that day (I suspect an Angel) in order to survive the accident, which was remarkably close to a drowning if things did not occur the way they did, and I became 'aware' that it was not yet my time to die and that I had spiritual work still to do and a 'life plan' to complete; even though certain less kindly forces had attempted to end my life that day. It is difficult to say how I knew all this but that is how I experienced it with quite some force of conviction. The vividness of the experience feels like it was only yesterday. I was overwhelmed by a sense of gratitide for my life and since then spiritual matters seem to have risen to a daily, habitual level of importance in my thoughts. Whereas before both of these incidents, spiritual matters were entirely an intellectual or abstract activity, it lacked immediacy of importance somehow. Becoming a Cristian could wait, I could make my mind up about that tomorrow or next week or...whenever I wanted to stop messing around with being a self-styled enlightened 'perenial philosopher' or a 'follow your bliss' Campbellite who likes yoga and reading mindfullness self-help books while sipping americanos in trendy coffee shops. Almost dying was the kind of slap across the face I needed to prompt me to ask heavenly father and Jesus to help me and let them know I want them to guide me through this life and beyond into eternity because clearly I had lost my way and I was nothing without them. Even recalling these events helps to restore my faith from time to time when I forget (such a short memory I have) and start to slip back into old bad habits.

So really what I am getting at in a rather long-winded way is that you are right, as unpleasant as things may seem at the time, they are certainly *potentially* for our own good and repentance is something I have been able to with more conviction and humility since I almost lost the great gift if my life. Furthermore, I suspect my comparatively minor examples illustrate what is probably a fairly common experience of the clarifying quality of an encounter with ones mortality.

William Wildblood said...

You seem to have led an exciting life, David! But what you say is true. We do need to be taken right up to the brink sometimes in order to be confronted with the reality of our existence, a reality we often hide from ourselves in many different ways. We have to acknowledge our own littleness in the face of our Creator and then we can turn to him in love and gratitude.