6 Epiphany—Year A
February 16, 2014
Last Wednesday when I got home from church I was shown a dead mouse in the basement. Probably safe to say we also have living mice in the basement though I’ve yet to see one.
In his book Mere Christianity C. S. Lewis uses rats in the cellar to make a point. He says every evening as he reviews his conduct that day he finds a number of sins against charity, mainly because, as he says, he “sulked, or snapped or sneered or snubbed or stormed.” His immediate reaction is to justify himself by saying that “the provocation was so sudden and unexpected” that he was “caught off guard” and did not have the time to make a better response.
But he notes that what a person “does when he is taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of a man he is.”
Then he says, “If there are rats in the cellar you are most likely to see them if you go in very suddenly. But the suddenness does not create the rats: it only prevents them from hiding.”
Most people are pretty good at ignoring the rats in the cellar of their souls.
Religious folks are good at this because we’ve been told as children it is important that we be moral people, so God might let us into heaven when we die. Never venturing into the cellar helps us preserve the illusion that we are in fact moral, loving people who do not do the crazy things that bad people do. Furthermore, if we can also convince others that we’re moral, we will earn points for being the right kind of person.
After all, in last week’s gospel reading Jesus says: “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:20
Everyone knows you must be righteous if you are going to make it into God’s kingdom so we work hard to follow the law and avoid things like murder, adultery, and divorce. And if we succeed in avoiding them our conscience feels clean and good—and proud that we aren’t like those failures over there.
We think, “Hey, Jesus look at me—haven’t I been good?!”
But in today’s reading Jesus starts looking for rats. He shines the flashlight of his Word and says, “Any anger or lust down there?”
He knows even if we pretend otherwise that our souls are filled with all manner of destructive thoughts, complexes, and addictive patterns playing in the dark.
Lewis says in his cellar he has rats of resentment and vindictiveness. Others have rats of rage, lust, fear, regret, compulsion, and deception and when we pay close attention to our outward behavior we see their effects in our lives.
So Jesus’ sermon today takes us into the uncomfortable experience of seeing who we really are.
And then deeper into discomfort we go when he points out the effects of these rats. He says our anger and lust will burn us up—because when we think compulsively about anything negative, we will end up acting it out in the world in some way or other.
Here I again believe Jesus is saying not that we will be punished for our sins but that we are daily punished by our sins.
Anger and lust both lead to the dissolution of relationships, thus tearing the fabric of our lives. We all know how much it hurts.
But what we don’t know is what to do about it.
In the 1950s you were told to suppress these negative energies. In the 1970s you were told to let it all hang out. Now we think that being psychologically aware is the thing, so we watch Dr. Phil and Oprah and imagine we can handle things.
These actions may put the rats on a diet but they by no means tame them.
Jesus says make peace with the person you’re angry with.
He says get rid of whatever feeds your lust. Pluck out your eye—by which he means destroy the images you look at, whether physical or mental that fuel your lust—for example, if it’s pornography get rid of it.
But if our struggle with the rats only intensifies our trust in our will power it will have two devastating effects:
First, it drives us to the false belief that the ego can handle the rats on its own which leads to denial and pretense, which ends up splitting us into the real me which I run from and the fake me which I retail to the world.
And secondly, it drives us to finding faults in others since we are not willing to see them in ourselves.
Both of these things—denial and projection—destroy people and community.
Jesus did not come into the world to create men and women who live split lives.
Rather he came to heal us from our splits so that we might enjoy fellowship with God. This is why he comes to us today—his word shines a light in the basement—that’s his judgment.
And seeing the rats and acknowledging them–that’s the beginning of our healing. There can be no healing of the split without regular trips to the basement where we see the truth about ourselves and admit we cannot heal ourselves through will power.
In Richard Rohr’s 9 Levels of spiritual development this is level 5: He writes: that at Level 5:
“My shadow self is who I am. My weakness comes to overwhelm me, as I face myself in my raw, unvarnished, uncivilized state.”
And if we don’t run back to lower levels where we can wear a religious and moral identify we move to level 6 which he describes as “I am empty and powerless. Almost any attempt to save the self by any superior behavior, technique, morality, positive role or religious devotion, will lead to regression. All you can do is wait and ask and trust.”
He goes on to say at this level “you learn faith, and darkness as the much better teacher. God is about to become real.” [All 9 Levels are described at the end of the sermon.]
The purpose of life is union with God—to experience our connection with the cosmos and its creator. Not just after we die, but on earth, here and now, in this moment, doing this thing with these people.
Now. Here. This.
I want to suggest enjoying fellowship with God is very different from trying to have a clean conscience.
Trying to have a clean conscience is a project of the ego that wants to justify itself: to feel clean and look good to others.
Being in communion with God is God’s free gift of fellowship to those who know they are not clean and don’t look good, but who reach out to God instead of trying to do it on their own. [This is the best definition of Righteousness: Enjoying fellowship with God now.]
That’s why the so called Jesus Prayer is so healing when we learn to say from the heart, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
(At the end of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus tells the parable of the wise man who built his house on the rock so that when the wind and waves came the house was able to stand. So we could say the house needs a basement that is anchored to Christ who is the Rock.)
Those feral rodents that live in the basement of our souls finally become a gift to us because they drive us to throw ourselves on Christ and his promises of forgiveness, presence, and peace with God and neighbor.
Below are Richard Rohr’s 9 Levels of Spiritual Development taken from his daily meditations this past month. If you’d like to receive his meditations you may sign up for free at https://cac.org/ Also you can order his audio teachings and books from this site. I enjoy listening to his teachings as I commute to church. If you want to read or listen but are overwhelmed with the number of choices, I’m happy to talk to you about my favorites.
Stage One: My body and
Tuesday, January 28, 2014
At the first stage a person tends to be totally identified with their body and their image of their body: “I am my body,” the infant believes. They are not yet connected in any enlightened way to their heart or their mind. Each part—body, heart, and mind—is dangerous if it’s largely disconnected from the other two. Integration is opening all three spaces so that they can enlighten and inform and balance each other.
Think of little children. They poop and pee and cuddle and eat without shame or defense. They are their bodies, and, in a way, that’s what makes them so dear, because they haven’t made it complex yet by thinking too much. They run into the room naked with no embarrassment whatsoever. We teach them shame by our shocked reaction.
At the first stage my body, its image, and the pleasuring and protecting of it is who I largely am. Many people in a secular, non-wisdom culture like ours may never move past Stage One. People at this level tend to be preoccupied with pleasure, security, safety, and defense—of their material state. If it makes me feel secure, it is moral. Life is largely about protecting myself. (This is seen in endless need for war and guns, little need for education, culture, the arts, and spirituality.) Stage One people are rather dualistic, either/or thinkers, and frankly represent a rather sizable minority of humans. Their morality largely has to do with maintaining their group, and their group as superior.
I believe life, God, and grace nudge most people at least to the next stage. But first they have to allow some of their security and pleasure absolutes to be taken away.
Stage Two: My external
Wednesday, January 29, 2014
Most of human history up to now has been at Stage Two, and, frankly, much of Jesus’ teaching is most aimed at this level because it is all about purity codes, debt codes, dogmas, and external rituals—because that was the stage where most of his listeners were. At Stage Two, your concern is to look good outside. Your concern with pleasing the neighborhood, the village, your religion, or your kind of folks becomes such a way of life that you get very practiced at hiding or disguising any contrary evidence. That’s why it is so dangerous.
This becomes the birth of the shadow self. Eventually your shadow side—your denied motives, your real self—is actually hidden from you. You have to start pretending that you are what looks good to your group and your religion. Your whole identity becomes defending your external behavior as more moral than other people, and defending your family, your community, your race, your church or temple or mosque, your nation as superior to others.
This is tribal thinking. It is a necessary stage, however, so that you can feel like you are Chosen, are significant, or have dignity. It gives you a strong sense of your identity and boundaries, which serves you well as a child. But many people remain trapped here, in a worldview of win/lose and good guys/bad guys. Far Right-wing thinking—the false conservative, in any country and in any religion—largely proceeds from Stages One or Two.
Eventually, your own behavior or group is going to have to disappoint you. You will begin to see that you yourself, or some people in your group, are, in fact, unkind, dishonest, or violent. That is the beginning of integrating the negative, of a necessary shadowboxing. If you are incapable of such appropriate critical thinking, you will not go through the darkness, the necessary deeper faith journey that will move you on to Stage Three.
Stage Three: My thoughts
Thursday, January 30, 2014
Thank God, many people are nudged by life itself and by basic common sense and honesty to the bare beginnings of critical thinking. People at Stage Three believe “My own thoughts and my own feelings are who I am.” But I do not yet see that most of my thoughts are self-referential and to my advantage and preference, and my emotions are usually “all about me.” (Did you know that the word “empathy” did not even enter the English dictionary until 1915?) I have read a few books; I can quote some authors; I have become a bit more educated. But it is not really the Big Picture yet. I am still trapped at an egocentric level without knowing it. At this point, education is usually a substitute for actual transformation. Beware of college students who are invariably at Stage Three while thinking they are at Stage Six or Seven!
If Stage Two is more common among conservatives, Stage Three is more common among liberals. Stage Two creates groups; Stage Three creates individuals, and thus it is very hard for Stage Three people to really work together for long. These individuals cannot die to themselves enough to actually seek the common good; this requires a very real death to the ego self, which most will not endure.
Most of educated America and Europe is stalled at Stage Three. (I think of many Democrats and many Vatican II Catholics at this level.) They are good people; they are easy to make friends with. They are dialogical and conversational. But do not ask them to go very far beyond their own comfort zone or their own egocentricity.
Stage Four: My deeper intuitions and felt knowledge in my body are who I am.
Sunday, February 2, 2014
If you can stay in the liminal space between Stage Three and Stage Four, if you can suffer the shock, humiliation, and necessary failure of your game falling apart without regressing to earlier, more dualistic thinking, you will ideally move to Stage Four.
I describe Stage Four as this: My deeper intuitions and the felt knowledge in my body are who I am. People who have been trained to keep the heart and head spaces open and to live grounded inside their own bodies and feel their real feelings are able to pass to Stage Four because they have the greatest capacity for presence, and presence to what actually is!
For some, this is such a breakthrough, so enriching, grounding, and self-validating after wallowing around in ego and confusion for so many years, that it feels like enlightenment itself. Thus, very many become stymied here and think it’s the whole spiritual journey. They have “depth” compared to all these hopeless others around them! This can lead to individualism, self-absorption, and inner work as a substitute for any honest encounter with otherness or with The Other. In such a place, there is little real social conscience (beyond verbal political correctness) and usually a lack of compassion or active concern for what is happening on this earth. This kind of spirituality is all about my enlightenment and my superiority.
But if you are authentically present at Stage Four, you will begin to see your shadow self in sometimes humiliating ways. Without humility, you will run back to Stage Three, and many do. You’ll see your phony motivation: that you are not as holy as you think you are; that you are largely doing this for your own self-image, to think of yourself as moral, aware, and enlightened. Politeness and political correctness pass for actual love. Ken Wilber calls it “Boomeritis” since it is so true of a certain age group in America and Europe.
Yet this struggle and humiliation is what is going to lead you to real non-dual thinking: when you face the enemy and the enemy is you, and you recognize that you can’t project evil onto other religions, races, classes, political parties, or genders. I’m the problem. I’m petty, needy, self-absorbed, or whatever it might be.
If you are unwilling to do some shadow work, to wrestle with the shadow and see it in all of its humiliating truthfulness, you will not go to Stage Five.
Stage Five: My shadow self is who I am.
Monday, February 3, 2014
At Stage Five, my shadow self is who I am. This is not an easy time, and thus most avoid it. This is what John of the Cross called “the Night of the Senses.” Here you meet yourself in your raw, unvarnished, uncivilized state, and you start dealing very realistically with your own shadow self, phoniness, mixed motives, and actual unlovingness.
As a young man I thought I had become a Franciscan and a priest to teach and talk about love, that I had left everything to love God and neighbor. But by my forties and fifties I had to be honest and say, “Richard, have you ever really loved anybody more than yourself? Is there anybody in particular that you would die for?” My celibacy was based on the utterly false premise that if I did not love anybody in particular, I would automatically love God more. I realized that that was not at all true. All I did was love myself more, but in a very well-disguised form. Much of that middle period of my life I spent shadowboxing, seeing my own inability to believe and to practice the very things I was teaching to others. And this continues!
The work of Stage Five can go on for quite a long time, and if you do not have someone loving you during that period, believing in you, holding on to you—if you do not meet the unconditional love of God, if you do not encounter the radical sense of grace that touches your unconscious level—the spiritual journey will not continue. You have to experience God’s grace as unearned favor, unearned gratuity, or you will surely regress.
In Stage Five, more than any other stage, you learn to live with contradiction and ambiguity. This is true non-dual, or unitive, thinking. Stage Five allows you to find God in what John of the Cross calls “luminous darkness.” It is a real darkness, but somehow inside of the darkness, you find light—a much truer, kinder, and softer light. Mostly, you learn patience.
Stage Six: I am empty and powerless.
Tuesday, February 4, 2014
Alcoholics Anonymous would call Stage Six the First Step! Stage Six is: I am empty and powerless. Almost any attempt to save yourself by any superior behavior, technique, belonging system, morality, role, strong ideological belief, or religious devotion will not work. It will actually lead to regression. What the saints and mystics say is that some event, struggle, relationship, or suffering in your life has to lead you to the edge of your own resources. There has to be something that you by yourself cannot understand, fix, control, change, or even begin to deal with. It is the raw experience of “I cannot do this.” All you can do at this point is wait and ask and trust.
This is where you learn real patience, compassion, and forgiveness. I don’t know how else you learn to forgive other people until you see seventy-times-seven your own brokenness, your own incapacity to love and, in this stage, your inability to do anything about it except throw yourself into the arms of mercy and love (Luke 7:47).
This is the darkness of faith, and now you can trust that this darkness is a much better teacher than supposed certainty or rightness. God is about to become very real. Some even call this “God’s Waiting Room!”
Stage Seven: I am much more than who I thought I was.
Wednesday, February 5, 2014
When you finally accept your own powerlessness, you learn to plug into a different outlet and draw upon a Deeper Source. This is conversion. This is radical transformation. It is like an identity transplant. St. Paul describes his own conversion in this way: “I live no longer, not I, but I live in Christ, and Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). You will experience a much larger sense of self, and it is not all about “you” anymore!
At Stage Seven, you have a qualitatively different sense of your self. “I am so much more than I thought I was!” you might feel. The false self has died in a significant way and the True Self is starting to take over. But because you are not yet fully at home here, it will first of all feel like a void, an emptiness, but hopefully an okay emptiness. You begin to act for the sake of the action itself because it is true, because it is good, because it is beautiful, and not because it is popular or even because it works! There is no felt consolation most of the time, and there is lessening social reward. Yet there is great peace. You are being weaned of your reliance upon your feeling world, which means very little at this point. Because you are living in the Larger Self, all is okay. You know Another is now holding you. You do not need to hold yourself. You are at the heart of faith, and in a certain sensetrue spirituality only begins at this point! (Most of Jesus’ teaching proceeds from this level or higher, which is why much of the church has not been ready for Jesus.)
Stage Eight: “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).
Thursday, February 6, 2014
Eventually, you are led by grace into the non-dual state (“not totally one, but not two either!”). I do not know anyone that is in conscious Stage Eight a full twenty-four hours a day. To describe this stage, I use Jesus’ words: “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). This is unitive consciousness, where you live in conscious, loving communion and trust with God and everyone else. God is no longer out there or over there or separate from you. Henceforward, as Teresa of Avila says, “You find God in yourself, and you find yourself in God.” This is largely an inner experience, an inner knowing. It is trulyfollowing Christ, who is a mixture of humanity and divinity. You know that you are the Body of Christ and that your source is Divine, while you are still quite ordinary and human.
Every other aspect of your persona—your roles, your titles, your functions, even your bodily self—is seen as a passing form, a passing ego possession. At this point, you know your body is not fully you. You have found your soul, your True Self, who you are “hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3), who you are before you did anything right or anything wrong. Frankly, you have discovered your soul, which is that part of you that already knows, already loves, is already in union with and can quite naturally say “yes” to God.
When you learn how to trust this Divine Indwelling (and that’s what it is—it’s God in you doing the God-thing through you), when you learn how to draw from that place, you can find happiness any hour of any day, and anywhere. You can “pray always.” You also realize this is what you were created for. Heaven is not later. Heaven and salvation are whenever you live in conscious union with God, which means conscious loving union with everything else, too.
Stage Nine: I am who I am.
Friday, February 7, 2014
Stage Nine is what we mean by the freedom of the children of God (Romans8:21, Galatians 5:1). At Stage Nine, I am who I am. I have nothing to prove or to project to make you think I am anything more than who I am. Stage Nine is the most radical critique of religion possible. It sees religion as the fingers that merely point to the moon. And now I am sitting on the moon! So, thank you, fingers, it was great being a Holy Catholic finger for so many years, but I really don’t need to prove that the Catholic Church is the only way to God, because I know better now. I do not need to deplete the resources of the earth and the world to militarily protect the USA, because it is only one small part of God’s kingdom.
There is no need at Stage Nine to appear to be anything other than who you really are. At Stage Nine you are fully non-dual, fully detached from self-image, and are living in God’s full image of you—which includes and loves both the good and the bad parts of you (Matthew 22:10). This is total non-duality. You are living in God’s gaze: I am who I am in God’s eyes, nothing more and nothing less. This is the serenity and the freedom of the saints.
Maybe this is what Jesus meant when he said it is “those who become like little children who will enter the Kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). At this final stage you return to that early little child that you once were—running naked into the room of life. I am who I am who I am. God has accepted me in that naked being, and I can happily give myself back to God exactly as I am. I am ready for death, because I have done it now many times, and it has only led me into Larger Worlds.