Prolonged exposure to the dusty vision-worlds of humanity’s great saints, mystics, and theologians—they go in various cultures by so many names—leaves one feeling strangely squished. What can I possibly have to add to this wealth? Here I am witness to heroic levels of sacrifice, of dedication to understanding Divinity without bounds; feats of asceticism and interpretation and teaching which startle the imagination; zealous acts of mercy and love which hardly seem possible for humans. And then witness the diverse array of these persons, how they spoke holy words in every dialect on earth, arose from every background in every land. And yet how, in broad outline, they agree! And how, in the final analysis, they are fated to converge in a practical synthesis for the future of the human spirit. For each of these efforts was animated by a similar astonishment, by love for a similar ultimate. The panoply of greatness indeed astounds the mind and what is even more astounding, for the believing person, is to realize that “God” has made all this possible—all this mind-blowing and heart-opening access to the timeless truth and reality of love.
But the sober appraiser of humanity may quickly come to another, starker analysis. How can it be that these individuals have discovered so much, while we as a human community have put their discoveries into practice so little? As a whole, we have all but neglected our sage advisors, preferring to deem their quests for the rare few, for the eccentric and wan. But for the researcher in religion—I do not mean the scholar, but one who seeks salvation—the hypothesis of rarity cannot hold up, for the claims made by all the saints have a universal bearing, they pertain to every created spirit without exception. Here, we cannot help but notice: the advice to the seeker is always the same. It is the same advice since the dawn of wisdom, whether its guise is Platonic, Vedantic, Buddhist, Islamic, Christian, or otherwise. I hold aside the competition between idioms and ideologies for now, and focus on what might be called the “heart message” of them all. On this matter, they are all agreed or at the very least convergent:
“God” or “Truth” is realized through love; through withdrawal from our outwardly-tugged passions; through a quieting and disciplining of our mind to turn inward; through a cleansing of selfish habit and destructive tendency; through a meditation on death and the nothingness of our existence; through an “indifferent” practice of self-giving and unspoken sacrifice; through empathy with suffering and the rejection of violence; through a true apprehension of Being as such and as a whole and its beauty; through total self-surrender to the Absolute Mystery which is our hope and our home, our one “entitlement” and our future.
Yes, the heart message bears repeating, and with great rejoicing I will repeat it! This message will never be dulled, it will never go quiet, it will never be stifled, for “we can do nothing against the truth, only for it” (2 Cor 13:8).
And yet the stark analysis persists: humanity, as a whole, has yet to hear this plea of the pure in heart, the God-seers (Mt 5:8). Turn by turn we have chosen to complicate everything, in service to our own small demands. Our species is a sucker for wars of ideology and superstition, battles of membership and exclusion. We are easily triggered by divergences in ways of speaking and conceptualizing the world. We are even more easily diverted from what is humble and primary for the sake of some glossy secondary concern, which we choose because it seems easier and puts us less at stake, thus asking from us less of a change.
Meanwhile, what actually is primary continues to stare us in the face, an immovable archive of Evidence of Religion–evidence of what we could be. For although, on the one hand, we know we’re still babies in britches, at the same time we cannot survey all these spiritual riches and think there is anything essential yet to discover. No, we have everything we need. God has opened his mouth in every language, to every people. We have tools and methods and testimonies literally coming out of our ears! He has shaped his glory exactly to the nature of each vessel in each time and place, so they could receive him fully as they could within their bounds. This he has done enough to prove: he will do it for anyone who is “poor in spirit” enough to consent. For we too are one of those vessels he has created for himself; and as the positivistic world of technocratic conformism daily spreads its homogenizing pall over our bored overstimulated bodies, God sees fit to open the floodgates of spiritual knowledge for us all. It only takes our choice, our resolve in seeking the ultimate, for the gates of heaven to be opened and our souls to be washed clean and elevated by the most magnificent light.
What should we do with this opportunity? What shall we say? The world is less religious than ever, but the transcendence of the human spirit will never go away or relinquish its demands, for it is the very foundation of all knowledge and freedom. We seek a fulfillment of that transcendence, for we know it must have some term, some brilliant peg to fit the empty shape within us. And there is. We have been told its many names: Bodhicitta, Brahman, Peace of Christ. The Almighty is clarity and perfection, source and end of our being, goal of every free act, terminus of all knowledge. We need only turn in silence to our own heart and bring ourselves to a halt in that silent space. Then we will find all the proof we need of the eternal power dwelling there and giving us, continually, a participation in itself. That participation, that gift, is our very self. It is who we are beyond all temporal loss. It is the moving idea of us in God, who has predestined us to share his glory. There is life, joy abundant, our link to the Most High. There is the realization of the Perfect.
And so my tongue cannot despair, no matter how much we squander and miss our chances. I cannot sorrow in humanity’s neglect any longer, for God is there. He has proved himself with the force of ten-thousand angels, and though I am but an average sinner, bumbling along like all the rest, I understand now: the only crucial factor in all this is trust in Him. Trust in the essence of yourself–beneath ego and behind attachments, where your soul is one with Him because so in love with Him–and there you will find the grace of adoration to bridge over every garbled gap. There you will know the courage of the holy ones–it is simply the will to let go of whatever is not him, whatever comes before him, whatever stands in his way. “Make straight in the desert a highway for our God!” (Is 40:3).
So we have not yet acted on our discoveries! So we have not yet made the discovery of God for ourselves! So we are daily bungling our chance at liberation, forfeiting the offer of holiness which is constantly extended!… Yes, from a certain vantage, this is the most horrible waste imaginable—we could be like angels; but from another, it all seems in keeping with the uniqueness of each soul and the mystery of the dispensation in time of God’s openings. For he has his rhythm of concealments and disclosures, his balance of taciturnity and explosion. The reason of revelations we can only comprehend from the end, after having traveled the path faithfully to culmination, while today we are always in media res, combating the hells and demons that would drag us to the pit, and there are many. For no matter how grand the spiritual catalogue may be—and would you believe that every day it becomes grander?—it is set in the logic of things that each will have its trial to undergo, its ignorance to dispel, its low behavior to correct, its atonement to profess, its repentance to weep, its courage to muster, its self-reformation to engage, above all, its heart’s prayer to pursue through every darkness, every aridity, every jail.
No one can substitute for us in the spiritual equation, for God has made us irreplaceable in his eyes. He will never let us go. He wants us wholly, and so there are no shortcuts, and no one can make our quest for us. He will hound us until we understand this unconditional love he has for us, his impossible mercy suffering all our sin and failure, his overwhelming embrace of all we are. For he has deigned—we will never fathom this miracle—to include us in his creation. He wishes us to share in the power of his own creative act and in its glories. This points toward and culminates in what those stacks of books only dimly intimate, yet also infallibly obscurely recommend: the establishment of a mature and lasting intercommunication of spiritual persons, who are redeemed from every lie and falsehood and set free to resonate together in rapture and tranquillity at the sight of God’s insuperable divine majesty, and to do so for all eternity. They—we!—will keep moving toward this culmination through every step of our increasing dependency on him; through testimony, intercession, and worship of His Sacred Heart, which has poured itself out so we would wake up to this our destiny, which we find only in Him who exceeds all, yet is everything.
Why, then, does my hope never end? Because I have listened and heard, and behold, I, who by his grace see God, am no different from you. The invitation lies open and ready–let us take it on and take it in…
Oct 22/Nov 10, 2022