Standing Alone Then Standing Connected to Everything.

I had a challenging…disturbing…slightly ‘hot’ conversation with an old friend recently. She’s great lady who has a deep faith. We came to heads over a few things but I felt particularly ‘miffed’ when she appealed for me to ‘come back to the old way’ to ‘interpret the bible the right way’ (my interpretation of her words). I felt like I was being called back to a faith I had that was very isolationist and exclusive, excluding ‘sinners’ and people of other religions, people who are not like heterosexual me, not welcoming of difference. I felt a feeling that my faith had shifted in some way. No, I’m no universalist. I just feel we can spend our time and energy as believers highlighting ‘difference, and wrong’ rather than pointing out common ground and places of connection. Then today I read these words by Richard Rohr in a daily reflection that encouraged me. Maybe they will you, or even unsettle you, who knows;

As we’ve explored over the last several weeks—through reflections on the Cosmic Christ, Nature, and the Perennial Tradition—there is no meaningful separation between sacred and secular, physical and psychic, human and divine. They are two sides of one coin. There is within every being an inherent longing for and capacity to experience this union. Everything really does “belong” because all things are finally connected to the same Creator and thus to one another. We bear a family resemblance, as it were!

Why then are humans so prone to excluding and separating? Why do we spend so much time deciding who does not belong in our religious, political, and personal worlds? How can we get everything to belong in our own heads and hearts?

Let’s first understand this: Humans have a deep and legitimate need for an identity inside of this huge cosmos. To develop a healthy ego, we must differentiate and individuate; we must know we’re special and find a place where we are loved and where we belong without needing to prove ourselves. This is our launch pad. [1]

Ken Wilber suggests that religion has two very important and different functions to support human development. First, religion creates meaning for the separate self. [2] It offers myths and rituals that help us make sense of and endure what Shakespeare would call “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” You need to first feel special and chosen to launch beyond yourself. This feels like a paradox, but it really isn’t. It is the nature of all growth.

But if we stop at this level we do not come to higher levels of consciousness, love, or transformation. For that we need the function of mature spirituality (which I’ll discuss tomorrow). Many people stop at this first stage of fortifying the separate self. Being part of a superior group, ethnicity, or class, and having correct religious or moral beliefs often becomes a cover for remaining basically selfish and narcissistic. Such folks end up re-enacting the first half of life over and over again, perpetuating exclusion and violence to protect their small field of self.

Some kind of law, structure, loyalty, and a sense of chosenness (very old fashioned virtues) are usually necessary to create a strong ego “container” and this is the appropriate task of “the first half of life.” We see God, for example, forming special covenants with the people of Israel and giving them many laws, which finally show themselves to be quite arbitrary and sometimes even destructive if taken too seriously.

Good parents do everything they can to validate and affirm their child’s specialness, which ideally gives children the dignity and self-confidence to move beyond the need for outer sources of belonging and identity. Now that is a paradox! A good parent (or any leader) eventually puts himself or herself out of a job.

Unfortunately, many people never move beyond the need for more infilling and never get to the outpouring which should be the natural result of a healthy ego. Basically, they never get to love. As long as they remain in this self-enclosed and self-referential position, all “otherness” is a threat to their specialness. They will need to prove and make sure that others do not belong, so they can hold center stage. They spend their whole life protecting their boundaries, which isn’t much of a life. The container becomes the substitute for the contents.

 

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