Posts Tagged ‘awakening’

PSALM 16:1-4, 12-19

I love the Lord, because he has heard
    my voice and my supplications.
Because he inclined his ear to me,
    therefore I will call on him as long as I live.
The snares of death encompassed me;
    the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me;
    I suffered distress and anguish.
Then I called on the name of the Lord:
    “O Lord, I pray, save my life!”

12 What shall I return to the Lord
    for all his bounty to me?
13 I will lift up the cup of salvation
    and call on the name of the Lord,
14 I will pay my vows to the Lord
    in the presence of all his people.
15 Precious in the sight of the Lord
    is the death of his faithful ones.
16 Lord, I am your servant;
    I am your servant, the child of your serving girl.
    You have loosed my bonds.
17 I will offer to you a thanksgiving sacrifice
    and call on the name of the Lord.
18 I will pay my vows to the Lord
    in the presence of all his people,
19 in the courts of the house of the Lord,
    in your midst, O Jerusalem.
Praise the Lord!

You have loosed my bonds. There are many metaphors used in religion to represent what is commonly called “the human condition,” but the most popular by far is that of captivity, bondage, imprisonment, and oppression. Salvation in light of this metaphor can be understood as escape or emancipation if the accent of meaning is on the circumstances of bondage, or as awakening, empowerment, and transcendence when the liberative move is more about an inner shift of consciousness.

What is it that holds us in bonds? Repressive governments do this, but so do the heavy circumstances of poverty and economic hardship. The prison of consciousness that we call the status quo can keep us in a consensus trance our entire lives. And we cannot forget the multiform delusion of orthodoxy, where the mind is strapped and chained by convictions that hold captive an otherwise creative intelligence.

Is it correct to say that mortality is another form of oppression? Are human beings “stuck” in time and “condemned” to die? Many feel so. But upon closer inspection what we find is that it’s not really the conditions of mortality that keep us hostage, as the widespread fear we have attached to this fact of facts. We are prisoners, then, not of death but of the fear that the prospect of dying provokes in us.

Of course, other animals die as well, but we have no evidence that they worry over it quite to the extent that we do. So much of the world we construct as human beings – at both the cultural and individual levels – are little more than shelter, distraction, and insurance against death, not to mention a major campaign for its denial and temporary postponement.

It’s not long before we find ourselves locked inside a prison of our own making. We invest in layers of insurance that obligate us to monthly payments, which makes it  necessary to pursue higher-paying jobs and work longer. We purchase gym memberships and a growing pharmacy of supplements in an effort to stave off the creeping menace of age, dysfunction, and disease. We might hand over our freedom and intelligence to a religion that promises everlasting life in exchange for our doctrinal consent and a weekly offering.

But perhaps the greatest liability in the construction of this fortress we build has to do with how it prevents us from full participation in reality, constantly shuttling our awareness away from this present moment, from the real presence of mystery. The spiritual traditions name this mystery the ground of existence, the presence of God, radiant being, and Abundant Life – but whatever it’s called, the referent is acknowledged as beyond all names and forms.

When we stop running and hiding, fretting and fighting, looking away and waiting for later, there is in that moment, in that very passing moment, the possibility that we might fall into the gracious support of the present mystery we call God.



Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
    I have no good apart from you.”

As for the holy ones in the land, they are the noble,
    in whom is all my delight.

Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows;
    their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out
    or take their names upon my lips.

The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
    you hold my lot.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
    I have a goodly heritage.

I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
    in the night also my heart instructs me.
I keep the Lord always before me;
    because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.

Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices;
    my body also rests secure.
10 For you do not give me up to Sheol,
    or let your faithful one see the Pit.

11 You show me the path of life.
    In your presence there is fullness of joy;
    in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Today as in ancient times, we have to choose from among a pantheon of deities who demand our devotion. For many it is wealth, security, sex, or power. To the degree that these are the focus of investment, obsession, obedience and sacrifice, they serve to inspire our dreams and attract our worship. In other words, they are our gods.

What difference is there, really, between Baal, the fertility and harvest god in biblical times whose cult frequently competed with that of Yahweh of Israel, and Money, the god of prosperity and affluence in our day? The cult of Money – along with its attending saints Profit, Greed, and Conspicuous Consumption – drives social progress, big business, technical innovation, scientific research, class mobility, personal happiness, and even religion.

The poet believes that his deity, the Lord (Yahweh), is superior to the gods and goddesses of neighboring nations. While they might ensure a bountiful harvest or victory in war, his god provides something much more personal and, we should say, inwardly personal: inner peace, spiritual guidance, and fullness of joy. In other words, God isn’t merely an agency behind something that humans want or need, but the real presence and gracious mystery at the heart of life itself.

Interestingly in other parts of the ancient world as well, a searching intelligence was opening to the depths of existence. The Upanishads in India and Philosophy in Greece were simultaneously directing their meditations underneath and behind the phenomenal realm of everyday distractions. What were they looking for? In a word, reality.

We use this word glibly these days, but what is reality? Very literally, it’s the realness of something, its res or present being. Reality isn’t something else, on the other side of the world we sense and know. Rather it’s the depths of being itself, the really real, the real presence of mystery deep within all things. As the psalmist understood, this also means deep within ourselves.

As a causal agency behind the things that make the world go round, a god is nothing more than a personification of something we need but can’t explain. With this mystical (inward) turn, devotional focus was effectively detached from the conventional representation of this or that deity and plunged into the depths of a contemplative experience where God is present.

Not a personality but a present mystery. Not an agency behind things, but divine reality – not just a being but the very ground of being itself. God is not here to serve your needs. And – if you’re ready to hear this – God does not need your worship or devotion.

God is the heart of reality, the really real, even now rising from your depths with the invitation to an authentic and fully awakened life.

MATTHEW 5:1-12

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him.  Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Jesus pronounced an exceptional blessing on those who are inwardly spacious, accepting on themselves the full burden of existence, living without a sense of entitlement, pursuing honesty and integrity, reaching out and helping others in need, cultivating pure and wholesome motives, and who are working diligently and patiently for peace.

Once again, we can detect a progression here. From inside to outside, the blessed and truly happy person is one who is deeply rooted in God and compassionately involved in the world. If this is Jesus’ definition of “true religion,” then it is curiously absent of orthodoxy and ceremony – the twin forces that hold together the system of conventional religion.

But there is a price.

Since conventional religion rolls along smoothly so long as its members remain sufficiently entranced, the presence of even one awakened person who sees through all the mystification and pageantry is an intolerable threat. Soon questions will be asked and curiosity will be aroused.

And if these are not checked and thrown under judgment early enough, doubts will arise and the methods for enforcing conformity – catechism for the young and unison creeds for the standing congregation – will be exposed for the propaganda devices they are. The authoritarian system is debunked when just one dissident speaks up for truth. Actually, instead of always leading to disillusionment and collapse, this can be a moment of revelation and revival.


In retrospect we can see that, while Jesus gave his full attention to the promise of individual awakening, his longer vision was of a community of such enlightened and liberated persons who together can change the world. The full picture of this salvation process reveals the shape of a circle, beginning with the individual’s complete immersion in the collective habits and beliefs of the tribe. This is the place of conventional religion.

Upon the moment of awakening, which may break suddenly or else gather more slowly over time with the accumulation of questions, doubts, and discoveries, the individual is granted a new perspective. The center of meaning shifts from the shared environment of traditions, symbols, rituals and myths, into the inner space of a deepening spirituality.

This is where the all-important “individuative-reflective” stage in faith development takes place, focusing with great intensity on the emergent need for a personal, relevant, and more mystically grounded worldview.

Finally – and this brings us full-circle, though many who make it this far choose at this point to opt out of “organized religion” altogether – the awakened one returns to the group to help in the formation of spiritual community, the corporate life of radical grace, universal compassion, and unconditional forgiveness.

But as we’ve said, conventional religion itself (and conventional society as a whole) resists and will even try to violently suppress the one who seeks the transcendent flame of truth. Better to keep that flame at a distance, framing it in our theologies and worshipping it in our sanctuaries.

If you should dare throw yourself into identity with it, as Jesus did, you’d better expect trouble with the authorities!

MATTHEW 4:12-23

12 Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

15 “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
    on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
16 the people who sat in darkness
    have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
    light has dawned.”

17 From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

In his zeal to make Jesus the fulfillment of every Jewish hope and expectation, Matthew choreographs his word and actions to match up with the biblical prophecies. Since he truly believed that Jesus was the one promised of old, his job of connecting the dots was not terribly difficult, though still very creative.

Isaiah prophesied of the “great light” that would drive off the fog of ignorance and gloom. This is precisely what Jesus did, so the only thing left was to composed the storyline that would make the equation. Whether or not Jesus actually walked the path, said the words, and did the things Matthew describes him as doing is really besides the point, which is that Jesus brought God’s light (that is, God’s truth) into the world.

The world in Matthew’s day was very much as it appeared to Isaiah way back when, with the same shroud of darkness hanging over the minds and hearts of his generation as over the prophet’s. Indeed, this very shroud hangs over us still, and there still is only one way by which the veil can be split and the light revealed. Isaiah discerned it, Jesus exemplified it, and now we must walk this narrow path for ourselves. The progressive steps along this path are awakening, devotion, compassion, fidelity, and sacrifice.

The light of salvation revealed through Jesus first came by way of a simple message: Repent – stop, wake up, turn around and get back on the path that leads home. Throughout his ministry Jesus would teach on the mystery of God’s kingdom, which is this moment coming near. Now is the time to enter it. Now has always been the time.


As Jesus begins his ministry he calls those who will become his disciples, his companions and followers. He calls them not that he might become their object of veneration and respect, but that in following with him in the Way they might come to the direct experience of God’s kingdom for themselves.

This wasn’t a classroom, but a training ground, and the course of learning was not about information, but experience. That is to say, Jesus was inviting these men to a live encounter, to a veritable exploration into God.

The first turn-around of repentance needed, then, was a shift (we might well call it a paradigm shift, for such it is) from thinking-about to experience-of. His knowledge of the kingdom was more than a knowledge by acquaintance than a knowledge by description. You can have love explained to you in a thousand ways, but until you have “fallen” into it and tasted it for yourself you can’t be said to really know what love is.

In the same way, God’s kingdom (and the fact that Jesus uses a metaphor here should tip us off that he is speaking of a mystery) cannot be defined but only tasted, felt, entered, and thereby known by acquainting yourself with its power.

So perhaps the fact that Jesus went to the lake shore and called fishermen to be his disciples rather than going to the academy to call students reveals his preference for followers who are used to wrapping their hands around an experience more than their intellects around an idea. But let’s be careful: a disciple of Jesus and his gospel is not expected to go on mental by-pass! There will be plenty of opportunity and need for critical reflection and logical thought. For now, though, the heart must lead the way.

PSALM 40:1-11

1 I waited patiently for the Lord;
    he inclined to me and heard my cry.
2 He drew me up from the desolate pit,
    out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
    making my steps secure.
3 He put a new song in my mouth,
    a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
    and put their trust in the Lord.

4 Happy are those who make
    the Lord their trust,
who do not turn to the proud,
    to those who go astray after false gods.
5 You have multiplied, O Lord my God,
    your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us;
    none can compare with you.
Were I to proclaim and tell of them,
    they would be more than can be counted.

6 Sacrifice and offering you do not desire,
    but you have given me an open ear.
Burnt offering and sin offering
    you have not required.
7 Then I said, “Here I am;
    in the scroll of the book it is written of me.
8 I delight to do your will, O my God;
    your law is within my heart.”

9 I have told the glad news of deliverance
    in the great congregation;
see, I have not restrained my lips,
    as you know, O Lord.
10 I have not hidden your saving help within my heart,
    I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation;
I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness
    from the great congregation.

11 Do not, O Lord, withhold
    your mercy from me;
let your steadfast love and your faithfulness
    keep me safe forever.

If we didn’t know the source of this passage we might easily attribute it to Jesus. In fact, Luke may well have had this scripture in mind as he crafted the episode in his Gospel of Jesus’ inaugural sermon in Nazareth.

Jesus certainly had a “new song” to teach the world, one whose inspiration was resourced in a dimension beyond the “sacrifice and offering” of conventional religion. And the seventh verse of this psalm, about the identity and purpose of God’s special agent contained “in the scroll of the book,” is almost certainly the supporting text of Jesus’ claim that Isaiah’s prophecy about the new age of the Holy Spirit was coming to fulfillment in him and for his generation (see Luke 4:16-21).

“I have not hidden your saving help within my heart. I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation; I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the great congregation” – this sounds very much like it could have come directly from the personal journal of Jesus himself.

So we can see that the spiritual vocation is not typically the prelude to an officially “religious” life, but most often marks the transcendence of religion in the life and mind of one so awakened. For its part, religion ought to nurture and encourage this progress of spirit; sadly it too frequently becomes its most aggressive adversary. Whenever Jesus encountered this anti-mystical tendency in religion, he renounced it outright.