Posts Tagged ‘Ground of Being’

EPHESIANS 3:14-21

14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. 16 I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, 17 and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. 18 I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

20 Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

The supreme revelation in Jesus was love – pure and simple. He not only talked about it and proclaimed its redemptive power in human affairs, but he also demonstrated this radical love of God in his way of life. Jesus didn’t point to some place outside the ordinary world in his reference to God, but instead reached into the human heart for the awakening of faith – faith as one’s trusting release to the gracious ground of being itself.

And while he often talked of God as a separately existing and vertically transcendent being, the enlightened reader will recognize in his theology a prevalence of metaphor, stretching and bending language in service of a Truth that cannot be named. For Jesus God was the real author, actor, and inspiration behind his words and deeds. He wasn’t delivering a message from somewhere else, but was rather serving as an agency of divine revelation, as the Word made flesh (John 1:14).

The metaphor of resurrection symbolizes what happens when we “die to self” and “live as Christ”: this same love that animated the body and voice of Jesus, and that shined through with such purity and power from his cross, now surges through us and fills us with “all the fullness of God.” This is a mystery beyond explanation. Stories can invite, symbols can suggest, and metaphors can draw your vision past the limits of language, but in the end you must experience it for yourself.

Only then will you know God.

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EPHESIANS 3:14-21

14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. 16 I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, 17 and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. 18 I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

20 Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

The theologian Paul Tillich said that “God does not exist, for there is no such ‘thing’ as God.” To exist is to “stand out” (ex-istere) from the ground of pure being that underlies the universe and to be subject to time’s decay. If you’re looking for God out there somewhere among the temporal forms of existence, your search will be in vain and, at best, will only turn up an idol or two.

Look instead through the dark glass of your own interior life, to the mysterious place where the roots of your existence reach deep and terminate in the divine ground of being that is your true source and support. It is this inward mystical awareness of being “rooted and grounded in love” that so many today are lacking, as the practical atheists they are.

To “know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” and “to be filled with all the fullness of God” is clearly something that lies in another dimension altogether from that of church membership and religious orthodoxy. This is not something that can be gained by Sunday School instruction or recited before the elders of the church. Rather it is an inner awakening, a revelation received in the way of a deep realization. Since we are immersed and anchored in the divine reality already, the invitation of our spiritual life is to die to the separate self (ego) that struts and rules the day, and be raised in the experience the author of Colossians (Col 1:27) names “Christ in you, the hope of glory!”

Faith is not finding God outside yourself, but finding your true self in God.

EPHESIANS 1:3-14

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14 this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

“That we … might live for the praise of his glory.” Here is the Bible’s answer to the question that every maturing human being has asked: What’s my purpose? What is the end for which I exist? While contemporary Western answers may offer such goals as individual happiness and prosperity, the Bible invites us to look farther out. It is necessary to see that personal meaning and human purpose, while certainly legitimate concerns in themselves, must be a function of reference to a still higher or larger or more enduring reality. Purpose is always a link to another level or dimension, and the quest for human purpose naturally opens us to the Something More that encompasses our existence, the reality we name God.

For its part, the Bible defines human purpose as giving glory to God. To understand what this means we need to imagine God as the transcendent ground and energy of being, manifested outwardly in the myriad forms of existence. The universe carries this deeper energy into material expression, and has evolved into the astonishing miracles of life, consciousness, and community. Each existing thing “declares the glory of God,” as the psalmist says (Ps 19), simply by virtue of being a visible expression of the invisible ground beneath and within all things. This helps us see that the glory of God and the fulfillment of creation are one and the same. In becoming all we were created to be and by actualizing our deepest potential as human beings, we glorify God.

PSALM 104:24-34, 35b

24 O Lord, how manifold are your works!
    In wisdom you have made them all;
    the earth is full of your creatures.
25 Yonder is the sea, great and wide,
    creeping things innumerable are there,
    living things both small and great.
26 There go the ships,
    and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it.

27 These all look to you
    to give them their food in due season;
28 when you give to them, they gather it up;
    when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
29 When you hide your face, they are dismayed;
    when you take away their breath, they die
    and return to their dust.
30 When you send forth your spirit, they are created;
    and you renew the face of the ground.

31 May the glory of the Lord endure forever;
    may the Lord rejoice in his works—
32 who looks on the earth and it trembles,
    who touches the mountains and they smoke.
33 I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
    I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
34 May my meditation be pleasing to him,
    for I rejoice in the Lord.
35b Bless the Lord, O my soul.
Praise the Lord!

In what we earlier referred to as the brokerage of orthodoxy that religion over time tends to become, the idea of God is typically rather distant and sterile, without power and drained of mystery. God is “up there” somewhere, above the turning world as its maintenance supervisor and moral judge. This is where the many countless “idols” creep in, filling the space of daily life concerns and providing people with a link to something of supernatural yet tangible value.

The psalmist’s view of God is rather unorthodox in the way God is seen as related to the process and diversity of life on earth. Not as detached, up and away from the swarming and fruiting living forms, but as the present source of oxygen, food, and every necessity of survival and flourishment. Clearly the Divine Life is the very matrix out of which all this pours forth, expands, differentiates, and is fulfilled. Earthquakes and volcanoes are the tremble of reverence the earth has for God, who is properly considered not as one above and outside the universe, but as the very ground of its being and abundant diversity.

In our day, what has become of this Divine Reality underlying, energizing, and redeeming all things? Have we settled down with something less than God?

JOHN 15:1-8

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.

The true vine is a gardening metaphor that helps us better understand our relationship to the ultimate reality named Love. In the interpretation of the Fourth Gospel, the believer is a branch that abides in and grows out of Christ, “the true vine,” who is in turn rooted in the deep supply and source of Life, the divine ground (in John’s Gospel, “the Father”).

Just as the “true vine” draws its nutrient from the ground and metabolizes this nutrient into its own living structure and process, so each branch that grows from the main stem receives the material energy it needs from the true vine and further transforms it into leaves, fruit, and seeds. Just as Christ relies upon God, each believer depends upon Christ – and, notice, Christ (and God through Christ) depends also upon the believer for the produce that signals health and secures a reproductive future for the plant entire.

In other words, the Gospel writer sees God, Christ, and the authentic believer as together comprising a mystical and organic unity. Beneath everything as the ground of all being is God. Rooted in and growing out of this ground is Christ, who carries upward into embodiment the essential Love that God is. And branching forth from Christ are the believers, men and women just like you and me who further this Love-energy into the fruits of justice, compassion, and forgiveness.

How do we know that these virtues in particular are the genuine fruits of God-as-Love? One word: Jesus.

1 JOHN 4:7-21

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.

13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. 15 God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. 16 So we have known and believe the love that God has for us.

God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.17 Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. 21 The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

We said earlier that faith is a risk. How so? Simply because of the fact that its venture of belief is in something beneath the level and outside the range of our sensory certainties. Furthermore, faith is properly speaking not the content of the belief but the act of believing – of trusting in, relying upon, or surrendering to the reality behind your notions about it.

It is not sufficient, then, merely to believe that something exists, even if that something is God. Faith is not choosing to believe in God even though (as the skeptic might argue) firm evidence is lacking, but is rather deciding to commit yourself to God and to what you understand God is about in the world.

The claim in this passage, that God is love, is therefore much more than a piece of Christian dogmatic knowledge. Love is not being singled out and elevated here as a quality or attribute of God – that God is loving, among other things. This is not dogmatic knowledge but convictional knowledge, not a matter of defining God but an exclamation out of the deep experience of God: God IS love!

And how exactly does that involve risk? Simply because the experience itself is entered only as we leap from the elevation of our ego and release ourselves totally to the gracious and generous “womb” of the divine ground beneath and within us. Such release is commonly feared by the ego, since its formation is really the achievement of control, by stages, along the developmental path toward maturity. We might grieve the ego and its separations, but the leap of faith depends on it.

PSALM 22:25-31

25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
    my vows I will pay before those who fear him.
26 The poor shall eat and be satisfied;
    those who seek him shall praise the Lord.
    May your hearts live forever!

27 All the ends of the earth shall remember
    and turn to the Lord;
and all the families of the nations
    shall worship before him.
28 For dominion belongs to the Lord,
    and he rules over the nations.

29 To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down;
    before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
    and I shall live for him.
30 Posterity will serve him;
    future generations will be told about the Lord,
31 and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn,
    saying that he has done it.

“All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord.” The baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch in the story from Acts 8 was the external and ritual demonstration of an inner event of spiritual rebirth. Going under and emerging out of the water symbolized the death of the old self and the coming to life of the new. Whether this process of transformation was ritualized or not, a deep and universal belief among the religions is that salvation necessarily entails a break with the “old order” with all its habits and beliefs, so that life can find release and fulfillment at a higher level.

The psalmist envisions the day when all the peoples of Earth will repent (“turn around,” make a break) and come back to the one true God. It’s interesting that this turning is pictured as coming after a remembering, as if to say that our new life in God is not new at all but is rather something we once enjoyed, a long time ago.

The mystical traditions would go a step further and say that this communion with the Divine is the truth of our existence even now, as it always has been and will be. As our lives take us into the far-flung reaches of the world, our roots remain anchored in God as the ground of our being.

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.

EPHESIANS 1:3-14

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. 5 He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 

7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight 9 he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 

11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14 this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

The real challenge at the threshold between trimesters two and three is to let go of all the conclusions of orthodoxy (level 2) in order to plunge into the present mystery of God. This can seem like an abandonment of the tradition theology, and we may even be made to feel as if we are forsaking God and salvation entirely. But this is only because we are, in fact, needing to progress beyond the limits drawn by the conventional doctrine of God.

If our community and its tradition is overly anxious over its orthodox definitions, we will experience its influence not as support and assistance, but as resistance and condemnation. Tragically, countless thousands have had their spiritual growth arrested and all but uprooted by the violent backlash of one dogmatic orthodoxy or other.

One misunderstanding that unnecessarily complicates an otherwise successful spiritual journey is the expectation that the mysticism of the third trimester will bring with it an esoteric, overly philosophical, or “impersonal” experience. It is assumed, for instance, that any sense of God as a dynamic reality and personal presence will need to be relinquished – and no one wants that!

But this simply isn’t an accurate rendering of the actual experience of an initiate to the deeper mystery of God. Indeed it is more frequently the very opposite: the one who releases all to the gracious ground and holy presence of God experiences the breakthrough of an unprecedented revelation. All things in God!

                                                                                                

The realization of God’s will in and through the life of a Christian need not generate an exclusionary mindset, where the purposes of God in other systems of belief, devotion, and practice are categorically denied. As we’ve already seen, this is the dangerous tendency of the second major stage of spiritual formation (orthodoxy).

With the penetration of faith into the essential mystery of God in stage three (mysticism), the need to defend an ideology has vanished – for the simple reason that truth at this point is revealed as transcending all theological systems, and as surpassing even the mind itself.

Now the experience of apotheosis, the suffusion of the whole personality with the divine, becomes the singular aspiration of the soul. It is now theoretically impossible to exclude any aspect of existence from the holy presence of God, since God is nothing less than the vibrant ground of being itself.

For the Christian whose spiritual journey has attained this level of mystical insight, Jesus Christ represents and names that long time trajectory of self-realization whereby God enters into the creation process. In Christ, the will and purpose of God have been made flesh (incarnated) and have overcome the obstacles of human ignorance, fear, and hostility.

Even now God is gathering up all things in Christ, so that nothing is left outside his redeeming love. As we die to ourselves (release the ego) and surrender to God, Christ is resurrected within us, revealed now as the truth of what we really are.

PSALM 147:12-20

12 Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem!
    Praise your God, O Zion!
13 For he strengthens the bars of your gates;
    he blesses your children within you.
14 He grants peace within your borders;
    he fills you with the finest of wheat.
15 He sends out his command to the earth;
    his word runs swiftly.
16 He gives snow like wool;
    he scatters frost like ashes.
17 He hurls down hail like crumbs—
    who can stand before his cold?
18 He sends out his word, and melts them;
    he makes his wind blow, and the waters flow.
19 He declares his word to Jacob,
    his statutes and ordinances to Israel.
20 He has not dealt thus with any other nation;
    they do not know his ordinances.
Praise the Lord!

Spirituality advances and unfolds through the course of a human lifespan according to a development logic that is well documented and represented widely across the world cultures. Using the conceptual model of trimesters in pregnancy, we have identified the critical opportunities and challenges that human spiritual growth must address and successfully negotiate in the journey to fulfillment.

In summary fashion, we can name the principal idea of God at each stage using the terms Providential Power (stage/trimester 1), Patron Deity (stage/trimester 2), and Ground of Being (stage/trimester 3).

In the first trimester our relationship to God is to One who watches over us, cares for us, and provides for our basic needs. At this stage our world awareness hasn’t yet expanded to to the point of confronting other perspectives and value systems. We simply cannot comprehend that someone else may have a notion of God different from our own.

During the second trimester, however, as alternative worldviews and lifestyles become impossible to avoid or ignore, we will typically come to the conclusion of the psalmist – that these others do not (for they can not) know the true God, who is our God.

If spirituality is allowed to progress, we will eventually come to the awareness of God as transcending (going beyond) theology altogether, while at the same time immanent to all things as the essential ground of being itself.

It seems that this sense of privilege and exclusive favor that comes during the second period is somehow necessary to a healthy spirituality – as long as it can be prevented from hardening into a self-centered fundamentalism.