“I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind.” Romans 7:21-23 (NRSV)
Do you display more than one personality? I do, as most people. We call it normal. We feel happy and free for a season and then it turns and we find ourselves lonely, worried and angry. If we suffer enough, people might suggest we take medications, get away on a vacation, or perhaps seek therapeutic treatment. In some cases people are diagnosed as schizophrenic, wrestling with a multitude of personalities often unable to easily exist in a “normal” society. However, for most of us, it’s just a normal rhythm of living. We learn to move with the ebb and flow like ocean tides.
Most religious teachings present the idea we have two selves; a good and a bad one, a loving and unloving one, a true or real one and a false unreal one. Religions seek to teach the way to live sharing happiness, kindness, being loving and compassionate. Religions teach the proper use of anger and hatred sometimes becoming quite judgmental and angry. Religious people display aggressive, intolerant and destructive behavior. Most religions left behind trails of blood and pogroms in the name of following God’s anger and displeasure.
The apostle Paul knew and taught about humanity’s two inner selves. He wrestled daily to keep a positive attitude of love and forgiveness. He obviously experienced periods of deep peace, what people often call “unitive experiences” of bliss or oneness with an apparent Divine Presence. Other times Paul became angry and critical, feeling sorry for himself and judgmental toward others. If you read words attributed to him, which make up most of the canonized New Testament Bible of the 4th Century, you will see his struggles and vacillations.
But why? Why did he have such struggles and why do we? Because as Paul wrote, depicting ages’ known truth, God is Spirit and the essence of Spirit is love. But in bodies we became part of the material dimension of flesh and form. “We know,” he wrote, “that the law is spiritual; but I am flesh, sold into slavery under sin. I do not understand my own actions. I do not do what I want, and I do the very thing I hate.” We all have these feelings and experiences. Ask your parents, your partners, your children. Paul concluded a section in Romans 7 saying: “O wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from the body of death? But thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
If we can recall similar feelings of ambivalence and vacillation, how might we live longer periods with a more forgiving and patient mind? How can we get in touch with our “True, Spirit Selves” if indeed we have them? The clue or key becomes most clear to me with his writings to the church of Corinth in his second letter, chapters 4 and 5:
“…because we look not at what can be seen but what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.”
Paul here described our bodies as tents which being mortal wear out, wither and die. In contrast, our inner self is Spirit, a God-part of our being. This aspect is immortal, unchangeable, and forever one with God the Creator. Elsewhere he described this Presence as always patient, kind, forgiving, humble, enduring and changeless. (I Corinthians 13) Meanwhile, in our bodies, these temporary tents, we live with a dichotomy of flesh and spirit, in a dualism of entities always at war within our minds. Yet we can learn to awaken to our non-physical identities as Immortal Beings or in Christian vernacular, Christ’s Children, or God’s Son or Daughter. We can become Christs on earth, modeling patience, forgiveness, and longsuffering with all. Baptism signifies this; we are all the Sons and Daughters of God. It becomes a process of remembering, constantly changing and renewing our thinking, meaning of “repentance.”
When I think about Easter, I think of Resurrection, which literally means to “Awaken”. Today might be called “part 2” as to what we awaken to. We awaken to the idea we have two opposite selves but left with a choice. We can chose to go beyond our joyless, fearful lives in a constant world at war and filled with death. We can choose to see ourselves as in this mortal world but “not of it.” We can remember Who and What we are and find a way back to our Home. In time, with remembering and practice, longer periods of happiness and joy can be experienced. It can be difficult, however. The ego self, identifying with bodies and space time, will go to war to save itself. It usually will take years to accept and live with this “Easter” idea.
In 1987 I traveled to India for a few weeks. One of the teachers I stayed with a man was named Bede Griffiths. For 25 years Bede served as a member of the Benedictine Order in England. Around age 50 he moved to India and soon left the order and joined two former French Priests to become a leader in an ashram called “Shantivanum” or “Forest of Peace.” In my days with him, we talked about this “awareness.” Recently I read he said on a visit to the US that if churches do not rediscover this core center of mystical presence, one’s True Self, they might as well close. What did he mean? Unless we move beyond our traditions of defending and fighting to maintain beliefs, creeds and forms, which are mainly egocentric, we will have nothing left to offer a world of anger and unhappiness.
If we do not feel times of deep peace with an inner joy and hope, we are no doubt asleep as to the awareness of who we are. If we spend most of our lives judging others as odd, mean, brutal, stupid, or idiotic, we probably lie deeply asleep or dead in our flesh identities as bodies. To preserve our bodies and their sacred forms and beliefs, we separate ourselves from others and from a universal Divine joy. If we live asleep or as sleep walkers in a world of winners and losers, a world of continual violence and separation, we are left empty and fearful. Our egos or body identities tell us to be happy, we must constantly gain more; wealth, fame or ownership, knowledge, degrees, exotic travel and experiences with more the better. Our egos tells us we are never quite good enough and if there is a God, he’s not very happy with how we have lived, watching over us like Santa with check-list. Our body identities tell us God is never happy with us just the way you are.
On the other hand, the Spirit Self, what Paul and others consider our “Higher, True Self,” is One with God. It is Spirit, not flesh, immortal not mortal, relaxed and loving rather than tight and judgmental. It is everywhere rather than localized in one place or one lifetime on earth. Spirit does not know us as special race, sex or nationality, but as pure happiness and bliss, creating peace and love wherever we are. Spirit doesn’t care if your mortal existence is rich or poor, healthy or sick, young or old, American or Iranian; your true identity is Spirit, One with everything that is love, joy, and freedom. We thus are not our bodies but spirit and free.
Such is difficult for most to accept. We think we are in “reality.” We feel our work and life are vitally important to humanity and especially God’s favor. It isn’t. Life here becomes seen as a detour into physical time and space, a lesson for us to reawaken and be free, be happy, sharing love with all people and creatures. Families come and go, youth passes quickly, as all nations rise, change, expand and die. Nothing seen or touched here is immortal, is “real;” it’s changing, ephemeral and gone in a wisp. In the words of the old Hebrew Ecclesiastes book, everything in this physical world amounts to vanity and nothingness. To hope and trust in it is to put ourselves deeper into fear, worry, and guilt, awaiting the final return to dust, perhaps to be reawakened someday as Spirit in another place.
“This life, which had been the tomb of his virtue and of his honor, is but a walking shadow; a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” – William Shakespeare
How then can we connect with the great joy of Spirit? Know you are “already” in this “other place!” Remember who you are, waking up each day to the Holy Child of God of you are. Salvation is a free gift, it’s Who you are! “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not of your own doing; it is the gift of God—and not the result of works that one may boast. For we are what God has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” (Ephesians 2:8-10, NRSV)
Sitting in my small room and favorite chair writing, I heard a buzz one day behind my head. I looked and saw a large bumble bee, buzzing and bobbing along the ceiling. I looked for a swatter but finding none, grabbed a broom. I swung and missed. I swung again and brought it down but it got up and buzzed toward me. I swung again, bending the handle of our favorite broom as I knocked it down, quickly swept it up, and carried it outside. Such can be life. We find a place or space of comfort and but “bees” suddenly come and bite us; sickness, death, wars, disease, old age, collapsing markets, another war, and horrible weather keep buzzing our way; swarming, dipping, and waiting their time to devour. “Dust thou art, and to dust thou shall return!”
“Wretched man that I am!” Paul wrote. “Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” The story of Jesus is a story of a person who so believed and lived by the awareness of who he was as God’s Son, he could walk in forgiveness even to his death, crucified as a criminal no less, knowing he would simply fly away to paradise with his Father/Creator.
We too can remember each day and hour Who and Whose we are. Each meal grace, each morning, noon, and evening prayer becomes a time to remember and return. “Your grace is given me. I claim it now. Father, I come to You and you will come to me who ask. I am the Son you love.” (A Course in Miracles, Lesson 168)