There have been periods in my life when I was very narrowminded. Those were periods when I didn’t grow spiritually or intellectually. It actually isolated myself from others because I would argue and condescend with those who didn’t agree with me. Being narrowminded causes depression, loneliness and hatred. We don’t have to agree with everyone but we can have an intelligent conversation and discussion about our opinions and beliefs even if in the end we agree to disagree. I have over the years been enriched by discussions with those whose political and spiritual beliefs I didn’t agree with. As I’ve aged, I try to be more open minded and try to see beyond the boundaries of ordinary life.
Organized religions can be very narrowminded and because of this they can stifle spiritual growth. All institutional religions were established on the teachings of their founder but as they moved further and further away from their original teachings, they tended to become more rigid and as a result lost their saltiness and failed to add flavor to the world: “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” (Mathew 5:13).
When Jesus confronted the Pharisees and the Scribes it was over their rigidness towards the Law: “As he was passing through a field of grain on the sabbath, his disciples began to make a path while picking the heads of grain. At this the Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the sabbath?” He said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and he and his companions were hungry? How he went into the house of God when Abiathar was high priest and ate the bread of offering that only the priests could lawfully eat, and shared it with his companions?” Then he said to them, “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath.” (Mark 2: 23-27)
When a religion becomes severe and unbending it becomes clouded and can no longer see the purity of their original teachings. As much as images, rituals and rules are important to the early spiritual development of an individual, there comes a time when that individual must move beyond the boundaries and become a sincere seeker of the Truth. Many people are comfortable living their faith within the boundaries set by their religion and will do so for their entire life and die content. But these things are milk to the soul that is searching for God. There must come a time when a seeker grows up and realizes they need more sustaining food: “When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things.” (1 Corinthians 13:11)
We experience two births when we become a seeker of the Truth. In the night visit of Nicodemus and Jesus they discuss these births: Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. He came to Jesus at night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one can do these signs that you are doing unless God is with him.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a person once grown old be born again? Surely, he cannot reenter his mother’s womb and be born again, can he?” Jesus answered, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of flesh is flesh and what is born of spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I told you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so, it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3: 1-8)
This passage is used by the church as referring to baptism but there is another way of looking at this passage. There are two births, a physical and a spiritual. Every human being experiences the physical birth of water. The fetus swims in a sack of water and when it is time, the water bursts and a new life is born. Our life proceeds from this birth and for most people they will walk through life half-awake experiencing the normal ups and downs until finally their life comes to an end and death takes them. For some there will be various degrees of spiritual growth but it will lack depth and only take them so far (recall the parable of the seeds). But there will be some who will experience a second birth, a spiritual birth of the Spirit. It is they who no longer want milk but solid food: “Everyone who lives on milk lacks experience of the word of righteousness, for he is a child.” (Hebrews 5:13) They desire to “put aside childish things” and mature into spiritual adults. It is the mature spiritual adult who begins to see life in a different way. They begin to realize how narrow their vision had been before their spiritual rebirth. They begin to move beyond the boundaries of every day external religion and investigate the interior regions of the soul. They see life as beautiful and joyous and see that the love of God falls upon all of creation. There is no judgement but only unconditional love. This is the mystical experience. This is the second birth.
Seeing beyond the boundaries of external religion doesn’t mean that there is no longer any importance in the external actions. Tradition, ritual, devotions, liturgy are all very important to the spiritual life. In fact, they become even more important when you experience a spiritual rebirth. Tradition, ritual, devotions and liturgy are all meant to take a person beyond space and time. God dwells beyond space and time and through a ritual or the liturgy we step out of this plane of existence and into a mystical plane. We worship God in spirit, with our heart and not with our minds. When Jesus encountered the woman at the well, she was focused upon worship on the physical plane but Jesus opened her eyes to see beyond the physical: The woman said to him, “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain; but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You people worship what you do not understand; we worship what we understand, because salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed, the Father seeks such people to worship him. God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth.” (John 4:23-25)
Seeing beyond boundaries is experiencing the Divine without limitations. Human words and actions are limited in expressing who and what God is. God is Cosmic and beyond anything that we can imagine. The opening lines in the Tao Te Ching express this truth:
The tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named is not the eternal Name.
The unnamable is the eternally real
Naming is the origin of all particular things.
(Tao Te Ching Chap.1)
If I were to paraphrase this, I could say it like this:
The “god” that can be expressed is not the Eternal God
The “word” that can be verbalized is not the Eternal Word.
The Eternal God is the eternally real.
The Eternal Word is the origin of all particular things.
So now this brings me to the opening lines in the Gospel of John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1: 1-5)
This is the great mystery of the Christian revelation. This Word is eternal, it is light, it is beyond time and space, it is the Creative Principle that set the entire universe in motion. It was this Word that entered into time and space and became a human being: “And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:15)
Every Truth uttered from the very beginning of human history, from every religion, every philosophy and from every Truth expressed in nature emptied and materialized in the Word made flesh:
Who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death,
even death on a cross.
The Tao Te Ching expresses this Truth in these words of Lao Tzu:
There was something formless and perfect before the universe was born.
It is serene. Empty. Solitary. Unchanging. Infinite. Eternally present.
It is the mother of the universe. For lack of a better name,
I call it the Tao.
It flows through all things, inside and outside, and returns
to the origin of all things.
(Tao Te Ching Ch. 25)
With the coming of Christ all that came before Him was not abolished. The Spirit of Truth planted the “Seeds of Truth” throughout the world and each region saw a spiritual path the grew organically from the soil of the people’s hearts. The truths of these ancient religions and philosophies became a Light that shined forth among the people in which they tried to answer their heart felt question; “how do we fulfill our humanity?” But these ancient religions and philosophies were not “the” Light nor were they equal to it. If seen with clear eyes, we can see that these ancient religions and philosophies were a witness to the coming “Light of the world” and they taught how to rise above thoughts and emotions so that the people could know of the “Mind Who is Beyond Thought”, hear the “Word Who Is Wordless” and know the Spirit That Is “Nameless”. We as Christians are indebted to these ancient religions and philosophies and we must see that we are not superior or better than they but we must see that Christ, the Word Made Flesh embodies all their Truths. That within His Mystical Heart, the Truths of these ancient religions and philosophies are found in the one great Truth of Unconditional Love.
To give terms and names to something ensnares and binds us to a certain way of thinking or seeing the world. As “seekers of Truth” we must learn to see beyond terms and names. We must begin to peel away the layers of the outward trappings of terms and names that obscure the “Mystery of Mysteries” that nourishes all of creation. Terms and names are not the Truth, they are only a finger pointing to the Truth. They only describe, but they can never explain how all was created. We must see beyond the finger, to where it is pointing, to the Truth of “I AM”. To the Truth of “Unconditional Love”. To the Truth of who Christ is, the embodiment of Truth itself, the “Mystery of Mysteries”.
Seeing beyond the boundaries is very difficult and requires a spiritual maturity that is willing to risk everything a person has been taught to believe. A willingness to be ostracized in order to find the “Truth”. An acceptance that others will misunderstand you and even accuse you of heresy. But isn’t the Truth worth all this? To willingly enter the “cave of the heart” to encounter “He Who Is I AM”, who is beyond names and titles and is pure Unconditional Love. This is totally worth it.