Cutting-edge Science

The Empowering Grace of Consciousness


Gaston Saint Pierre (d. 2011) is a little known French Philosopher, who spent much of his adult life in London pioneering the Metaphoric Technique, a form of foot reflexology.  Among his oft quoted sayings, we find these words: “When I change the level of my awareness I start attracting a different reality.”

It is a more poetic version of an old scholastic dictum: action follows thought. Our contemporary Western culture is addicted to practical outcomes requiring continuous action. And many of those outcomes arise from rational discourse frequently neglecting other  foundational dimensions, such as intuition, imagination, consciousness, and spirituality.

What Saint Pierre calls awareness, today we describe as consciousness, a major scientific exploration of our time, an evolutionary imperative requiring urgent attention. Mainline science, following people like Daniel Dennett claim that consciousness is merely a human quality consisting of qualia (little physical units) bouncing off each other in our brains. At the other end of the spectrum we encounter a growing body of physicists for whom consciousness belongs primarily to the cosmic/planetary creation, from which our human consciousness is derived. In other words, consciousness is the primary stuff (foundational energy) from which all life – including our humanity is derived. 

As suggested by Saint Pierre, consciousness, rather than action, should be our primary concern. How we perceive, think, and feel is what dictates the quality of our action. Moreover, when we prioritize consciousness, not merely will the quality of our activity be different, we are likely to evoke practical outcomes that will be more congruent with the evolutionary flow of life (we start attracting a different reality). 

The logic of this argument takes on additional coherence when we embrace the spiritual dimension. The foundational energy of creation is itself energized by the Holy Spirit of God. Consciousness itself – as the great Carl Jung intimated – is an endowment of God’s Spirit. It seems to be the primary stuff with which God co-creates throughout the vast spectrum of creation.

This religious conviction is frequently misunderstood, and often negatively dismissed, by religionists. Why? Because spiritual understanding at stake is stretched to new horizons that few if any of the major religions can embrace. Here we are dealing with spirituality rather than religion, and the former outdates the latter by many thousands of years. 

Today, we are the beneficiaries of this newly expanded awakening, an empowering grace of our time, sadly ignored or undermined by our Churches, but espoused and embraced by a growing body of contemporary spiritual seekers.

For further reading I recommend: Jude Currivan, The Cosmic Hologram (2017); Paul Levy The Quantum Revelation (2018), and Diarmuid O’Murchu, In the Beginning was the Spirit ((2012). 

  

When Particles Become Sparticles

 
A new particle accelerator, known as the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), opened at CERN, near Geneva, Switzerland on Sept. 10th, 2008. A massive underground tunnel,  27 km (17m) long, and estimated to have cost more than eight billion US dollars. In conditions as hot as the sun, and with beams of protons travelling at near the speed of light, scientists hope to discover new subatomic particles, many with sparkling new names. For more extensive information on the new collider, see Scientific American, 298, 2 (February 2008).


E
ngineers threw the 
switch to start up the LHC in September 2008 to global fanfare. All went well until it had to be shut down again 36 hours later. The incident – which led to a helium leak into the tunnel housing the superconductor ring – is thought to have been caused when a faulty electrical wire between two magnets was melted by the high current passing through it. Repairs and a new safety system cost an estimated £24m. The LHC was restarted in November 2009
 

With the development of the new particle accelerator, we note that a new scientific vocabulary is also coming to birth. The name sparticle is a merging of two words supersymmetric and particle. In these new experimental conditions, scientists hope to detect supercharged sub-atomic particles that are believed to have existed at less than a billionth of second after the Big Bang. (Don’t try to make rational sense of that or you’ll drive yourself crazy). At this infinitesimal moment, electrons were selectrons, quarks were squarks. These ‘sister particles’ are hugely unstable, and since they decay almost instantly, it will be a case of detecting their existence through indirect effect, rather than through direct observation. 

 What comes after the discovery of the Higgs Particle? 

 
On 14 March 2013, the scientific community was in exuberant mood, as news media all over the world carried headlines of the nailing of the Higgs Boson at CERN. It was also deemed to be huge justification for the investment that had been made in the Large Hadron Collidor (LHC) itself. Originally postulated by Scottish scientist, Peter Higgs, the particle helps to explain  why some fundamental particles have mass when the symmetries controlling their interactions should require them to be massless, and—linked to this—why the weak force has a much shorter range than the electromagnetic force. Thus physicists can now validate the last untested area of the Standard Model's approach to fundamental particles and forces, and feel more confident in their attempts to resolve other tantalizing questions such as the existence of dark matter.


What can be achieved through the new collider is precisely the fruit of the interface of classical and quantum science. We have very accurate measurements and finely-tuned monitors to exert maximum control, but the possible outcomes defy all rationality and point us to several incomprehensible marvels of the universe to which we belong and the planet that we inhabit. Sparticles, selectrons and squarks are not just precise objects, but more complex, wave-like dimensions of the energy-flow that constitutes the basic stuff from which everything is created. We can detect their existence and I suspect, as happened with the quarks and leptons, we will never nail them into an objective isolated identity. In other words, they don’t make sense in their individual separation. Relationship, and not separation, defines the true essence of all reality.


And this is where the euphoria around the Higgs particle may be misleading. Firstly, the so-called discovery relates to new traces detected in the debris of the collisions set up in the CERN collider, which physicists argue must be the Higgs. It is an assumption rather than a discovery. That it is actually the Higgs' boson has yet to be proved.


Secondly, establishing what gives particles mass feeds into the mechanistic understanding of life (and the universe) but contributes little to the more quantum understanding of reality which is much more about the wave and flow of the creative vacuum. Over 90% of the atom - and of subatomic particles - is empty space. Surely the critical questions of understanding belong to making sense of the 90% emptiness rather than the less-than 10% mass! Might it be that the "discovery" of the Higgs is an actual distraction from the search for deeper scientific truth? And of course it begs other questions, particularly: what is driving the search today?


Power and Money


Science is heavily wedded to objective control of the data, and there is a daily demand for scientists to develop outcomes that will help us to control the waywardness of the world we inhabit: disease, violence, poverty, ignorance, etc. But we are not controlling them; we are failing dismally in doing so, yet the scientists apparently cannot acknowledge the dismal failure rates of the scientific dream.


Which brings me to the second major factor, money! Science is driven by money, and will tend to favor research and outcomes that attract the highest bidders. Sources of funding will support a project like LHC because in the long-term it hopes it will empower the world of science to gain greater control over the destiny of mankind and the planet. In other words, those who provide the money have little time for the spiritual and even the cultural implications of what is transpiring in the larger arena of contemporary scientific research.


At one level, the psychic battle between control and trust  is as old as humanity itself. One hopes that as access to information becomes more widespread and diffuse, and as more rank-and-file humans trust their intuition and alternative ways of understanding, we might see the imperial wisdom become more humble and spiritually embracing. The rigor of science won’t suffer because of this; paradoxically, I suspect, science will acquire a new power – a richer and more empowering synthesis arising from the integration of the rational and the spiritual, the measurable and the mystical. In that new landscape, trust and not control will have the final word.


References:

Wallace, Alan B. (2007), Hidden Dimensions: The Unification of Physics and Consciousness,
Scientific American
, February 2008.

Web Pages:

 www.lhc.ac.uk;
http://lhc.web.Cern.ch/lhc;
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/sparticle.

Spirituality (Essay 2)

 

SPIRITUALITY: Daring New Horizons

 

The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. It should transcend a personal God and avoid dogma and theology. Covering both the natural and the spiritual, it should be based on a religious sense arising from the experience of all things natural and spiritual as a meaningful unity.                                                           Albert Einstein (1954).

 

The 1960s marked a quantum leap in our understanding of Spirituality. Prior to that time, Christians focused on the spiritual life, which basically meant how best to live out our religious faith in daily existence. However, this more devoted attention to spiritual matters belonged to an elite class of clergy and those in the vowed life. Only a mere handful of lay people managed to attain a degree of spiritual accomplishment. And within the ranks of those with a special vocation, the priest was special; only the priest could serve as a spiritual director, the one considered best acquainted with the care of souls.
 

In this earlier understanding, the following are among the notable features:

 
The Spiritual Life belonged uniquely to Christians. Devotees of other religions were deemed to be outside the Church and therefore beyond salvation. Only Christians were capable of a spiritual life.The Spiritual Life belonged uniquely to Christians. Devotees of other religions were deemed to be outside the Church and therefore beyond salvation. Only Christians were capable of a spiritual life. The following were the key ingredients:
  • The primary goal of the spiritual life was salvation of one’s individual soul, beyond this vale of tears in the Heaven beyond this earth.

  • Transcending earthly preoccupations (temptations) was the primary means to attain spiritual growth; this was to be done through prayer and penance, and was normally considered to be either impossible or inappropriate for lay people.

  • The spiritual life entailed special devotion to God through prayer and penance. In this context, prayer usually meant recitation of fixed formulas, e.g., the divine office, the Rosary, along with some well structured formats for silent prayer. Penance entailed fasting, various forms of bodily deprivation, occasionally flagellation.
     
  • People were expected to take responsibility for their own spiritual development by following the Church’s guidelines on prayer and fasting. Consultation with a priest frequently happened through the confessional.
     
  • Eucharist did not feature strongly in living out of the spiritual life. For much of Christendom, the celebration of Eucharist was understood as a clericalized priority, related more to the sanctity of the priest himself rather than to the spiritual life more widely understood.

  • Progress in spiritual growth tended to be judged by endurance in pain and suffering. Suffering for its own sake was deemed to be central to spiritual advancement. The Cross and the crucified Jesus formed the biblical basis for a “theology” of the spiritual life.
 

 This approach to the spiritual life is embedded in a quality of consciousness that is difficult to critique because it has enjoyed such unquestioned hegemony over several milennia. Chris Clarke (2005, 234) describes this contextual background as “. . . the shadow side of the triumphant rationality of the West, a rationality which has cut itself off from mystical knowing, and repressed it along with the economic repression of the poor.” This essay will explore what is entailed in the contemporary reawakening of the mystical.

 The Counter-culture of the 1960s.
 
Philip Sheldrake (1991) provides a more detailed analysis of how the spiritual life was understood throughout the 2000 years of Christendom. He notes that in the early decades of the 20th century, spirituality began to evolve as a distinctive field of study with the launching of publications like Revue d’Ascetique et de Mystique in 1920 and the Dictionnaire de Spiritualite in 1932. Despite such developments, for much of the 20th century spirituality still referred to the spiritual life as described above. With the counter-cultural upsurge of the 1960s, the term took on new meaning, one that has morphed into several articulations since that time. The following are some of the relevant features characterizing the spiritual awakening of the 1960s:
 
- A sense of rebellion against all forms of institutionalization (anti-establishment).
- Denunciation of formal religion as staid, rigid and over legalistic.
- Spontaneous expression of religious sentiment (e.g., speaking in tongues). 
- Religious ritualization of significant life-experiences – outside and sometimes over against the formal             (sacramental) practice of church and religion.
- A widespread curiosity about, and interest in, Eastern forms of meditation.
- A desire to explore mystical/esoteric wisdom through dance, psychedelic drugs, ecstatic states, oriental    practices (such as Yoga), martial arts.
- Various movements to reclaim the sacredness of nature itself, and live in convivial rapport with the natural world.
- As young people began to travel internationally, many sampled the rituals and experiences of other world religions.
- Valuing experience over the dictates of formal religious teaching.
- A strange mixture of individualism and communal experiment.
- God as Holy Spirit gaining a new ascendency (as in Charismatic Renewal and the Pentecostal movement).
 
 

For more on the above named features – and others – one can check a range of scholarly analyses. I recommend Robert S. Ellwood (1994), along with Wade Clark Roof (1993; 1999).

 Harvey Cox’s 1965 bestseller, The Secular City, prophesied that the rise of urbanization and the collapse of traditional religion would pave the way for a brave new secular age. That prediction has not been fulfilled. The new atheists – Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens – have captivated a lot of media publicity, but not near as much attention among rank-and-file people. Instead there has been something of a spiritual renaissance ever since the 1960s, but so eclectic, diffuse and complex, it is difficult to delineate its ingredients and discern its significance for our time.

 Let’s review some of the key developments:
 

1. Spirituality has become a subject in its own right, requiring a quality of research based on a multi-disciplinary analysis. Spirituality has broken away from religion and outstrips it on several fronts (cf. Heelas and Woodhead 2005). Religion tends to be defined in terms of creed, ritual and moral code. Spirituality heavily emphasizes a more authentic quality of relating among diverse peoples, cultures and aspects of the created universe. Spirituality shuns formal doctrines, seeks to keep ritual fluid, flexible and responsive to immediate needs, and adopts moral guidelines along the lines of situation ethics. Formal religions tend to be based on patriarchal and hierarchical structures; spirituality adopts relational networking, within which individual autonomy is strongly cherished.
 

2. Spirituality expands the notion of the sacred far beyond formal religion. It abhors the dualistic splitting between the sacred v. the secular, earth v. heaven, body v. soul, matter v. spirit. Spirituality is committed to celebrating commonalities rather than upholding differences. It promotes bridge building seeking to transcend all binary distinctions, an aspiration captivated in words of to the Dalai Lama (posted on Facebook, Sept. 10, 2012): “All the world’s major religions, with their emphasis on love, compassion, tolerance, and forgiveness can and do promote inner values. But the reality of the world today is that grounding ethics in religion is no longer adequate. That is why I am convinced that the time has come to find a way of thinking about spirituality and ethics beyond religion altogether.”


3. Spirituality marks a distinctive shift on authoritative truth. It exhibits a strong dislike for magisterial omniscience, and challenges the monopoly of truth adopted by patriarchal cultures which favor rational discourse, formalized doctrines, rituals and devotions, perceived to be best mediated through a hierarchical structure, with males to the fore. For the new spirituality, truth belongs more to what in former times was called the “sensus fidelium” (sense of the faithful) arising from shared wisdom – across all religious traditions (and beyond) - evolving through dialogue and mutual exploration, adopting structures that are highly fluid and flexible. Authority here is best understood as the facility to discern deeply, and its truthfulness is judged by the ability to generate empowering outcomes – for person and planet alike. Revealed truth is perceived to belong first and foremost to the web of life, and not to formal religion. It is in this organizational realm that spirituality differs so radically from formal religion; it is not at all clear how the new spirituality can hope to impact upon human culture in a more structured and enduring way.
 

4. In the emerging spirituality, the ecological dimension is a central feature and often exhibiting strong ethical values (while individual morality might be underrated). Care for the environment, strong awareness of environmental threat (on several fronts), and collaboration through networking to address urgent issues, belong integrally to the emerging spirituality. The ecological awareness leads some to embrace larger cosmological and scientific horizons as articulated through the seminal work of the late Thomas Berry, and the insights of quantum physics. These insights are often combined in the commitment to Creation Spirituality, for which Matthew Fox’s Original Blessing (1983) is often regarded as a seminal text.  

5. Embodiment is another key factor, with obvious challenges for an incarnational faith like Christianity. Embracing the whole person (and not just the soul) is a primary target of contemporary spirituality. How to nourish and love the body appropriately is a complex challenge with several problematic issues particularly around human intimacy and psychosexual expression. The embodied dignity of all other organic creatures is also affirmed. Eco-feminism seeks to re-integrate the abused female body with that of the often abused earth. 


6. Representatives of the formal religions frequently denounce the emerging spirituality as solipsistic and excessively individualistic. The new emergence is often portrayed as a free-for-all, with little regard for convention, tradition, or community. The inherent individualism may need more discerning attention, as it may be arising from earlier times when individual creativity and expression was frequently suppressed – and even repressed – in a culture grossly preoccupied with patriarchal control and domination (see the valuable insights of Douglas Watt in Clarke (2005, 70-89). On closer examination, the new spirituality strongly endorses communal allegiance but without the organizational strings and controls that typify formal religions.
  

7. In 2005, British scholars, Jeremy Carrettte and Richard King co-authored the book, Selling Spirituality, critiquing the widespread abuse of spirituality to bolster and advance commercial interests, through popular “new age” branding (also, Heelas 2008). This is a timely reminder of how easily people are taken in by gurus, teachers, and entrepreneurs who make big profits on the gullibility of naïve spiritual seekers. While this deviation certainly needs to be confronted, it should not distract from the positive potential and evolutionary significance of the emerging spirituality. And the solution offered by Carrette & King - namely, return to formal religion - is definitely not the way to resolve the dilemma. 
 

Horizons for the 21st. Century

 If this emerging Spirituality is an evolutionary development of our time, with a rightness for this time, how do we discern its complex unfolding, naming deviations that may be dangerous and destructive, and, more importantly, identifying positive features that will enhance our lives culturally and spiritually? It strikes me that the following are among the evolutionary significant features that will require our skilled discernment as we move deeper into the 21st. century.
 

1. Relationality.

Whereas mainline religion strongly emphasizes autonomy, separation, superiority of magisterial truth, and difference from all that does not belong to a particular faith-system, Spirituality seeks out connections, commonalities, and relationships capable of empowering person and planet alike. Frequently, this elicits the accusation of syncretism, which essentially means merging together beliefs and convictions which should be kept separate. Why? Because, that is fundamentally what is required by the standards of classical Greek philosophy which has had an inordinate influence on all aspects of Christian belief.


According to Aristotle, humans need to be rescued from their enmeshment in nature – which today we tend to describe as a convivial relationship with the natural world (see Abram 1996, 2011; Christie 2013). But for Aristotle, that close affiliation could undermine the human capacity for rational thought and perception. The proposed remedy was to set the human (particularly the male) as superior to everything in the natural world, with the anthropocentric right to control and govern. Lisa Isherwood, a British theologian, describes this Greek influence as the tyranny of metaphysics (Isherwood 1999). It ensues in rigid linear divisions of a type quite alien to the modern consciousness which desires greater harmony, interconnection and affiliation with all other life-forms, a more integrated cosmic and planetary interdependence believed to have been the experience of humans for many thousands of years prior the emergence of Greek philosophy.

 
2. Cosmology/Worldview

To one degree or another all the major religions depict the human relationship with creation as a flawed, problematic condition. And the prescribed remedy is also widely consistent: grin and bear it, till you can eventually escape to the happiness beyond, the final nirvana. This is radically different from the emerging evolutionary consciousness of our times which sees human meaning, growth and development as integrally linked to the earthiness of the planet and the energy-empowerment of the entire universe (more in Phipps 2012). Hence, the appeal for many spiritual seekers today of the new physics, the new cosmology, and creation spirituality.
 
It is grossly irresponsible to dismiss this development as a new age fad. It is a subconscious yearning for an earthly conviviality that humans have known for most of their time on earth, one that is vividly re-visioned by the naturalist, David Abram (1996; 2010). It is also a yearning for an ecological integration essential to a reversal of the extensive destruction humans have caused to the natural world, and essential if we are to evolve a culture based on justice, non-violence, ethical care, and adult responsibility for the womb of our becoming.


  3. Ecology and Mysticism

 
A further appeal within the expanded cosmic and planetary view is its innate ability to reawaken religious sentiment with a potential for re-connection far more extensive and deeper than that of formal religion. This sense of awe of supreme sacredness tends to be articulated through mystical experiences, known to humans across all ages and cultures. In popular Christian literature, mysticism tends to be described as a kind of absorption into God, above and beyond all sense of earthly connection (see Dreyer & Burrows 2005). That exclusive understanding yield’s pride of place to the contemporary sense of humans being called to befriend God’s creation, and find within it’s amorphous sense of mystery tangible evidence for the God who not merely inhabits but co-creates within the evolutionary dynamic of creation at large.
 
This new ecologically based spiritual immersion is elaborately described by Douglas Christie (2013, 17, 36): “The term contemplative ecology suggests . . . that there is a way of thinking about spiritual practice that has an ecological character, or a way of thinking about ecology that includes reflection on the moral or spiritual dimensions of experience. . . . The aim of contemplative living, in its wider application, is to address the fragmentation and alienation that haunts existence at the deepest possible level and, through sustained practice, come to realise a different, more integrated way of beingin the world.”
 

 We also glean something of that same mystical intimacy from the priest-geologist, Thomas Berry (2006), from the poetic writings of the late John O’Donohoe (1997), from the feminist, Beverley Lanzetta (2005; 2007), and even from secular naturalist, David Abram (1996; 2013).
 

4. Ritual Creativity


Spirituality tends to distinguish ritual from liturgy or sacrament, claiming that the former prevailed for thousands of years long before formal religion ever evolved, and today can be accessed through the rites of passage evidenced among first-nation peoples and among tribal groups on a global scale. Such indigenous rituals are focused not merely on key moments and dimensions of human experience but also embrace the seasonal fluctuations that impact upon the fertility of the land and all the other creatures inhabiting creation.

 Such rituals are certainly understood as a dimension of holiness, but do not distinguish between sacred and secular. Local elements such as earth, water, fire, herbs may be extensively used. The facilitation of such rituals tends to be based more on intuitive wisdom and natural leadership skill, although increasingly one does witness a preponderance of the male over the female. And the syncretism arising from religious influence, e.g, the Pentecostal movement with native African Rites of Passage, can create outcomes that are psychologically damaging and spiritually problematic.
 

5. Discernment through dialogue and networking


In mainstream religion, discernment of spirits refers to the need to distinguish between the influence of a good or evil spirit upon a person’s desires and behaviors. It is an assumed quality of many patriarchal belief-systems and therefore tends not to be cited explicitly either in theological discourse or pastoral care. If the devotee follows what the legitimate religious authority requires, then, there seems to be an assumption that good discernment is guaranteed.

When the term is used, specifically in the Christian faith, it belongs primarily to the care of souls as exercised in spiritual direction or Retreat ministry. Rarely is the word used in a social, ecclesial context. Here we evidence dualistic splitting within Christian faith itself, with the spiritual dimension relegated a more private, personal and secondary role. Advocates of the new spirituality view this as a deviation and abuse of religious authority, to the point where those in authority seem to consider themselves exempt from spiritual accountability, as long as they follow procedures and directives laid down by higher authority.

Above all else, discernment is about attending to the living Spirit, who is understood to function with a creative freedom that cannot be tied down by any set of institutional norms or procedures. This may well be the single most crucial factor upon which the credibility of the new spirituality stands or falls. It is paralleled in the wider contemporary culture by various movements to engage intelligence and imagination in more collaborative ways, as in new methods of social research (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Action_research). It embraces a more amorphous understanding on how wisdom is acquired, appropriated and utilized, with strong emphasis on dialogue and mutual collaboration. Of particular significance, is a new understanding of the role of the Holy Spirit, reviewed in the next section.
 

6. The key role of the Holy Spirit

 
In conventional Christian theology, God the Father comes first, as creator and sustainer of all that exists. The Father sends the Son, to rectify and redeem a flaw in creation, specifically in humans. And the Holy Spirit is variously explained as a third mysterious force brought into being through the mutual love of Father and Son.

Christian theology presents quite a confusing description of the Holy Spirit’s role. According to Gen.1:1, the Spirit is at work at the dawn of creation, infusing pattern and meaning into the chaotically unfolding process. This would suggest that the Spirit is operative in all creative unfolding thereafter. Yet Christianity claims that the Holy Spirit was not fully available to the Church till after the event of Pentecost (about 2,000 years ago) and that the Spirit only fully relates to the individual person after the reception of Baptism. Sounds like the Church is trying to control the work of the Spirit, and not doing so very ingeniously.

It strikes me that the new spirituality is infused (inspired?) by a sublime desire to rehabilitate the Holy Spirit. Contemporary spirituality does not seem to be consciously aware of this prospect, nor can it seek guidance through the conventional theology of the Holy Spirit, itself hidebound by metaphysical and doctrinal strangulation. Firstly, the history of theology seems to have had long held reservations about the diminished role of the Spirit, playing second-fiddle to Father and Son; the new spirituality wants to address this imbalance, seeking a much more exalted role for the Spirit. Secondly, the notion of the Great Spirit in indigenous spirituality (all over the world) incorporates understandings that theology has never considered and that seem to be gaining more significance in our time (more in O’Murchu 2012). Thirdly, the rapid and extensive rise of the Pentecostal movement throughout modern Christendom seems to be a sign of our time that deserves a far deeper discernment, a movement that has been widely recognized but not investigated with either spiritual or theological depth (see Martin 2001).

Are these three factors inter-related?  Who in the modern world is exploring their relevance, meaning or integration? And what might be their potential to illuminate the spiritual awakening of our time? These might well be among the most serious questions confronting humanity today, particularly the millions hungering for spiritual meaning, and expressing that hunger in ways that feel ever more scary for mainline religions. In this essay space does not allow for further elaboration. I hope to undertake that challenge in a full length book at another time.

Meanwhile, the Spirit broods where the Spirit wills. Fundamentalist religion is certainly on the ascendency and is often the subject of formal research. Spirituality is viewed more negatively, and often dismissed as a new-age phenomenon or a post-modern social trend. The latter deserves a far more nuanced view and a much more thorough investigation, not merely with the tools of standard research but by researchers with a more discerning eye and an open heart for the surprise, creativity, and unpredictability that characterize the operations of Holy Wisdom in every generation.
 

Bibliography:

 Abram, David. 1996. The Spell of the Sensuous. New York: Random House.           
                       2011. Becoming Animal. New York: Vintage Books.
Berry, Thomas. 2006. Evening Thoughts: Reflecting on Earth as Sacred Community. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books.
Carrette, Jeremy & Richard King. 2005. Selling Spirituality, London: Routledge.
Christie, Douglas E. 2013. The Blue Sapphire of the Mind, New York: Oxford University Press.
Clarke, Chris. ED. 2005. Ways of Knowing: Science and Mysticism Today, Exeter (UK): Imprint Academic.
Cox, Harvey. 1965. The Secular City, London: SCM Press.
Dreyer, Elizabeth and Mark S. Burrows. 2005. Minding the Spirit: The Study of Christian Spirituality. Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press.
Ellwood, Robert S. 1994. The 60s Spiritual Awakening, New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
Fox, Matthew. 1983. Original Blessing. Santa Fe, NM: Bear & Co.
Heelas, Paul. 2008. Spiritualities of Life: New Age Romanticism and Consumptive Capitalism,Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell.
Heelas and Woodhead. 2005. The Spiritual Revolution: Why Religion is Giving way to Spirituality, Chichester, West Sussex: John Wiley.
Isherwood, Lisa. 1999. Liberating Christ. Cleveland, OH: Pilgrim Press.
Lanzetta, Beverly. 2005. Radical Wisdom: A Feminist Mystical Theology. Minn: Augsburg/Fortress.
                           2007. Emerging Heart: Global Spirituality and the Sacred. Minn: Augsburg/Fortress.
Martin, David. 2001. Pentecostalism: The World Their Parish, Hoboken, NJ:  Wiley-Blackwell.
O’Murchu, Diarmuid. 2012. In the Beginning was the Spirit, Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.
Phipps, Carter. 2012. Evolutionaries. New York: Harper.
Roof, Wade Clark. 1993. A Generation of Seekers: The Spiritual Journeys of the Baby Boom Generation, San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.  
                           1999. Spiritual Marketplace: Baby Boomers and the Remaking of American Religion. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Sheldrake, Philip. 1991. Spirituality and History, London: SPCK.
                          2012. Spirituality: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford (UK): Oxford University Press.

Spirituality (Essay 1)

All This Talk About the GODDESS ?

The Goddess since her historical dethronement has remained alive and well. And continues to exert power from deep in the hidden recesses of the human psyche. Granted she has been sentenced to remain in a kind of internal exile, under house arrest, but her power is obvious from the efforts spent to keep her imprisoned.  Sam Keen.


So,who is she, or what is she, and why does she keep seeking our attention? Might it be that it is we – subconsciously and unknowingly – are seeking her? But why? Those interested in her seem to be a strange mixture of people: witches, neo-pagans, extreme feminists, new-agers, and a handful of scholars, maybe with nothing better to do. So, how do we make sense of her enduring fascination?

Historical Context?

Research offers at least six possible responses to the above questions:

1. The Goddess is an archetypal expression of the divine universal life-force that impregnates the cosmic creation from the beginning of time (Cf. Proverbs 8:22ff).

“The universal order that holds things together in a comprehensive embrace can be presented in mathematical equations. But it can be and consistently has been presented in mythic form. From earliest times, this vast embrace bonding all things together in the magnificence of the entire created order has been understood in the maternal metaphor of the Great Mother. It was the fecundity and the nurturing quality of the universe that so impressed the earliest humans. This principle of fecundity and this nurturing quality we can now identify with that grand curvature of the universe, for this indeed is the creative and nurturing context of all that exists.”   
Brian Swimme & Thomas Berry (1992), The Universe Story, (pp.219-220).


2. The Goddess symbolises the groundedness of all creatures in the body of the Earth, inviting us to come home to the clay from which we are beautifully formed.

“The Goddess is the power of intelligent embodied love that is the ground of all being. The earth is the body of the Goddess. All beings are interdependent in the web of life. Nature is intelligent, alive and aware. As part of nature, human beings are relational, embodied and interdependent.”  Carol Christ (1997), Rebirth of the Goddess, p.xv. (Also Christ and Plaskow (2016), Goddess and God in the World.  

3. The Goddess as archetype of the Divine Mother carries a strong appeal at a time when millions feel insecure and largely unprotected by the prevailing political and religious forces.

"It seems to me, that in our time, this image of the Goddess, bringing to birth the resurrected sun – or Son – out of the womb of darkness, out of the burial cave of the earth, carries a numinous power. For there can be no doubt that if civilised humankind is to survive the dangers of this century of transition, when all the familiar landmarks are disappearing and the collective structures that used to protect us are crumbling, we must turn to the Goddess, to the long-despised values of the feminine, to the feeling heart and the contemplative mind. Perhaps, then, our culture may see the rising of a new day.”
Helen M.Luke (1987), Woman: Earth & Spirit, p.28.   

4. The Goddess is an internal psychic structure through which humans (especially women) can reclaim the subverted values of the feminine.

“The image of the Goddess inspires women to see ourselves as divine, our bodies as sacred, the changing phases of our lives as holy, our aggression as healthy, our anger as purifying, and our power to nurture and create , but also to limit and destroy when necessary, as the very force that sustains all life.” Starhawk, quoted in Charlene Spretnak (1982), The Politics of Women’s Spirituality, p.51

5. The Goddess, representing the birthing power of the Divine, becomes embodied in historical personalities throughout human history. These include several ancient Goddesses (real or imagined) as well as Kali and Durga in Hinduism, Tara and Kwan Yin in Buddhism, the West African Oya and Oshun, and Mary in Christianity, especially in the embodiment of the Black Madonna.

Further Information in : Charlene Spretnak (2003), Missing Mary;  Elizabeth Johnson (2004), Truly our Sister.     

6. As a historical person worshipped as the primary manifestation of the divine throughout the Palaelothic era (35,000-10,000 BCE). The primary evidence is that of Ice Age Art and the archaeological research of Marija Gimbutas and several others.

This a controversial claim with a deep appeal for several female scholars and for others committed to Goddess faith. For an excellent resume of the ongoing debate, see Feminist Theology  Vol.13/2 (Jan.2005). Imaging the Goddess as a person – in the conventional Aristotelian sense – can easily become a form of patriarchal control – see the excellent critique provided by Rosemary Radford Ruether (2005), Goddesses and the Divine Feminine.
 

The Da Vinci Code and the Great Goddess


A best seller and gripping read, yet heavily and justifiably criticised for several factual errors, this book has proved to be an alluring read precisely because it is about the Great Goddess. This is the subconscious grip that has hooked several readers.

Quite rightly, the author Dan Brown, highlights the petrified fear with which the Catholic Church (and indeed all religions) has regarded the Goddess, begetting a powerful antithetical force – symbolised in the contemporary movement, Opus Dei – to undermine the empowerment of the Goddess whenever and wherever possible.

Rightly, Brown highlights that the oppressive strategy has not worked (and never will). The Goddess continues to flourish, but not in his distorted patriarchal reconstruction of early Christian history. There is no evidence whatever that the Goddess descends through a royal line of any type, and her primary embodiment in the Christian story is not Mary Magdalene but Mary the mother of Jesus.

The major thesis on which The Da Vince Code is based – namely the existence and flourishing of the Great Goddess – is the lure and fascination that has gripped several readers. Sadly, the development of the plot grossly distorts what the Goddess is about and consequently, has little to contribute to what is likely to become one of the greatest spiritual and theological challenges of the 21st. century.

Conclusion


The Christian Churches will continue to ridicule, condemn and dismiss the fascination with the Goddess. Patriarchal religion seems to have an in-built antipathy for anything that connects us too intimately with the body whether it be that of the earth or the human. And the religions tend to become paranoid when the empowerment of the female and the promotion of female values gains ascendancy. 

The archetypal Goddess is an explosive symbol for our time. It is not just about female empowerment, because in fact most women on Planet Earth today feel grossly disempowered. And the main reason for this is the subjugation of the earth itself at the hands of the powerful corporate and consumerist forces of our time.

The rebirth of the Goddess is a birthing cry of anguish and desperate hope from an embattled earth body, broken and brutalised by parasitical humans. It is a wake-up call from the great nourishing Mother, and it carries a disturbing sense of urgency - see the scholarly, challenging work of Paul Reid Bowen (2007), Goddess as Nature
. Either we cop-on to what we are doing to the womb of life or we may have no womb from which to draw nurturance. It may well be one of the most apocalyptic moments we have had to face in the history of Homo Sapiens. And if we stand any hope of surviving, I suggest we had better listen carefully to what the Goddess is asking of us at this precarious time. 

Religious Life

Celibacy and the Rediscovery of the Androgyne

After a few meteoric attempts to appropriate its power, the declaration that in Christ there is no more male or female faded into innocuous metaphor, perhaps to await the coming of its proper moment. Wayne Meeks.   

Androgyny seeks to liberate the individual from the confines of the appropriate. Carolyn Heilbrun.                                                                                                                                           

Two key concepts are being explored in this essay: Celibacy and Androgyny. Celibacy is popularly understood as a rejection of anything to do with sex because we assume that God is asexual, and that sex is a gross distraction from an authentic spiritual life. In more positive terms, celibacy is seen as an option to forego sexual pleasure and intimacy in order to dedicate one self more fully to God and to God’s mission of love and service to others. Despite the positive meaning, the anti-sexual asceticism prevails, inhibiting a more informed understanding of this life-option. The call to celibacy needs a fresh appraisal.  

Basic to all considerations is the historical fact that people have opted for celibacy throughout much of human history. The evidence seems to suggest that this was short-term rather than for a whole life-time, although examples of the latter can be gleaned among Shamans and other sage-like people, dating back some 20,000 years. A religious/spiritual motivation always seems to accompany this option. And, I suggest that it is that same religious/mystical component that has been grossly misunderstood in more recent millennia.

Before describing what Androgyny entails, I wish to challenge the prevailing view of human sexuality as a biologically determined endowment. It seems to me, and to many developmental psychologists, that our sexuality is first and foremost a form of psychic energy and not just a biological capacity with procreation as its primary purpose. The physical and biological dimensions of our sexuality ensue from the psychic foundations. As a psychic phenomenon, sexuality may be described as the sum total of our feelings, moods and emotions as articulated through relational interaction, which the Canadian theologian, Carter Heyward (1989, 3) pushes into the spiritual realm by defining sexuality as: “Our embodied relational response  to sacred/erotic power.”  The psychic and spiritual aspects become much more transparent and integrated in the life-experience of the androgyne.

I am proposing an understanding of celibacy that may seem very new, but in fact is quite ancient. By revisiting the notion of androgyny, I want to activate a spirituality and theology of celibacy more coherent and congruent for our time.

What is Androgyny?

Labelled by the medical/psychiatric profession as the ultimate state of confusion – whereby a person is not clear whether one is male or female – nowadays the notion of androgyny is ridiculed rather than clinically dismissed as deviant. Subsumed under the label of the hermaphrodite it tends to be perceived as an idiosyncratic adoption of maniacs or new-age freaks. Retrieving the positive – and more ancient – meaning is not an easy task.

Gender is also a contentious issue of our time, and it is difficult to describe androgyny without resorting to gender language. In the androgynous state, the biology tends to be clearly demarcated. Contrary to transsexuals, androgynes do not wish to have a sex change; in fact they tend to be quite comfortable in their gendered identity as male or female. What is different is the psychic energy that informs their erotic drives and desires.

Initially, the desired integration may manifest in a man becoming restless and disillusioned with conventional male roles, no longer wishing to play games of competition and male prowess, but desiring a lifestyle of a more cooperative and creative nature. In a woman, it will sometimes become manifest in a desire for greater achievement and competence in a commercial or business role. It is not a case of switching roles, or breaking down more conventional boundaries. Both men and women find themselves drawn to engage in social, relational and professional behaviour which tends to transcend the cultural attributes often identified with a specific gender. And irrespective of what society feels about the newly adopted role, deep inside the androgyne knows a type of “home-coming” which defies rational explanation.

The inner drive is towards integration and wholeness, motivated in this case not so much by conscious choice as by an inner subconscious urge which is fundamentally spiritual in nature. And it is not a once-and-for-all achievement; it is a life-long process, which merits the status of a life-calling or vocation, as distinct from a goal one reaches through learning and human accomplishment.

The androgyne and mystic seem to have a lot in common; each aspires to a sense of wholeness that transcends all our man-made distinctions and dualisms. Perhaps, St. Paul was alluding to this when he describes the new person in Christ: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, . . .slave or free, . . . male or female” (Gal.3:28). The mystical dimension helps to articulate and channel the spiritual meaning which is central to androgynous orientation; this may be subconscious rather than conscious and may not be easily integrated with formal religion.

Psycho-sexually, androgynous behaviour is informed by a stronger desire for psychic wholeness rather than driven to perform out of stereotypical, biological conditioning. Because it is difficult to internalise this identity in a culture addicted so rigidly to sexist and gendered stereotypes, androgynes are often labelled as bi-sexuals or transsexuals, and some prematurely adopt these labels.

Celibacy as an androgynous call

I suspect that people called to a celibate vocation effectively embrace an androgynous identity. This is not something they have consciously chosen; more likely it is something that happens in the internal spiritual realm evoking a particular calling or vocation. Were such people always disposed to this calling - already marked out at birth as several ancient cultures claim? I feel unable to offer a meaningful response to this question. Whatever the preconditions governing the vocational call, the consequences remain the same and it is the consequences I am exploring in this essay.  

Celibacy in its primordial significance seems to arise from a passionate desire to share more closely in the erotic intimacy of the Divine. God is the supreme lover who allures and captivates the heart of the loved one. This can easily be depicted as a mystical calling for the rare few, with nothing of value or worth for the rest of humanity. I suspect that the opposite may be the case. The celibate fulfils a cultural role – perhaps a paradoxical one – exemplifying the ultimacy that is at the heart of all our desiring as a human species. Of course, the vocational motivation may be based on less worthy aspirations, some of which may even be pathological; this is an area for profound and comprehensive discernment.

Despite this divine initiative – or perhaps precisely because of it – I wish to suggest that the celibate calling is a highly sexualised one. The celibate may well be the most erotic of all humans, honouring a very ancient understanding of the Divine as a highly eroticised life-force, impregnating the whole of creation. That being the case, two important adjustments need to be made to our thinking. Firstly, God is not a-sexual, and neither is any organism created by God. Secondly, the celibate needs expressive outlets for psycho-sexual energy, which cannot be adequately or appropriately channelled through sublimation or total abstinence.

On this complex question, ancient cultures may have been far more enlightened than contemporary ones. They provided outlets for the expression and articulation of sexual desire other than those of the monogamous, married relationship. They seem to have understood better the intense and amorphous energy of human sexuality and facilitated its articulation through rituals and ceremonies whereby people were sexually intimate, inclusive of genital expression (not to be reduced to biological intercourse). We glean evidence for this through ancient Chinese and Indian art; through spiritually-informed traditions like that of the Tantric philosophy of ancient India; in the iconography of early Hinduism; through a vast range of initiation rites among indigenous peoples, and through the courtly customs of mediaeval Europe.

That celibacy will involve an option for non-marriage makes a lot of practical and pastoral sense. That it must also imply total abstinence from sexual intimacy, is less compelling in our time. What may be most shocking about this claim is my differentiation between marriage and sexual expression. As indicated at the beginning of this essay, human sexuality is a process of growing more deeply into our evolving humanity - which for most of our time on earth was not confined to monogamous marriage - and there are several contemporary indications that this equation will not prevail in future.
(P.S. To defend or substantiate the contents of this paragraph would distract from the central message of the essay itself. I simply want to invite the reader to a place of deeper reflection from which may arise a more fruitful dialogue. I also want to include rather than dismiss sexual experiences which some celibates consider integral to their human and spiritual growth. As we dialogue around this sensitive and urgent topic, we must not assume that being sexual always entails genitality, nor should genitality be equated with sexual intercourse).

How our culture might provide appropriate outlets for the expression and articulation of celibate sexual intimacy is a further consideration that need not detain us now. Once we get the underlying vision clear, informed by a larger sense of culture,  history and especially sexuality itself, then it will be easier to initiate the dialogue that will need to take place, delineate necessary boundaries, discern moral guidelines, and generate the good-will to provide the necessary support structures. The inevitable fear is that this will release a new wave of promiscuity and make a mockery of sexual morality at every level. My concern is to clear up the immorality and promiscuity that have been far too prevalent, and perversely covered over, for far too long. (see, Jordan 2000). Honesty and transparency is what I am ultimately pursuing.  

Celibacy and Priesthood

In popular Catholic culture, priesthood inevitably means a celibate lifestyle. I believe this has obfuscated the real meaning of celibacy and continues to make a meaningful retrieval both problematic and confusing. Long before a dominantly male priesthood evolved (about 7,000 years ago), celibacy was extensively practised. Celibacy did not begin with the Catholic Church, nor even with the monastic systems of the other great religions. Celibacy should not be equated with any one religious sub-group, particularly one so rooted in ecclesiastical structure.

Formal priesthood is probably too rigidified, institutionalised and ascetically based to appropriate the mystical embrace of androgynous values. Those committed to the monastic/vowed life stand a better chance of witnessing authentically, but that role too has been co-opted into the ecclesiastical/religious system and, correspondingly, has been seriously disenfranchised in terms of what it has to offer. The congealed clericalised culture is just not amenable to this new and daring vision.

In the light of recent debates, especially in USA, one wonders if greater recognition of homosexuality among Catholic priests and clerical students would be a step towards the integration of the androgyne in priestly celibates. It may help, but it could also confuse. Revisioning celibacy to accommodate those of homosexual orientation is a desirable goal, but it leaves deeper issues unrecognised and unresolved. In most cases, I suspect homosexuality is not the problem; human sexuality is. Because of the heavy impact of dualistic thinking in our Western world, unconsciously we try to resolve problems by switching from one pole to the other. In the case of celibacy, I think we are in great danger of missing the deeper challenge, namely the archetypal lure to an androgynous lifestyle!

Celibacy contributing to abuse?

In recent years, the Catholic church in USA – and elsewhere – has been rocked by sex scandals, leaving innocent victims scarred for life and offending priests labelled as perverts. Most reports on priest sexual abuse tend to focus on paedophilia (or more accurately, the abuse of minors, ephebophilia). Such behaviour is widely regarded as a form of psychopathology, the origins of which are often traced to early family history or traumatic experiences in early childhood. Few attempts have been made to understand the phenomenon in a non-medicalised context.

Nor does the Catholic Church seem to want to ask one obvious question: why the focus on young males, in a culture where females rather than males are typically the victims of sexual abuse? Some commentators (e.g., Jordan 2000) distinguish between homoerotic and homosexual; it seems to me that the former embodies a great deal more spiritual and psychic intent than the later, and I am not convinced that the one leads automatically to the other. A great deal has also been written about integrating the inner child, a task that may be much more formidable, but also liberating, for the androgyne. For these, and a range of other reasons, I suggest the attraction of young males for some male celibates, needs a much more profound analysis.

Naively, we assume that a homosexual leaning is at the root of the problem of clerical abuse. To me, at least, it seems fairly obvious that celibate sexuality itself, and the repressive clerical culture in which it is (mal)nourished, is the problem, precisely because neither the Church nor the wider culture is capable of recognising or affirming what the call to celibacy is really about. The so-called paedophile priest may be the ultimate scapegoat in one of the greatest cover-ups known to modern culture.

Eugene Kennedy (2001) has taken the bold step to describe celibate sexuality in terms of an archetypal wounding, which presumably can only be healed by tender and compassionate care. And if such positive regard is not forthcoming, then obviously the woundedness grows infectious and can create great havoc for priests themselves as well as for others. While Kennedy attempts to shift the focus to the archetypal level (I know of nobody else who has attempted this), I have some reservations about his starting point.

I don’t believe that people enter priesthood in a wounded state -  particularly those who feel a deep sense of calling. I believe the majority enter as quite wholesome people who become wounded because of the internal corruption of  the clericalised-institutionalised system with which they affiliate. Nor should we lay all the blame at the feet of a culture of clericalised power which Kennedy seems to suggest is the heart of the problem. I blame the wider culture of repression which is unable to discern the deeper meaning of human sexuality, for everybody, celibates included.

Celibacy: The Future ?


The call to celibacy has flourished for several millennia; it will continue to flourish despite all the obstacles to its development, most of which are religious in nature. Current evidence suggests that it may become more diffuse in the wider population as growing numbers of women particularly opt for single living - for a large part if not the whole of their lives. This I describe as cultural celibacy, a single life-style, frequently adopted in order to be more successful in a career or in another life-project.

This is very different from vocational celibacy, where the underlying motivation – conscious or otherwise - is a desire to serve, typically informed by religious faith. This is the calling which I suspect is closely related to the psycho-sexual identity of being androgynous. The service at stake is not just to the cloistered life of prayer and asceticism, nor, alternatively, to the unstinting commitment to work for the liberation of the poor and oppressed. These are external expressions of something much deeper and more profound.

The service envisaged in the celibate call goes to the very core of the divine erotic energy, releasing and birthing forth the capacity for right relationships at every level of creation. There are cosmic and planetary dimensions to this call. This is big stuff, and not for the light-hearted! And this is not just about human beings, nor must it ever be restricted to one or other religion, church or denomination.   

Like sexuality itself, we have vilified celibacy in a crude, barbaric form of reductionism. That very calling, which is about engagement with the divine erotic in the whole of creation has been trivialised and domesticated amid the ascetical distortions of a bankrupt sexuality. In order to redeem the true archetypal meaning of this vocation, we firstly need to reclaim what sexuality itself is about in its true cultural and spiritual meaning. Only, then can we hope to understand and appreciate the call to celibacy, not some irresponsible opting-out of life, but a life-option of incredible richness, when understood and embraced in a more authentic context.

References & Bibliography:


Black, Peter (2003), “The broken wings of eros: Christian ethics and the denial of desire,” Theological Studies, 64, 106-126.
Heyward, Carter (1989)Touching Our Strength: The Erotic as Power & the Love of God.
Jordan, Mark  (2000)The Silence of Sodom: Homosexuality in Modern Catholicism.
Kennedy, Eugene (2001)The Unhealed Wound: The Church and Human Sexuality.
Marchal, Joseph A. (2019,) Appalling Bodies, 30-67. 

O’Murchu, Diarmuid (2016), Religious Life in the 21st Century, 145-158.
Singer, June (2000), Androgyny.   ISBN: 0892540508
Vetterling-Braggin, Mary (1982)Femininity, Masculinty, Androgyny.

 
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