The Evolution of Spirituality (Masks of God Part 2)

masks-of-god

What follows will take you on a short journey through the evolving history of the spiritual dimension of human life. Joseph Campbell called myths the “masks of God.” He said “when myths function correctly they become transparent to transcendence.”

We’ll start then with the earliest known forms of myth and ritual and follow a thread all the way through to our present spiritual situation. Think of it as a creative tour of the evolving perspectives, concerns and experiences that have held central meaning to human societies and individuals.

(This is Part 2 of the chapter from The Embodied Sacred called Masks of God.)

You will notice some remarkably consistent themes as well as others that will be quite different. You will also see certain ideas and practices disappear only to return later. This is not intended to be a complete and final history, but it does include many of the most significant expressions of our evolving spirituality. It includes both the sublime and the grotesque, for such are the forces we have always been seeking to reconcile. It is also not a strictly linear process, as evolution occurs also in part through a kind of spiral motion as well as the punctuated equilibrium of sudden change.

As you take this journey notice the ongoing struggle to make sense of our relationship to tribe, death, nature and transcendence.

 

The Swiss Alps – 49, 000 B.C.E. (Neanderthals)

We gather in the cave as the sun rises, before the bones of the bear. The light comes in through the high opening and casts shadowy figures on the wall. We are alive and the animals offer their meat and fur, but we have to fight hard for it. We open the stone chest to reveal the seven bear skulls, muzzles facing the cave’s opening, and thank the Great Sky Bear as we sharpen our thrusting spears and stone axes—preparing for the hunt. We survive mainly on meat from the red deer, bear, bison, and occasionally, the great wooly mammoth. We speak in a simple singsong cadence and wear hide coverings. Ours is a world of instincts, primal needs, magical forces, animal spirits, and a spirituality that deals with the hunt and the animals we depend on for life.

 

France – 20,000 B.C.E. (Early Shamanism)

I go down into the deep cave. The paintings on the wall tell the story of my journey into the spirit world. I fly there. Fly to the place where the animals gather, to find out where they will be when we hunt. The paintings are about me: the shaman, the birdman, and our tribe’s sacred relations with the animal-people. The animals are our friends—they bleed like us and cry out in pain like us, our faces are not so different. We must honor the deer and bison and put their bodies back together after we have taken them apart. When we gather in the cave we sing and dance with the animal spirits. In this way we know it is good that we eat them and feel strong when we go out to hunt. When we bury the dead we include the body of a sacrificed animal—for we will still be together in the world beyond.

 

Kenya – 15,000 B.C.E. (Tribal Animism)

The invading gods have taken us from our mothers. Taken us from the village to this strange place. They looked like monstrous animals and our mothers wailed and clutched us close, but they dragged us away. I know the other boys are in here with me, but it is pitch black and we have been told not to make a sound. We can hear the screams of individual boys who have been dragged from the hut to be killed as the deep loud songs are sung. When I feel the rough hands on me I go limp, surely I will die now and never see my mother or the village again. My eyes are covered. The pain is unbearably intense, but right when I am convinced the end is near and I will be food for the hyenas on the way to the spirit world – they pull the blindfold from my face. The men of the tribe take off their scary masks and lead me in procession to where the other boys are standing, blood still drying on their thighs, exposed swollen penis heads, fresh burn scars—one on each cheek. “You are a man now, a warrior ,” says my uncle’s voice close to my head as I join the others. “You have survived the death of your boyhood, you have a new face and a new penis. Now you can hunt and fight and take your place in the tribe, and you are worthy to be with your bride.”

 

Egypt – 8,000 B.C.E. (Ritual Sacrifice)

We gather in the stone circles of the temple, surrounded by pillars carved with animals, insects and birds. It is time for the sacrifice. The priests have used the stars to calculate the Winter Solstice and we know we must give sacred blood back to the Earth to participate in the arrival of the Spring’s new life. The ritual dagger and bowl lie in wait on the north-facing altar. The goats are led in to be slain. They will be cut up and buried in the earth. The sacred bowl is used to pour warm blood first on the hearth and then into my priestess mouth—taking me into the trance. Then we all feast and dance. We survive by agriculture, and our spirituality has to do with the cycles of the Earth, fertility and the growing of crops.

 

Sumeria – 6,000 B.C.E. (Zoroastrianism)

There is only so much time left in the universe. It is of crucial importance that we stand on the side of the god of light. We say prayers in the fire temple and offer sandalwood. The priest will take it into the inner sanctum, the holy place. The god of chaos is on the rise, and when the world ends a great battle will happen between the forces of light and those of darkness. All evil shall be cleansed from the earth and the dead will rise again. Humans shall live without death and will not need food. In preparation, we must think good thoughts and enact good deeds so as to keep the chaos and darkness from our minds. After death each of us will go to the spirit world, but when the god of light prevails we will be awakened and restored to our healthy bodies. We must follow the movements of the planets and the cycles of nature so as to be in tune with the cosmic order. We must not retreat from the world, but engage actively in the fight for order, light and goodness. The battle between good and evil is central to our spirituality.

 

India – 2000 B.C.E. (Vedic Origins)

We drink the blood and eat the flesh of the plant god who sacrifices himself for us. When we partake of his body we are initiated into his divine knowledge. This cosmos is an endless cycle of death and rebirth, darkness and light, expansion and contraction. We perform the rituals in front of the fire, offering clarified butter and chanting the holy names. Caring nothing for the life of the body, I smear my skin with ash from the funeral pyres, inhale smoke from the sacred herb, eat and drink the flesh of the plant god and am taken into ecstasy—moving spontaneously through postures that purify us, all in devotion to the deities and the one transcendent principle. We are concerned with the continuous cycles of life, the expression of the heavens through the structure of society and the possibility of individuals moving beyond this realm of suffering after death by breaking our ties with this mortal body and mind.

 

Greece – 1600 B.C.E.

We parade along the sacred way, re-enacting the journey of the Goddess as she searched for her abducted daughter. We wave the branches and shout the names, walking together in procession until we reach the temple grounds. There we fast all day before the ceremonial drinking and the entry into the temple ritual. The rites are secret, on penalty of death – only the initiates know what happens in the temple. The mysteries are revealed as the sacramental drink works it’s magic and the priests enact the rites. We are led out of the temple to the fire and we dance and feast all night long. The world is different now, the fire is luminous and the dance is ecstatic, fluid, unifying. As the gods possess us, we become one pulsating radiant shape-shifting organism. When the Goddess brought her daughter back from the underground it created the seasons, the cycles of nature on which we feed. We dance where the first grain grew. We sacrifice a bull in her honor and pour the sacred libations on the earth to honor our dead.

 

Greece – 1000 B.C.E. (Dionysian)

We drink the wine and eat the grains in remembrance of the god who died and lived again. He was born of the union of mortal and immortal and lived among us. His is a path of celebration, reveling in the senses, returning to our natural state as we are possessed by his spirit in the wine. We offer wine to the earth and see the embodiment of our god in the lifecycle of the vine. Even as a slave (along with the women and foreigners) I am welcome here as we free ourselves from social restraints and conventions. We express the conflict between nature and society in this ritual and mythic belief system. Our spirituality has to do with freeing ourselves to be in an instinctive, spontaneous ecstasy—possessed by the gods of nature, restored to our authentic state.

 

Greece – 700 B.C.E.

Tied in ribbons, the pig is led to the altar in front of the temple. We stand and watch and throw barley seeds at him as he passes by and after he is situated before the altar. Water is poured on the pig’s head and this makes him nod in consent. When his throat is cut, the blood is drained quickly and the internal organs removed. We study the organs to see if the gods have accepted the sacrifice, and if so begin to cook the animal on a spit over the fire. All must participate and all must eat the flesh, and the flesh must be consumed before night falls. The gods eat with us. Fat, together with long bones and spices are burned for them and the smoke is read for further omens about what is to come. Our rituals have to do with the cohesion of the society and ensuring the favor of the multiple gods that preside over human affairs.

 

Palestine – 600 B.C.E. (Judaism)

I perform the ceremony at birth. It is important that the boy’s foreskin be removed. We follow the law as laid down in the great book. We no longer sacrifice, but study the book together. It tells us what to do and what not to do , when to work, when to rest, what not to eat, and how to understand God’s will. I lead prayer in the temple. In our spirituality there is one God and we are his people, if we follow the book we remain holy and distinct from the ungodly tribes around us.

 

India – 500 B.C.E. (Buddhism)

We meditate in the great hall. Old age, sickness and death are inevitable – but we can wake up from the realm of suffering. We can get off the wheel of rebirth. The awakened one offers teachings on the nature of existence and the possibility of freedom from suffering. He teaches that we suffer in direct proportion to how much we unconsciously enact craving and aversion. His way teaches us to observe the workings of the mind and seek to eliminate these patterns of grasping and pushing away. We are monks, separated from the community, giving up our friends and family, marriage prospects, careers, possessions and worldly concerns. We walk with our begging bowls through the town, surviving on what is freely given by those who support our endeavors. Ours is a spirituality of self-knowledge and transcendence of the world.

 

Rome – 300 C.E. (Christianity)

It was prophesied that He would come. The Son of Man has walked among us. He is the Messiah. Born of a virgin, he brought us new teachings, the Romans killed him, but he rose again and has ascended to God’s right hand. We must preach his gospel throughout the land. We still follow the old ways, still use the holy book – but the Shepherd has come. We drink the wine and eat the bread in remembrance of him. It is his body and his blood. His life has been sacrificed that we may not die, but may have eternal life. Many do not understand, but we must bring them to God, even though they persecute us. Our spirituality has to do with forging a new relationship to the Divine through a savior figure that redeems the world. He gave us a new commandment: Love One-Another.

 

Saudi Arabia – 640 C.E. (or 18 A.H. on the Islamic calendar)

I have heard the words of the prophet. Our armies are on the march and soon will bring God’s law to the entire world. I am on my pilgrimage to kiss the black stone. The memorized words of the as yet unwritten holy book echo all around me as we repeat it back and forth. These are the words of the true prophet of the one God. I only wish my heart had heard his words before he died. It has been decreed that we shall walk seven times in counter-clockwise motion around the holy stone before kissing it. Then we run back-and-forth between the sacred hills, drink from the well he drank from before standing in vigilance on the great plains. We throw stones at the Devil and shave our heads before we the sacrifice the goat. Then we celebrate our unity in submission to God and his prophet who has restored us to the true faith and rightful place in paradise after death.

 

Mexico – 1350 (Mayan)

We eat the flesh of the gods, and it takes us into their realm. We dance and sing and weep, and those of strong mind sit still and are given the sacred knowledge. In the hours before the mushrooms are served we eat nothing, drinking only chocolate. We paint our visions on the walls, on our pots and vases. The priests make sacrifices to the gods atop the great pyramid. It is necessary for the continuation of life. It is the blood from the feathered serpent god’s penis that brought us into being and we must repay him. The priest-astrologers have decreed that tomorrow we sacrifice the prisoners from our wars and eat their bodies after offering the still beating heart to the great Sun God. A great honor has been bestowed on me, a young man. Chosen to become the God of Night, for a year I will be worshipped in ceremonial dress. I will have four female companions and will not work, walking instead through the streets playing this flute. When the time has come I will be sacrificed, that my people may live on. I will willingly climb the steps, break the flute and surrender to my fate. Our spirituality has to do with agriculture, celestial cycles, war, blood and the continuation of life through the offering of life. All of this will lead inevitably to the prophesied end of the world in 2012.

 

Iran – 1450 (Sufism)

We meet in secret, avoiding the wrath of the orthodox. We dance our whirling dance and enter spiritual ecstasy. We recite the words of our beloved mystic poet and listen to the flute’s plaintive song. God is our ground and our goal. We evolve toward union in one-ness. This cannot be spoken of directly, and those who do not understand condemn us, but we continue on in our devotion. This is not religion as man understands it, this is transcendent and immanent union with divine, available to all. Come dance with us and hear the poetry of longing.

 

Spain – 1500 (Inquisition)

The heretic will be made to confess. We hang him from the ceiling until his shoulders dislocate and his screaming finally stops. If he will not admit to his heresy we hold him down, force the cloth into his mouth and pour water on his face until he believes with his whole body and mind that he will drown, again and again. After the true and free confession I always hope that the court elects to tie them to the stake and put them to the torch. To Hell with them! We must cleanse Spain of the unbelievers, it is a holy duty. Many will die, many will suffer, but Spain will be restored to her true faith and practice.

 

Italy- 1640 (Early Science vs The Church)

I have been found “vehemently suspect of heresy,” namely of having held the opinions that the Sun lies motionless at the centre of the universe, that the Earth is not at its centre and moves, and that one may hold and defend an opinion as probable after it has been declared contrary to Holy Scripture. I am required to “abjure, curse and detest” those opinions. My sentence of imprisonment has fortunately been commuted to house arrest. Many of my friends thought I would be executed. My works – including any I might write in the future, are forbidden from publication. Nonetheless, as I go blind in my dying years I am writing about two new sciences that I began work on forty years ago – before I became fascinated with the possibilities of astronomy afforded by the new telescopes and my heretical observations of the sun, moon and stars. The book I write will be praised highly by Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein and earn me the title “father of modern physics.” It will be over 350 years before the Church officially recognizes that the Earth is not the stationary center of the solar system.

 

England – 1770 (Age of Enlightenment)

I am visiting from America. The English have been eroding the power of the monarchy for almost a century. The French are in the midst of a quite violent upheaval, and are uprooting the power of the church over men’s lives in no uncertain terms. This is the age of enlightenment, the beginnings of democracy, human rights and freedom from the tyranny of religion and the divine right of kings. Reason shall be the great liberator and equalizer. There is nothing supernatural, but there is a creator God, and his face shall be known through the application of reason and observing the natural world in a way that will become known as the scientific method. When I return home we shall draft the first of the great American documents: The Declaration of Independence, The Bill of Rights, and The Constitution. Democracy and freedom of religion begins, as does the differentiation of the domains of art, science and religion.

 

New England – 1860 (Whitman, Thoreau, Emerson et al)

We meet when we can in person and send each other frequent letters. English poets, American philosophers, biologists, thinkers, lovers of knowledge and experience. We have studied the texts from the East and combine them with our own epiphanies of the natural world. I see a kind of universal Self, present in all things, in all living creatures. I push past the hatred of the body, of sexuality, into a belief in the flesh, the appetites, the miracle of what we already are—divine inside and out! Ours is a revelation of ecstatic opening to the world around us, to one another, to the body and heart in all of their mystery, grace, struggle and rapture. We are considered scandalous in our uncompromising and all-embracing reverence for nature, and ahead of our time in our attempts to unify Eastern and Western spirituality.

 

New Hampshire – 1880 (Christian Science)

We do not place faith in the doctors. We do not believe in disease. It is a thought, an erroneous thought – and through the spiritualization of thought we can heal any malady. We must have ultimate faith in this and resorting to doctors is evidence of a lack of faith. If we are not healed though thought and prayer then either we have failed or it is God’s will. We are perfect creations of God and all evil, disease or suffering are distortions of the Kingdom of Heaven. God alone is real, matter is an illusion. Freedom from aging, sickness and death are inevitable and we shall become immortal through right thought.

 

Maine -1930 (Seventh Day Adventists)

After I was knocked unconscious I changed. God began to speak to me. I see lights and hear sounds. I write for days. I write what it is forbidden for us to do. God speaks to me and I must serve Him. I must instruct others in the ways of God, in their abstaining from the evils of sex, but there are many other things that lead to living in exile from God. We pray together in our new church and I teach what God tells me.

 

New York – 1967 (Summer of Love)

I have seen God. They didn’t lie. When they gave me the sacrament in a tab of blotter acid, they said it would blow my mind. I feel like an archeologist of the collective psyche. The implications for our understanding of psychology and spirituality are immense, unfathomable. Why did I see multi-armed gods like Hindu deities? Why did I recognize patterns and imagery from South American art? It seemed for a while there I was in the domain of Greek mythology, and then the silence, the void, the one-ness with all things, the disappearance of subject/object distinctions. All while the band played on and we danced. All while the war raged on and visions of the blood of those rosy boys and those yellow innocents flowed. All while the projectors flashed their cell-division lightshow and the music wove the crowd of thousands into one organism of joy and sexual energy and cathartic trance.

 

Rome – 1969 (Moon Landing)

The astronaut’s foot carefully touches down on the surface of the moon. We are watching this on TV—it’s unbelievable! The nuns nearby are giggling in their black and white habits. The astronauts bound across the lunar landscape, floating, surreal. We are students from Canada and America and Europe watching in the cafeteria basement together – jumping to our feet, hugging, laughing. Who can forget that first image of our blue and green earth rising over the horizon of the moon? In the paper the next day underneath that extraordinary image, that humanity uniting image, the words of an Italian poet: “What are you doing there, Earth, in the sky? Tell me, what are you doing there, silent Earth?” Surely this is the beginning of a new time. We are one people on this precious planet drifting through space. If ever we had a mythic image for our times, this is it!

 

Guyana – 1978 (Jim Jones)

The Lord God is among us. Our reverend is the reincarnated soul of Jesus, Buddha, Gandhi and Lenin. We have left the heathen, racist culture in the U.S. to create our socialist paradise here in South America. We are a rainbow nation and we will make a heaven on the earth in time for the great nuclear destruction that is coming. Some want to leave- they have been swayed by the devilish capitalist propaganda machine. Now the congressman is here to take people away, but we will overcome. We will move on to a better place. It is not really the end. Death is a doorway into the next world. We will die with dignity and I will help the fearful ones, the deluded ones to see the way forward. The final sacrament waits in the doctored Kool-Aid, but first we must execute the congressman and news reporters. We drive furiously in the truck to the airstrip, guns at the ready, to catch them before their plane leaves.

 

Sedona – 1983 (New Age)

The harmonic convergence is here. The Age of Aquarius is officially beginning. An era of light and love is upon us! The astrology has finally aligned and we are being bombarded with transforming cosmic rays by the benevolent forces of love just beyond our solar system. In the next decade we will see a massive increase in psychic abilities, communication with extra-terrestrial intelligences, an end to all war, violence, hunger and disease and the beginning of a new world spirituality that unifies all people in the golden thread of the world’s great traditions: love. We converge at the vortex with crystals in hand, sitting in silence as the stars align, praying for peace – knowing that we are transforming humanity as our energies are amplified through the portal that is opening. I am the trance channel in our group. The words of a Native American medicine man come through me, speaking of our times, the prophecies and the omens that shall continue to lead the way.

 

West Germany – 1990 (Mother Meera)

I have come to see the Divine Mother. She has been awakened since she was a small girl in India, and freely gives transmissions of light. I have brain cancer and this is my last chance. We sit silently in rows of chairs, waiting. When she enters the room she is shrouded in silence and grace. All bow, many weep. We will approach one by one with reverence. She looks into your eyes, she heals you. I want to believe, but my ego is strong and my fear is deep. She knows. She sees it all. She loves me from the pure heart of Being. Tomorrow I go back to England.

 

Palestine – 2001 (Jihad)

We dance in the streets. The Great Satan was humbled when those towers crashed to the ground. Who would have thought it could happen now? God is great, God is great. Now they feel the power of our righteousness. They are punished for their sinfulness. We will bring the true faith to all the world in our times. We must live in accordance with the teachings of the prophet, with the ancient way and from the book. How else can we be truly religious, how else can we overcome the Western corruption? There will be more blood. Our martyrs will be glorified. There is a world beyond this world and there is no greater honor there than to die in the service of God.

 

Philadelphia – 2003 (Neuroscience and Buddhism)

We sit in the neuroscience laboratory in our monk’s robes – a long way from Tibet, but we want to participate. When we enter the deepest stages of meditation we tug on the string. The radioactive tracer then injected into my bloodstream allows the scientists to see which areas of the brain are active and which are not in this meditative absorption. They said that yesterday the nuns from another tradition were here in deep prayer. I let go of all thoughts of the experiment now and surrender to the sense of timelessness, vast open space, a sense of being submerged in all that is, compassion in my heart, lucid clarity in my mind—my body, the body of the universe. Later on the data from the fMRI is fascinating to all of us.

 

Boston – 2004 (Catholic Scandal)

 I don’t know how to make sense of my faith. The Church has paid out tens of millions now to the victims of pedophile priests in our diocese, and we hear there will be millions more in other cities. All of that betrayal, abuse, perversion – how does it make sense in the context of being a man of the cloth? I am in turmoil because now I am finally acknowledging it. I was also molested by my priest. Fear, shame, grief, and outrage fill me – but also a kind of relief. I didn’t understand what it was at the time, and I didn’t think I could tell anyone, or that the Father could be at fault. But now I understand. Now I know why I never want to have sex with my husband. I still go to mass. I pray for those grown-up victimized children with such terrible scars. I pray for those sick priests, and I pray that I will find a way to reconcile this horror with all the good things the church has given me. I still go to confession – admitting to the incredible rage and the fantasies now of how I would hurt those predators. Perhaps something deep down needs to change in how we think about God and sexuality and the priesthood. Tomorrow I will look for a psychotherapist and a lawyer.

 

Brentwood – 2006 (The Secret)

I just watched the most amazing movie. All my favorite authors and teachers were in it. I am so excited that the Universe has brought them together to create this important piece of spiritual cinema. This will transform the world by bringing people out of the story of their victim consciousness. Everything happens for a reason, and everything is a manifestation of your thoughts. It’s so old paradigm to protest the war, don’t people realize yet that protesting just gives it more energy – better to ignore it and focus on what you want to create. We all deserve to be wealthy and happy and in love, everything is perfect as it is, and we have complete power though our perceptions and intentions. With our minds we can cure disease, manifest wealth, overcome any obstacle. We literally create our own reality in alignment with the universe. It’s so beautiful how quantum physics is finally proving psychic abilities, time travel, and the power of thought.

 

Santa Monica – 2009 (One Version of Yoga in the West)*

We start in meditation posture. Breathing. Bringing awareness into the present. Feeling our bodies. Taking the time to begin to weave sacred space together – a space to explore, to express, to practice. A community space set apart from the rest of our lives, in which each of us can open up, can ask – what is true today? With what am I struggling and what feels good to me right now? Then we light the physiological fire in the belly. We do abdominal work, strengthening the core, with disciplined determined minds we make the body stronger by staying present when we feel weak. In the same way we cultivate clarity of mind by observing the patterns of distraction, denial and disconnection. The yoga postures flow one into the next. Some feel exquisite, some are really difficult. We do not seek to overcome the body, mind or heart – rather to experience them fully as we work with the line between intention and surrender. We take turns in our community: sometimes I am the one who needs to weep, other times I am laughing, sometimes my energy is low and I rest often – respecting my limitations, other times I am the one fluid and on fire. Each aspect of the practice takes us into a kind of alchemical process that works with biochemistry, brain states, the nervous system and the experiential richness of energy and consciousness. Then we transition into dance. This is unlike any other kind of experience. To be in supportive community, with the space set-up so that we feel we can be authentic, playful, sexy, awkward, cathartic, or whatever moves though us, as an extension of spiritual practice, is so healing, so liberating. Finally we rest in deep relaxation—bodies buzzing, hearts wide open, minds at peace, and we hear the evocative words of soulful mystic poetry guiding us deeper.

 *My own…

 

An Evolving Relationship To Life

The development of human culture is intimately woven through with gestures of worship, ritual and ecstatic awe. These self-aware gestures express an evolving consciousness that crossed a threshold some 110, 000 – 49, 000 years ago in the myth-laden cave-bear rituals of the Swiss Alps. What arose in that prototypical spirituality was a level of symbolic activity that continues to evolve in all cultures and times: from bear-skull altars and cave-paintings to elaborate cathedrals and enormous statues, from scratches in the sand to stone-age scriptures to astrological maps of the heavens to contemporary best-selling pop spirituality books and DVDs.

Now a new vision of spirituality is possible. One that is able to look through the lens of the myriad of previous perspectives, interpret their meaning and make sense of both their shadow and light.

We are evolving, and so too should our spirituality. Human beings are hardwired to seek meaning. Fields of study as diverse as anthropology, philosophy, psychotherapy and neuroscience testify to this fact. We look for relationships between our inner and outer worlds, and interpret cause and effect in ways empirical, symbolic and superstitious. We struggle with uncertainty, randomness, death and the presence of evil, both in ourselves and in the world.

Like everything else we know about, spirituality goes through stages of development, and those stages reflect a kind of cultural evolution, but as we saw above, the myths and rituals of our human journey address not only specific cultural and geographical circumstances, but also a universal set of human concerns and anxieties.

There is another way that spirituality is like everything else: as it develops it can have not only growing pains but also be susceptible to sickness, and there are expressions of spirituality that, while they might make sense at one stage of development are seriously problematic at another stage. Were your neighbor to send you an invitation to the sacrifice of his virgin daughter on the next full moon, you would no doubt be both concerned and outraged. Likewise, the belief that martyrs who sacrifice themselves in the killing of unbelievers will be rewarded by God in the Paradise with 72 virgins strikes a false chord in our global town square, as might the assertion that doctors at abortion clinics should be fair game for snipers or that something like HIV could be avoided by the magical “power of intention.”

We have this fascinating capacity for generating myth and archetype in an attempt to make over-arching sense of reality. On a psychological level, this spiritual activity can serve both a defensive and a developmental function – it can be a way of denying things we’d rather not face like death, injustice and chance, but can also teach us a way of learning to tolerate these things with grace and honesty. As such it is equally the domain of insight, liberation, ecstasy, freedom and compassion and their opposites: delusion, limitation, suffering, bondage and violence. The legacy of torture, holy war and blood sacrifice that is a significant part of the story above should be taken seriously, yet it stands side by side with messages of peace and love and with accounts of extraordinary states of illumination and grace.

Part of our story too, has to do with the world becoming ever smaller. The cultures, values and beliefs of the East, West and Middle East are in more mutually impacting relationships than ever before. In this post-911world we stand at a critical crossroads that represents a crisis of meaning. This crisis may be defined not only by a clash of cultures, but also by a kind of developmental arrest of the inner-life. For reasons we will explore, spirituality has gotten disconnected from the rapidly evolving world it should reflect.

 

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