I will seem simple to some when I say that, in my experience, spiritual movements that endure and attract people of positive intention and good will offer something worthwhile – a way of life, a supportive community, a common purpose, mystical insight, refuge in times of danger, meaningful shared work. Most of the spiritual traditions that I’ve encountered, experienced, or studied remind me of a Gospel story you may recall:
“And he [Jesus] cometh to Bethsaida; and they bring a blind man unto him, and besought him to touch him. And he took the blind man by the hand, and led him out of the town; and when he had spit on his eyes, and put his hands upon him, he asked him if he saw ought. And he looked up, and said, I see men as trees, walking. After that he put his hands again upon his eyes, and made him look up: and he was restored, and saw every man clearly. And he sent him away to his house, saying, Neither go into the town, nor tell it to any in the town.”
You and I forget that “we see through a glass, darkly” in our present condition. This is true across religions and spiritual traditions. So long as we lack clear vision and penetrating mind, we have no choice but to use those elements of our experience that seem to fit with our provisional understanding of the sacred mysteries and that those we encounter have some possibility of understanding. The scholastic dictum comes to mind: Quidquid recipitur ad modum recipientis recipitur. That which is received is received in the way that the recipient is able to receive it. We could almost substitute “perceive” for “receive”.
(As an aside, the story of Jesus healing the blind man reminds me very much of what Buddhists call enlightenment, expressed in a Semitic, Near-Eastern framework. Perhaps that’s a reflection for another day.)
Somewhere I wrote of the problems that arise when we are unable to look through and beyond the particular veils that cloak the sacred mysteries honored by whichever particular spiritual tradition one might follow. That’s not to say that there are no real, meaningful differences or conflicts among our various religious and spiritual traditions. I would be dishonest and disrespectful if I regarded other traditions in such a dismissive manner. Still, we do well to harken back to those first longings that inspired our shared spiritual journey.
To my estimation, the spiritual impulse was there in the heart and mind of the Neanderthal who gained some sort of insight in a handful of seashells or river-polished pebbles left beneath a tree that bore up the mortal remains of a friend or child or mate or leader. That same longing for the numinous and transcendent inspired whoever it was that carefully collected the remains of a Nalendi family and hid them away in the Chamber of Stars discovered in South Africa just a few years ago.
December 13, 2016