Reclaiming Spiritual Narrative
Postmodernism is a catch basin for many things, but one of them is a deep suspicion of grand narratives, whether it’s the sacred narrative of a religious tradition, an empire’s glorious history (e.g. manifest destiny), or the story of capitalism’s or communism’s necessity. Even science’s version of reality is held with suspicion by philosophical postmodernism.
There’s good reason for this. The keepers of these narratives have tended historically to hold all the cards. The narrative became little more than ideology and ideology can harden into fundamentalism. What is, in truth, an arbitrary extraction and reification of certain aspects of reality at the expense of other less compatible aspects of reality, becomes The Truth.
There is a deep commitment to constructionism (reality is constructed arbitrarily and the best we can do is piece together a version of reality that works for me), and perspectivism ( truth arises and changes according the perspective we bring to reality). This latter has been called “the myth of the framework”, (that is, truth is determined by how we frame reality, and what matters is making the frame conscious), while the traditional and modernist worldview hold more to the “myth of the given” (truth is revealed from on high).
This myth of the framework is so prevalent in academia that for anybody who has graduate level credentials it’s almost impossible to believe in anything as real. Everything is an arbitrary construction of meaning. One truth is as good and valuable as the next truth.
The challenge for progressive Christianity is that philosophical postmodernism has infiltrated the leadership. The grand narrative, for example, of the Judeo-Christian religion has pretty much been emptied of any authority. We might share the stories, but nobody really believes with any kind of conviction in a G_d who is acting providentially, through the processes of history, and individual lives, to bring about a cosmic transformation through, for, and by Love. When this happens to a religion it is dead, because it eviscerates any kind of conviction that one’s life is for something more than a series of personal choices based solely upon what works for each of us individually. When the heart of a religion is cut out, there ain’t nothing to pump the blood anymore. It becomes an exercise in rationality.
The medicine for this it seems to me is a return to the mystic life. I’ll write about the mystic experience in the next post, but let’s just say that the blood is not going to start flowing by thinking about faith anymore. (At least not thinking stripped of direct experience). That faculty has been exhausted. The church is running on fumes.
For now, let me say that I believe there is a way, based on direct experience of the sacred, to re-introduce the grand narrative. But unlike the old story characteristic of the traditional worldview, by which some were saved, some were condemned (based on beliefs), and minus the judgmental interventionist G_d, this would be a more roomy narrative, that would incorporate the best that science had to offer (minus the grand narrative of philosophical materialism). There would be multiple ways of telling this story, from every lineage and from new age spirituality. But the essential characteristics of a robust spiritual narrative would include:
1. Transcendent Mandate:
A feeling that are lives are for something bigger that transcends a life which consists of egoically engineering our lives based personal preferences and desires.
2. Connection to and Participation In a Greater Intelligence/Love.
A Greater Intelligence (and intelligences) and Greater Love is living in each of us as a felt presence urging us non-coercively to let go of everything that is not love. (See #5). This Intelligence/Love pervades the whole universe and as we become more open we will come to know this directly.
3. Unambiguous Commitment:
This requires a moment in time when we sincerely commit ourselves to allowing this transformational process and transformational Intelligence/Love to lead us into a new future. Nothing matters more than this. This felt sense gives our daily life depth and resonance.
A new, emerging future is experienced first as a real possibility, and second, as a genuine lure exerting a gracious beckoning, inspiration, and resourcing for our journey—a journey that will require sacrifice. This is accompanied by a felt sense that we are being led or guided by this Intelligence/Heart.
5. The Purge:
A central aspect of this sacrifice will be a commitment to a core practice of purging. This purge (of all that is not love) is an offering. We will know that the whole universe is participating in drawing from us all that gets in the way of love. This will involve healing trauma which has, in multiple ways, run and possibly, ruined our lives. (For example through addictions and other habitual ways of being).Shadow work is a core practice of purging.
6. Awakening to the Guidance:
We will be actively (i.e. consciously) tracking our own daily experience, not exactly for evidence, but rather for signs of this leading. Nothing will exceed in importance the willingness to go where we are led, and to organize our lives in such a way that we are free to follow this guidance.
7. The Discipline:
Our diet, and our physical, mental, and spiritual practices, will be adjusted quite naturally (but it wont be easy at first) to facilitate a state of openness.
8. Sacred Vocation:
We will feel in our soul that we are called to play an integral role in the unfolding of a new future, which begins with one’s own transformation. This is what our lives are for.
9. Death and Rebirth:
Through it all, we will know the paradox to be true, that only as we surrender ourselves to this transformation, we will find ourselves. Our creativity will come on line in alignment (coherence) with this deeper Intelligence/Love in such a way that we will make a unique contribution to the future that needs us in order to emerge.
10: Evolution: Spiritual evolution happens through this process, and we will experience our own evolution is an intimate expression of what the whole cosmos is about. The journey of transformation never ends.
This path may be interpreted through the language of a particular lineage, but doesn’t need to be.
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