“Do not let the old get in the way of the new, but reveal what the old was saying all along”Richard Rohr
It’s really cool these days to bash the old, while advocate for the new, assuming it is superior. Mocking and ridiculing the old is something of a modern past-time. In spiritual circles, this often takes the form of bashing religion.
And yet, in the sphere of mysticism, it’s much more worthwhile to suspend the bashing, while humbly exploring what the old could have meant.
There is an unalterable truth in the old (perhaps misunderstood and misapplied, perhaps mistranslated or misrecorded), but there is sacred value in it, to be honored and discovered rather than arrogantly discarded. We are not any better than the people who came before us…
This has been especially pertinent for me lately.
Many of us on the mystical journey have experienced the big overwhelming love for everyone and everything. It feels like a condition that comes to us, which overtakes us, directed by a seemingly external orchestrator. Some of us have also experienced God (or however you conceptualize God), and felt divine love coming to us from some external source. These are rare mystical states, and they involve great, albeit temporary, shifts in consciousness. They are experiences of altered states, not the normal state of being.
The mystical writings however, all describe another aspect of this. They speak of loving God, not as something that overtakes us from outside, but as a doing – as something we must do.
This always felt weird to me. I can’t force myself to love anything, even God. What could they possibly be talking about?
I’ve written a bit about my experiences of God before. At times, I have felt immense love; love that was coming from me for God – part of the awe, reverence, service feelings, part of the involuntarily sense of total worship and allegiance. But again, those involve a shift in consciousness outside my control, and I can’t recreate those feelings in normal states. Love for God is not a feeling that is available to me on any regular basis. I can’t access it in any way. Even when prayer and divine connection was available to me regularly, that didn’t exactly bring love for God as a feeling. So how am I supposed to love God, as a proactive thing? No idea.
I didn’t understand what they were talking about, and my mind wanted to dismiss it as “old.” (There are different levels of mystical maturity, and it’s really easy to come across and immediately dismiss teachings as misguided conceptual understanding, but I didn’t want to do that with this. I wanted to understand it.).
One of the big areas I’ve been working through for a few years now, which seems to have at least a hundred layers to it, has to do with trust and betrayal. I’ve written a little bit about how these things inform and block faith in another post. But faith, which I’ve been working on diligently, is also a different feeling than love. In altered states, they come together at times, but faith isn’t love. It feels different.
So first, my betrayal work was all about people – lovers, family, friends, all sorts of past life relationships. I’ve been betrayed in every which way the human mind can imagine. I have re-experienced an incredible array of human suffering, and betrayals are often part of those stories. I have cried, and cried, and cried, without end, healing and digesting these wounds.
Then, when I had run through all sorts of human betrayals, I started to experience layers of betrayal by spirit. The experiences started to take a different turn, involving lies, false promises, false instructions and misdirections, by many different manifestations of spirit. This is a normal part of the purification work, but it still hurts a lot.
Betrayals by spirit really shake the ground pretty hard, because they create the sense that all of existence is untrustworthy. That, then, creates a terrible discomfort and existential crisis, which takes time and patience to digest all the way through.
Then, when those layers were reasonably clear, I hit something huge. I hit betrayal by God, being forsaken by God… Those are big big words I never imagined I’d be writing about, much less experiencing.
Feeling betrayed by God is the weirdest most complicated set of feelings yet. I trusted God. I put my complete faith in him. (It’s a “him,” for the moment, but that’s also a different issue.). I surrendered myself to him entirely, and he betrayed me. He abandoned me, but this is more than abandonment. There is another quality to this that I can’t exactly articulate. It’s deeper than abandonment.
This wound is enormous. Enormous! And ancient; it echos over and over, seemingly throughout time. It informs every aspect of my present mental landscape. It pushes up skepticism in almost every circumstance. It stands stubbornly in the way of faith. And as a result, the pain and defensive mechanisms left me feeling like a powerless mouse, pressed up against a corner of a cage, unable to trust anyone or anything again. There’s a lot of anger and fear inside that mess.
And because I exist in God’s world, what can I do? You cannot break up with God. (Believe me, I’ve tried. My rage, and anguish, and tears didn’t do anything.).
There is also another aspect to this wound, which has to do with trusting something that causes you harm (or allows serious unspeakable sort of destructions to happen to you), but that is a different struggle. This particular area is a separate thing entirely. (I’ve also cleared tons of projections onto God, and this wasn’t that either.)
So, more work. Night and day, for weeks.
I took this apart entirely, and when I finally got all of it out, something amazing happened. I saw a tiny tiny spark of the possibility of loving and trusting God again!!
When I digested all the pain through fully, clearing all the layers of wounds, and started to approach forgiveness and reconciliation, there was a new sliver of light. All of my pain had left, revealing something I never imagined possible. This wasn’t a shift in consciousness, but a totally sober condition, which brought a feeling of conscious choice.
If I opened my heart again, if I took a risk and trusted God again, if I let myself really really love God (as the mystics have instructed), that love would absolutely overwhelm me and sweep me off my feet. It’s so massive inside. It’s like an all-encompassing infinite tidal wave of love for God, and with that, for all of life.
The choice would be a literal allowing myself to fall madly in love with God (again). It’s really scary to actually allow it. It feels risky and terrifying. There’s lots of resistance, and wanting to hold on to an illusion of safety in the current darkness, and of course, that familiar jumping-into-an-abyss feeling comes up.
I’ve begun unlocking the door. I’m not 100% ready to open it yet, but I’m getting there.
More importantly, I get it now; I get the instruction about loving God, as a doing. Like much of spiritual wisdom, it turns out that this is also a destination of healing, when all the layers are peeled away.
It’s a thing we are meant to aim for, and being unable to merely do it on the surface, it’s suppose to push us deeper and deeper into ourselves, to find all the blocks that stand in the way. And then, when those blocks are cleared, we are to courageously choose it, when it becomes an available choice. I get it now. I’m not totally there yet, but I get it.
Many of the religious teachings that seem oh-so-silly at first are deeply deeply meaningful this way. They are misapplied dogmatically by people who remain at the surface and therefore misunderstand the real meaning, but the essence is right. I always feel stupid when I arrive at the depth of meaning, and realize I’ve been unnecessarily dismissing them in ignorance. (More lessons in humility.).
So now, “love God with all your heart” has become a spiritual instruction for me, and a very complicated and painful journey of its own.