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Theology School Musings #1
“Much of our Theology is toxic and immature.”
I was sitting across from a well studied Theologian and Psychotherapist, interviewing him for a paper I was writing for my Multi-Religious Theological Education & Leadership class, when he made this statement.
“What do you mean by that?” I asked.
“We begin the notion theologically of sin and redemption. But a good theology starts with original blessing and origin of divinity.”
Ouff. What a statement.
He then went on to clarify that “Christian theology generally, but especially academic theology, that is not informed by mystical experience is incomplete at best and distorted at worst… In this sense, I think most theology is immature because it has been almost wholly colonized by intellectual concerns rather than the fruit of spiritual transformation. It can also be toxic when it is used to frighten or shame Christians into submission rather than liberate their potential for human and divine love.”
Let’s talk about this.
Whether you agree or disagree, or don’t know enough about Christianity as a tradition to have an opinion, it’s interesting to consider these themes.
In the circles I’ve existed in, religion as a whole has often been criticised as focusing more on dogmatic belief systems that shame people and leave them with a guilty conscience, as opposed to empowering one into the realisation of greater spiritual truth.
Now while I think there are some aspects to this that can feel true, particularly for some people who grew up within ultra conservative religious contexts, I don’t think this is true across the board.
But I think as a whole, as far as Christianity is concerned, we can do better.
Isn’t that why church membership has on a whole been declining in the Western world?
Yet the number of people who’ve transitioned from ‘new age’ models of Spirituality to being ‘Jesus-believers” in the last few years is astounding.
As modern spiritual seekers, we need to experience real spiritual fruit and inner transformation, which within the Christian tradition, or rather through Christ, there is great potential for.
Is Christianity really devoid of practices?
Aside from prayer, contemplation, and acts of service to our communities (which I’d consider a devotional practice for many Christians or followers of Christ), there’s also ‘Christian Meditation’ - a whole world of Eastern Christian mysticism and practices that are, unfortunately, not well know to Protestants.
They were completely unknown to me until recently. Some practices I’ve discovered are not too dissimilar to the ones I found in Buddhism, Yoga Philosophy, and contemporary spiritual pathways.
Did the Christian saints and mystics of the olden days use these practices?
In my History of Christianity class I’ve been reading a lot about the early Mystics and Saints. I came across a Biography about St. Anthony, one of the first desert fathers to preach the path of asceticism. As a monk, he was deeply entrenched in practice, and preached the ascetic path as a way to realise the kingdom of god ‘within you’.
Do not be fearful when you hear of perfection, nor be surprised at the word, for it is not far from us, nor does it exist outside of us; perfection is within our reach, and the practice of it is a very easy matter if only we will it. The Greeks go abroad, even crossing the sea to become learned, but we have no need to go abroad for the sake of the kingdom of heaven, nor need we cross the sea for the sake of perfection; the Lord has already told us: "The kingdom of God is within you."
- Excerpt from Life of St. Anthony written by St. Athanasius
While I don’t advocate for asceticism in our postmodern age, I think we can learn a few things from St. Anthony and his commitment to realising the inner world of God while simultaneously serving all those who came to him for spiritual aid and healing.
On the matter of sin and redemption, recently in my Old Testament class, we were reflecting on the themes in Genesis (the first book in the bible).
In Genesis 1:27, it is said that God created humankind in his image.
To me this points to the divinity of the soul, or the ‘origin of divinity’ as the Theologian I interviewed recently said it.
The story of Adam and Eve and the fall from the Garden of Eden, to me speaks to our separation from God, and the creation of duality - with human beings now having a dual nature of human (ego mind) and divine (soul/higher self). In this sense we are spiritual beings living in a human body, but the divine part of ourselves is not ‘realised’… and so mostly we experience our humanness and operate through this lens, forgetting about our divinity all together.
When one becomes ‘enlightened’ or ‘self-realised’, they’ve removed the barriers of the ego mind/self, so the true divinity of the soul can unify with God and reveal itself within that person’s experience.
If you watched my interview with Monique Lume on Core Wounds published a few weeks ago, she spoke about “Separation from God'“ as being one of the universal core wounds we all experience subconsciously.
That’s what ‘sin’ is to me. It’s human error that drives us further away from God.
Put in another way, sin is a decision that is made from fear instead of love.
And let’s be honest… we’ve ALL made fear-based decisions stemming from the ego-mind.
Actually, our brain is biologically wired that way.
So in my view, it’s nothing to be ashamed about or feel guilty about.
It’s there for us to notice, and then choose again.
At our very core, we are love. We came from love, and we will return to love.
Now I don’t want to portray this idea that somehow the intellect is ‘bad’ and mystical experience is ‘good’.
I think the intellect plays an important role.
So far, everything that I am learning intellectually through my Divinity degree is actually deepening my devotion and faith.
I’m finding that while reading scripture, commentaries, or biographies like St. Anthony’s, participating in interfaith discourses, writing papers, etc… I’m having rich insights, realisations, and even moments of being moved so much that I start to cry.
Now that I’m understanding some of the historical events and contexts that shaped biblical times, I’m able to read scripture a little differently with more context and nuance, which has in turn facilitated new revelations and insights.
So the intellect can definitely serve us in the pursuit of spiritual truth.
I have also frequently seen in contemporary spiritual circles, stories about people like Jesus that are purely fictional and not grounded in any fact or evidence, told on the Internet as though they were factual truth.
ie. did Jesus really study with Himalayan masters in India? This is a theory that seems unlikely given what travel was like at that time in the world, with no supporting evidence that I’m aware of. Did Jesus and Mary Magdalene get married and have a child? Also a claim I’ve seen on the internet, and likely false… but we do know she was NOT a prostitute (you can thank Pope Gregory I for spreading that theory), she was definitely a devout and important follower of Jesus, and it’s very possible he taught her like he did the other disciples. She’s also described as being a patron of Jesus.
Anyway, my point is, intellectual pursuit can help us distinguish fact from fiction.
When combined with mystical experience and the desire to truly know God within oneself…
Spiritual transformation is inevitable.
What are your thoughts?
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PS. Thank you for your patience between published pieces as I work out my flow between clients, full time study, and TMM. My degree has been extremely “essay heavy”, so it’s been challenging showing up to write after already writing so much. With this being said, I’m thinking up alternative ways to show up here without doing so much writing. More podcast episodes perhaps? Transcriptions? Let’s see.
I appreciate your patience as I adjust to this new flow of work/study/life!