As one who can only aspire to be a Lay Cistercian, my purpose is to seek God by moving from self to God. That word, moving, is actually key to my attempts. Here are some of my reflections on moving from self to God. One of the monks at Holy Spirit, in our most recent retreat (2018) told us that a big reason monks come to the monastery or Lay Cistercians join a group dedicated to Cistercian practices and charisms is conversion. Conversion means growing from our old self to our new one, denying ourselves, taking up our cross daily, and following Christ. Conversion of life is movement. For me, conversion of self to God is a process, one that includes using the Cistercian Way, not a final state of attainment in my lifetime. The journey is the important thing because that is what I wake up to every morning. Each day is a lifetime, each day begins by making all things new. Like any journey, you need to know where you are going, have a good reason to be on the trip, and prepare for it with food and water, and appropriate transportation. St. Paul calls it a race in Philippians 3 and adds that the reason for his race is that Christ won the race for all of us.
“Quo Vadis Latin for, ‘Where are you going?’; according to a legend first found in the apocryphal Acts of St Peter, the apostle Peter, fleeing the persecutions in Rome, met Christ on the Appian Way and asked him ‘Domine, quo vadis [Lord, where are you going]’. Receiving the reply that Christ was going to be crucified again, Peter understood that this would be in his place; he accordingly turned back and was martyred.
The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/quo-vadis
Our destiny is not pre-destined, it seems. Our human will can make changes to our behavior, which is the essence of what we call free choice. Some choices are good for us, and some are bad for us. As a loving Father, God sent His Son to tell us what is good for us and what will lead us to live Forever.
In my Lectio Divina (Phil 2:5), I thought of the whole concept of pole reversal (don’t ask why, I never know why), and how in our physical world, the North and the South poles have actually reversed in the long history of our planet. I was thinking that everything is bound together as, physical, mental, and spiritual universes. What happens in one universe happens in all of them, although substantially different and in accordance with the Laws of each Universe.
LAWS OF THE UNIVERSE
THE PHYSICAL UNIVERSE –– Laws, as I understand them, are those principles from which reality flows and which help us explain why things are and how they might be. We muse mathematics, physics, and chemistry, the languages that help us discover what reality is and how matter and energy behave. I still have a problem with Time, but at least it is effected and affected by matter and energy. Scientific thought processes measure what is and make conclusions and deductions based on facts (at least those that we hold to be true until further evidence proves them wrong). The scientific human is a tidy thinker, like an accountant. Everything must be in its proper place. Science cannot measure the future but can extrapolate what it might be, using the best evidence to date. If I tell you that humans are the only sentient beings in the whole known universe, you begin the computations (e.g., The Drake Equation) to prove that there could be extraterrestrial life out there, but we have no scientific proof of it, what we do have is logic and probability, which suggests that there may be (I stress the may) life out there. You can’t rule it out. What has just happened is our projection of what we know to what we don’t know. Science says there may be something out there called Dark Matter and Dark Energy, although we have not seen it. So here the physical universe benefits from the mental universe (the domain of human reason, collectively and individually).
MENTAL UNIVERSE — The mental universe is one reserved for reasoning beings only. Dogs and cats, elephants, and kangaroos are not part of this universe. Have you ever asked your dog a question, such as, what time is it? Did you get an answer? Animals have an animal nature. They share our DNA, they are oxygen-breathing like us, and they reproduce like us, but they are not us. Why is that? Is there some grand design that we can’t quite pull together, something that makes all reality fit together? So far, we have talked about two-thirds of reality, most of it visible and measurable. When we factor in the mental universe, there are some laws that are not scientific but more subjective and open to interpretation. Science doesn’t play well in this playground. Too nebulous. They are correct, it is too obtuse sometimes. This is the world where we find meaning and purpose to life, where we find out our purpose in life, where we use all of our knowledge to discover what reality looks like, where we use our mental processes and our history to make sense of reality and to begin to ask questions about how all of this fits together, to discover how to love fiercely, and finally, we know we will die, now what? Only humans can look at the universe and ask what is it and how is it? Unique people, like the late Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking, have advanced enough to peer into how it all fits together.
In just looking around on television, the most unlikely of venues to discover what is meaningful on the planet, I came up with four different ways of thinking about what is of value. I base this on the story of the blind men of Hindustan as they are each asked to describe an elephant. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bJVBQefNXIw I use all the following languages of being because they have led me to a deeper appreciation of my humanity and where I fit in it. As such they are the bases of the assumptions about why I relate to an unseen God and, actually more important, how I do it each day to grow in my humanity.
THE SCIENTIFIC APPROACH-– This is an approach that stresses a rigorous analysis of physical matter using the languages of mathematics, physics, the geologic sciences, statistics, and scientific analyses through position papers. I use this approach as part of my combination of languages to look at reality and try to figure out what being fully human using our next level of evolution might be. The Achilles heel of science is that it only uses the languages of science (only recently acquired through advances in the last hundred years) to look at matter and its properties while denying invisible reality. For me, it is good for what it does, but, it does not have the energy to lift me up to the next level of my consciousness.
THE HISTORICAL APPROACH--I use this approach to search for people who have actually existed and are not fictitious. Do you know Orville Kahl? Orville is deceased and was a television technician in my hometown of Vincennes, Indiana on 6th Street. Orville fixed Muntz televisions way back in the early ’60s.
My point here is, you probably don’t know Orville or his life story, but he did exist and was not a figment of my imagination. I could probably look up on the Internet to find Orville but with great difficulty. The longer Orville lived (one hundred to two hundred years ago) we tend to blur all those fine details about him, if anyone even remembers his name. The Catholic Church of 2023 is much different from the Church of the Apostles. This was a time of transition from the Old Testament to the New Testament, of moving beyond the Temple in Jerusalem to the New Jerusalem which encompasses the whole world. It is the same Church and we can trace back people who lived in some instances.
THE CONCEPTUAL APPROACH– Much of what I think about Jesus and the Holy Spirit is conceptual. I have not seen their historical faces, yet I know that they have a profound presence in my life. I have not seen the face of Hugh of Lincoln, but I know he exists through the historical approach. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Hugh-of-Lincoln You may not have ever heard of Hugh of Lincoln. Does that mean he never existed? I hope not. I use the scientific and conceptual approaches most of the time. I postulate about the “spine of reality” that Teilhard de Chardin has as a way to see the continuity and maturation of consciousness from creation to Omega. Is this true? Wrong question for me. I ask, “How can this lead me to use The Christ Principle” to discover deeper meaning about what it means for me to be a human being. You wouldn’t believe where I have been in the depths of my mind. I liken it to, but only a fraction of, what the late Steven Hawking was able to do in his mind with theoretical mathematics and physics. What a mind! Like the scientific approach, this theoretical approach of concepts is based on going to places the mind has dared not travel before and asking the interrogatories.
THE LITERARY APPROACH –– This most popular approach to describing what is meaningful takes the form of classic myth forms (see Joseph Campbell and Mircea Eliade), stories, similies, fables, archetypal books like Genesis and The Gospel of St. John), plus any other cognitive approach to punch deeper into reality to unleash the buried treasures of archetypes, types, heroes and heroines, Saints, and models of what it means to be fully human as nature intended. It is the human way of communicating what is but cannot be seen, what might be but is just beyond making sense out of it. Myth, far from being a fairy tale is the more intense and archetypal literary device humans have to postulate a reason why we show up on this planet in this time with just the right combination of gases and protections for life to move (intelligent progression).
The Old Testament writings and New Testament fulfillment are designed as a HOW TO book on what to do and NOT do to relate to God. Each age looks at the invisible reality they term God with different lenses. At one point, God is El Shaddai (on the mountain top as with Moses). As they gained experiences of what was true, Israel wrestles with weaving down the path of the covenant, in and out of belief, ups and downs of awareness that God even exists. It sounds like our age is still engaged in that game of yo-yo. In the New Testament, what was true became not keeping the Law but reading about it (although that was a stage in our awareness of God). Christ came as one to tell us and show us that the Law is not wrong so much as people have not moved from the notion of covenant for a select people, to that select people taking the Word made Flesh to the World and sharing it with those who are not Jewish. All of us are Jewish in our roots (the root of Jesse) but are not Zionists.
Against this development in complex emphases, the early Church termed itself catholic and is open to all humans of all races at all times to the possibility of the manifest ability of The Christ Principle in their individual lives. This is true as long as the individual accepts Absolute Truth as the template against which everything is measured. Not everyone will see this truth, nor agree on what truth is (Pilate’s famous question to Christ, “What is Truth?” Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. If I have Christ in me, and the only way I do that is to put it there EACH AND EVERY DAY.
The Covenant of the Old Testament is my covenant, although it has progressed through New Testament, The Church Universe to this very day.
The Covenant with Christ exists, not twenty centuries ago, but right now for me. I have the Scriptures, Writings of the Early Church (Apostles), Ecumenical and Regional Councils through the ages, and Magisterium all to safeguard the truth for me today, the same one Christ is teaching me right now in my heart of hearts (Matthew 6:5).
My Covenant with Christ began with Baptism with water, when The Father and Holy Spirit shadowed me with their living spirit of truth. I have had to unravel what that Baptismal moment means using all of these languages. Am I correct? I Hope so (upper case is significant).
THE CORRUPTION OF TRUTH
All of these approaches to truth are based on a reality that is corrupt (physically, mentally, and even spiritually). As such, truth exists in a human condition that has a beginning and an ending. Science is corrupt because the theories of today might not hold up to the advances of human evolution and AI in the future. This is not to say they are incorrect now, as much as they are not absolute truth, admitting of no change and remaining the same in all three universes (physical, mental, and spiritual).
It is my contention that there is no absolute truth except in the divine nature of God. When Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” he is not using the words that we use to describe reality. As the Son of God and our friend, God tells me that I must dump all my preconceived notions to embrace something that my reasoning says can’t possibly be true. Scripture calls this “kenosis” (Philippians 2:5) or emptying of self. When I look at all of the fallacies of the world, one without absolute truth, everything is relative. Science seeks to remedy this by using a way to look at the reality that rises above individual opinions. I like that. My problem has always been that it doesn’t look at everything in its “theory of everything.” Absolute truth exists outside of the human condition or nature and is actually pure energy, the truth of knowledge, love, and of service, yet one nature that is not human nor animal.
I speculate that God (being pure service or sharing) “cannot not” become more in its nature as an end product, so we have the heavenly choirs of angels, Archangels, and the “spine of reality,” as described by Teilhard de Chardin, and ultimately humans (or any other species out there somewhere). Because the source of all that is is God as creator, God’s fingerprints (DNA) are within each atom, molecule, galaxy, Sun, Plante, Earth, living things, animal nature, and human nature.
SPIRITUAL UNIVERSE– The question that has dogged humans since they first knew that they knew is, is that all there is? We do well in our Western culture with what we can see. We do not handle what is invisible very well. Most of what is meaningful is invisible, so it is difficult for the scientific approach to make sense of it.
I need the physical universe as a base for existing. I need the mental universe as a way to make sense of the physical universe and to self-reflect on why I am even here? All I have for tools is my life experiences and those languages I have learned to translate visible and invisible reality into something that I hope makes sense for my next level of evolution as a human, being an adopted son (daughter) of the Father now, and in the life that is incorruptible. It all sounds like a fairy tale. And so it is? Who would believe it, if the Resurrection Moment did not happen?
TWO DIMENSIONS OF TRUTH THAT ARE CONFOUNDING REASON
I have discovered in my own life that there are two bumps that have made me slow down in my thinking about visible reality alone as the only way to discover what exists.
THE FOUR QUESTIONS I ASK MYSELF
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO WAKE UP IN A CORRUPT WORLD AND TRY TO SWIM IN THE WATERS OF HUMAN IMPERFECTION? Include in this is: what are good behaviors and what are those behaviors, that, if I do them, will lessen, not strengthen my humanity? How do I use the most powerful animal urge I inherited from my past, the urge to procreate? Why is there evil in the world and where does it come from? Is there a force outside of myself that pulls me towards an unseen fulfillment of my humanity?
HOW CAN I GET THE POWER TO LIFT MYSELF UP TO THE NEXT LEVEL OF MY HUMAN EVOLUTION? What is my destiny? Is there an invisible part of like or am I condemned to live out existence with just what I can see and observe until I die? What part does Christ play in all this cacophony of seeming contradiction and bustling of self-proclaimed prophets that I should follow what they say to reach fulfillment for my human destiny?
WHAT IS ABSOLUTE TRUTH? Who can provide me with a truth beyond my freedom to choose? Why it is necessary for me to give away my YES and NO to a higher power to fulfill my humanity and raise me to the next level of my evolution?
HOW CAN I USE MY HUMAN REASONING AND ABILITY TO CHOOSE WHAT IS GOOD FOR ME TO ACCESS THE DIVINE EQUATION AND RECEIVE CORRECT ANSWERS. I plop into the lifeline of life for seventy to eighty years (82.8) as the only one who ever lived. I have my whole lifetime to discover the meaning or purpose of life, what my purpose in life is, what is the scope of reality, how it all fits together, how I can love fiercely, and what I must do until I die to maintain meaning.
If there is no God, which is hypothetical in my case, I will have answered, at least partially, what my next step in my evolution is and lived here and now with peace, the prosperity of spirit, love of neighbor (still a struggle), and the happiness of knowing that I am part of resonance of the totality of all that is, rather than the dissonance of not knowing, loving or serving humanity.