‘We need to observe how we lose Christianity, how we lose the energy of God,’ writes Jacob Needleman in his wonderful book, ‘Lost Christianity’.
The book has been a kind and insightful companion to me for over thirty years now.
And one human problem he highlights is the confusion in the world between cause and result. This can be particularly acute in the religious sphere and you may recognise what I describe.
To experience love for my neighbour or for God; to be virtuous, to find resilience, to possess purity of heart, to show compassion or wisdom – these are all results.
They don’t just occur, any more than a rainbow or a wave just occurs – they are the results of particular transactions inside us.
And all corruption of tradition begins with the confusion and mixing up of inner work with the results of inner work.
Let us take the example of Jesus. He saw clearly that Judaism had fallen into this confusion and that no one was practicing the inner discipline for its own sake, free of the expectation of results.
In the religion he encountered, it was all about the results, the virtue on display.
Faith traditions often turn results into the obligations; rather than the inner work that leads to results. And so they tend towards the moralistic, the judging and the dishonest.
If a stone is to flow (result) it must first become water (cause). Telling a stone to be water is not helpful unless you first show the stone how this might occur.
Great confusion and pain is placed in people when purity of intention – a love for the Good – is demanded in those, like myself, who only sporadically will the good.
If purity of intention is demanded, then it must be accompanied by a workable and psychological knowledge of everything in the human which resists, or covers over, such purity of heart.
Or else we simply impose a heavy burden on people, as Jesus pointed out to the Pharisees.
(History suggests strongly that saying ‘You should pray more’ does nothing other than increase the sense of failure, the sense of burden..)
And so sooner or later, the individual pays the price. With impossible obligations imposed on us – asked to be something we cannot be – there is dissonance within, which endless ‘forgiveness’ doesn’t really deal with.
A discreet dishonesty may be employed by folk in the public arena, to cover over the cracks. Aware of the obligations, we may, over coffee, pretend to be more pure than we are.
But a life of pretence is a million miles from the original vision.
In desperation, we hope to be saved by an experience of God, rather than seeking the God of experience. God is here in the dissonance if we allow it.
A significant shift now occurs. More subtle than the experience of God is the experience of myself.
More needful to me than the power of God is the power of listening to myself. And we may need help with this, because most of us have unknowingly been trained not to listen.
And so we begin to reclaim our faith story; we place the horses before the cart rather than the other way round. We start with the cause not the result; with inner work rather than outward manifestations.
We no longer need to pretend.
If a stone is to flow, it must first become water…
…or what hope has it got?