Fame? Hah. Money? Hah-hah. Creative compulsion? Um, closer. But one of the real reasons I like to write books is being able to have conversations with like-minded souls, such as artist/philosopher/writer Patricia Herron, whom I had the good-fortune to chat with at the south Salem Beanery coffee shop this afternoon.
Right away I knew that we had been around the same spiritual bends. That doesn’t mean either of us is close to our destination, but there was no doubt that we’ve traveled similar courses. It isn’t often that I can talk so smoothly about what is most succinctly described as “far out stuff” with someone I’ve just met. Yet I felt totally comfortable sharing experiences, ideas, frustrations, and god-knows-what-else in our 90 minutes together.
I think Patricia is a candidate for membership in a new church that Laurel and I have often talked about forming: the Church of the Churchless. This would be a place for the placeless, a congregation for those who have no one else to congregate with. We’d have no dogmas, no rituals, no clergy, no sacred texts. We’d just be people seeking metaphysical truth who can’t feel truly comfortable in any existing religious or spiritual organization.
[P.S. in November: this posting was the spark that led me to open a cyberspace Church of the Churchless--the door is open and sermons in praise of spiritual independence have begun to be preached. All are welcome.]
Huge crowds wouldn’t flock to the Church of the Churchless. Most seekers of the divine are happy belonging to whatever they belong to, and believing whatever comes along with that belonging. Then there are people like Patricia, Laurel, and me who can’t be content with ceremonies, concepts, blind faith, hierarchies that come between us and the absolute reality that we believe is not only within us—we’re darn sure it is us.
This morning I started re-reading one of Bernadette Roberts’ books, The Path to No-Self: Life at the Center. Roberts is a modern mystic who seemingly has had some profound transformational experiences and writes about them with great honesty and clarity. She likes to use St. John of the Cross and other Christian mystics to help her understand her inner experiences. Today I came across something I hadn’t thought of before: alone is al-one. “Al,” my dictionary tells me, has an Indo-European root meaning of “beyond.” But I prefer to think of “Al-one” in an Arabic sense, The One.
If the best name for God is the One, as Plotinus and countless other mystics say it is, then a person has to be absolutely al-one to know Al-One. “Alone to the alone,” says Plotinus. That’s not exactly the stuff that most people consider spiritual dreams to be made of, but I’m convinced that it is exactly the path that leads most directly to Truth with a capital “T.”
However, aloneness is scary. Hardly anyone likes to be physically alone for very long, isolated from other people. And mental aloneness is even scarier, existing without the companionship of all the thoughts, emotions, conceptions, imaginations, images, and what-not that usually continually course through our consciousnesses and keep us company. Roberts says that this is a big part of what produces the Dark Night of the Soul—the realization that all of our beliefs are just that, beliefs. Not reality. Not a solid foundation that will support us when death comes. Not direct experience of what lies beyond all that we know now. Just beliefs. Shadows, reflections, mirages, nothing to be counted on.
Strangely, as Patricia and I talked about today, it is Nothing with a capital “N” that we can count on, for real reality is beyond any and all conceptions of it. So if we have the guts to set aside all that we currently take to be real, but isn’t, what is left is… Well, who can say? I’ve haven’t experienced it. But whatever it is, I am almost 100% sure that it isn’t anything that can be put into words, thoughts, or images, or anything else that can be shared with other people.
Mysticism is really strange. That’s why it’s mystical. All the great mystics say that it takes being truly al-one, separated from all that is physical and all that is personal, to realize that we aren’t alone at all, but one with Al-One—the One, God.
Well, I guess this is my first sermon from the Church of the Churchless. Unlike typical sermons, you’re free—no, encouraged—to disagree with it. To stamp your feet, hiss and boo, walk out on it. The only mortal sin recognized by the Church of the Churchless is blind faith, accepting someone else’s words at face value, not using your own god-given reason and intuition to sort out truth from falsehood.
Patricia suggested that I consider submitting an essay for a book that she and some other folks are putting together that examines the Integral theories of Ken Wilber in comparison with literature “from all periods, all cultures and languages.” Hey, I’ve read several of Ken Wilber’s books, and you certainly can drive Plotinus through the wide open door of all periods, all cultures and languages.
I feel another sermon coming on.