Sunday, March 18, 2012

Diving Deeper 2

Looking back on my life I can say that it has been journey in many senses : physical in so far as one moves through space from one geographical position to another; linear or chronological as one moves through time from one day to another; emotional as one deals with this or that relationship, this or that grief; psychological as one comes to terms with one's mental or developmental growth as a person; moral as one learns to judge between what are essentially good or bad actions; social as one learns to interact with and rely on others, and finally spiritually as one learns to connect deeply with what makes life meaningful for one on an authentic level.

Deepening the Questions

Self as a young religious - a former life!
The maverick priest and guru Fr Tom Hamill always says that the way to develop oneself is to "deepen the questions," and forget about "easy answers."  Way back at college when I was a young student of 18 or 19 years, Fr Patrick Wallace, our Director of Studies, used always say, "I will be happy if you get few if no answers to what you are exploring because there are no easy answers to the complex questions of life."  He also used to say that what we got by deep study of any issue might be "a deeper form of question." How perspicacious and indeed wise, good old Fr Paddy was.  Hence I chose the metaphorical title "Diving Down" for this short sequence of posts.  It appears now that what I have been doing in the last twenty years is diving down into the mysterious abyss which I as a person really am.  Oftentimes in the murky darkness we find shadows and demons from our past.  This is par for the course as getting to know oneself requires courage.  We have to face our faults and failings as well as our strengths when we start out to discover who we really are.

Another image or metaphor that appeals to me is that of peeling each succeeding layer of an onion.  Getting to know the Self is an inside journey rather than an outside one.  This is the goal of spirituality, that is to connect with the deeper or inner Self.  On the other hand, religion if it offers anything, it is community support, and sustenance for the spiritual journey within that particular religion.

Self with fellow novices - early 1980s - a former life!
Written about the year 400, the Rule of St. Augustine is one of the earliest guides for religious life. A short document, it is divided into eight chapters and we had to study closely this document when we were members of the Order of St. Augustine.  I spent three happy years in that particular order and over that time I deepened my knowledge of myself and at the time I believed I had deepened my knowledge of God.  I believed at the time that I was engaged in a sort of triadic relationship with Self, Others and God and that the three intersected.  To a great extent I still believe in this triadic structure of relationships.  At this stage in my life I have ceased believing in a personal God and now I believe in some Ground of Being, some Energy behind the Universe, some Mystery which really isn't personal at all in any sense that we may understand this word.  The Spiritual Ground or Energy or Force which knits this world together may be a great universal consciousness into which each of us little consciousnesses dissolve upon our death.  However, this is mere speculation and it really does not matter a whit.  What really matters is living a purposeful life in the here and now, a life which is centered on authenticity of being and indeed on authenticity of inter-being, of going with the flow, of adding our energy to the energy of others for the benefit and well-being of the planet and all creatures who live off her bounty.

Anyway, returning to chapter 1 section two of The Rule of St Augustine we read: "The main purpose for you having come together is to live harmoniously in your house, intent upon God in oneness of mind and heart."  When I was a member of the Augustinian Order here in Ireland we interpreted this rule to mean that we journey to God together in community and we support each other in getting to know God.  Of course, not all Christians or Buddhists or Hindus live in community, but they all have their own particular practices of worship or liturgy or prayer together by way of getting to know their "God."  So Religion (or Church) is about being a People of God (as Vatican 2 described the Church giving us one of the great models of The Christian Church, see Avery Dulles, SJ, Models of the Church) who support each other on the way to what they believe is the Uncaused Cause or Creator of the world.  In short, what we have here is a Religion as a sociological phenomenon - here we have a major group of people who find meaning in life through their acceptance of a specific Creed of major beliefs.  The group confirms each member in his/her identity and offers them sustenance for their journey through life.  In a sense, I believe that Religion fulfils a need in the lives of those who believe or who practise the specific tenets of a particular religion or church.

When the Spiritual Need is Met

Self attempting to play the guitar after I had left the Augustinians
It strikes me as I grow older that Religion as such is a sociological phenomenon as well as one which sustains people psychologically also.  If it sustains you either socially or psychologically, I say simply "bully for you.!"  If anything indeed, let be legal and non-injurious to self and others, of course, sustains you either socially and/or psychologically, then continue with it, I say.  However, I have reached a stage in my personal development where organized religion does simply nothing for me.  I look to literature, drama, philosophy, certain areas of theology, namely political and liberation theology, meditation and community involvement for spiritual nourishment.  In this regard, I find I am at one with what Sir kenneth Dover said   to the late Professor Anthony Clare during one of his inspiring programmes of The Psychiatrist's Chair.III (Chatto & Windus, 1998)   Well Sir Kenneth was at the time an outstanding expert on Ancient Greece, still possessed of a keen intelligence and sharp analytic mind and had written much in his area of expertise. Also he had had a distinguished administrative career – being a Professor of Classics, President of Corpus Christi College, Oxford and later Chancellor of St Andrew’s University. Clare in his commentary on this particular interview wrote interestingly that “Dover represented a typical example of one of the great stereotypes; some might say caricatures of our time with the emotions of a laptop computer.” (Clare, op.cit., p 81) However, while I have little sympathy and no empathy at all for the cold fish that was Sir Kenneth, I am heartily in agreement with him where he states that he simply "grew out of religion."  It has been likewise with me. (See Still Point, obit. Telegraph and obit. The Guardian )

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