Sunday, December 16, 2012
THE POWER WITHIN
I have always liked the thinking and writings of those two early Christian scholars Clement and Origen of Alexandria. I only wish their more positive interpretation of Jesus’ teachings had won out in the history of the Christian Church. Sadly, that did not happen. Instead, the literalist Christians in the Roman and later Protestant traditions ultimately won out. The regrettable history of the Christian Church, at least in its so-called more traditional and conventional forms, for the most part has been an unhappy story of increasing dogmatism, loss of freedom, control and dependency. It is thus not at all surprising that so many people, especially in the West, have given up on Christianity and continue to leave the churches in droves. I don't blame them. Not at all.
Both Clement and Origen, as did the Hellenistic Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria, tended to interpret sacred scripture allegorically rather than literally. The key is this---every religion, according to Origen, has a body, a soul, and a spirit. J J Van Der Leeuw [pictured above right], in a most informative book entitled The Dramatic History of the Christian Faith from the Beginnings to the Death of St Augustine, describes it this way:
Origen’s conception of the Scriptures was that they could be interpreted in three different ways, the first according to the letter or the body of the Scriptures, the second according to the soul, giving the allegorical meaning of the different passages, and the third according to the spirit, giving the esoteric interpretation.
When one applies this key to the sacred scriptures of the world’s great religions one finds that, when they are interpreted literally, they are for the most part at odds with each other, and largely, if not entirely, irreconcilable. Thus, a passage of New Testament scripture such as ‘Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me’ (Jn 14:6) leads many conservative Christians to say things such as, ‘God has spoken his final word in Jesus Christ,’ and ‘If Christianity is right, all other religions are wrong.’ (In logic a statement of the last mentioned kind is not an argument at all, but only what is known as a ‘conditional statement,’ as it does not state the premises necessary to support its conclusion. In short, it is a fallacy. That does not stop many Christians from uttering such arrant nonsense.) The result--a truly horrible state of affairs which has resulted in thousands of years of acrimony, needless division, wars, inquisitions, heresy trials, witch hunts, martyrdoms, executions, and so forth.
Now, when one starts to interpret scriptures allegorically, that produces a vast improvement, and we start to see enormous similarities between the world’s various sacred scriptures. Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not one of those persons who assert that all religions are the same, or are saying the same thing, for that is not the case. Also, the allegorical method of interpretation has its limitations and involves a lot more subjectivity and intuitive guesswork than its proponents care to admit. The method also suffers from an unavoidable ex post facto and somewhat mechanical superimposition of an already adopted system of metaphysical or esoteric belief system. Still, the method has its place.
The third method of interpretation---the ‘spiritual’ (that is, more esoteric or metaphysical) one---leads one to conclude that, despite the many obvious differences in the contents of the world’s major religions, there are, if one is honest enough to admit it, some underlying common themes and ideas. As I see it, one of the more important of those themes and ideas is this---there exists, within each of us, an inner power or potentiality which, if invoked and diligently applied, can help us to overcome or otherwise deal with problems and difficulties of all kinds. Some call this power or potentiality the ‘kingdom of God [or kingdom of heaven],’ others refer to it as ‘buddha nature’ or ‘inner light’, while still others call it the ‘wonder child.’ I do not see this power as being anything ‘supernatural,’ whatever that word means (assuming it means anything at all, which I think is not the case). This power is a ‘power-not-oneself’ for, as I have often written, ‘self’ has no power at all, being nothing more than mental imagery, but it is still a power that is to be found within the person---that is, the human being---that each of us is. In the Hebrew Bible, in Isaiah 9:6, the power to which I refer is described in these immortal, oft-quoted but generally misunderstood words:
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Who or what is this 'child'? Jesus? Some other Messianic figure? (Sorry, Christians, Jesus didn't fulfil any of the key requirements for the Jewish Messiah.) No, it's much more profound---and universal---than any and all of that. The eminent New Thought minister, lecturer and writer Emmet Fox [pictured right], for whom I have always had great respect (even though I reject a fair bit of what he taught and wrote), referred to this indwelling ‘wonder child’ as being ‘no less than the primal Power of Being,’ that is, the very ground of being itself. In his book Power Through Constructive Thinking Dr Fox writes:
Bible symbolism has its own beautiful logic, and just as the soul is always spoken of as a woman [cf the Virgin Mary (note: my interpolation)], so this, the Spiritual Idea that is born to the soul, is described as a child. The conscious discovery by you that you have this Power within you, and your determination to make use of it, is the birth of the child.
It is really very practical. You may, for example, be in bondage to a deadly addiction. One day, after many years of physical, mental and spiritual bondage, a healing thought enters your mind---‘I do not want to live this way anymore—There must be a way out!’ If you want---I mean, really want---freedom, you can and will have it, provided you are prepared to do what is necessary to get better. Your mind is the ‘virgin soul’ in which this spiritual idea of freedom and change is both inseminated and born. I have seen this ‘birth’ take place in my own life and in the lives of countless others. It is the most wonderful thing that can happen to a person.
Do you think Christmas is just about the birth of Jesus---some one-off miraculous event that is said to have taken place some 2,000 years ago? Please think again. The ‘miracle’ of Christmas is happening all the time---in the minds and lives of so-called ordinary people who make use of this indwelling ‘power-not-oneself.’
Each one of us is facing certain challenges and difficulties. I am not one who says that all problems and difficulties can be overcome or solved by prayer, faith, positive thinking or the like. There are many problems and difficulties which cannot be overcome or solved---except by acceptance, which in itself is perhaps the most remarkable form of healing and self-transformation. What I do say is this---you have within you all the power you need to either solve, rise above or simply live with anything that may beset you.
How is your new-born wonder child? Is it a present reality? If not, may ‘it’ be born in you some time very soon. It’s up to you. No one else can do it for you.