My deepest me is God!
Joe Szimhart (November, 2012)
Affirmations like the one above make me laugh out loud—you know, LOL:()
They also terrify me—
I cannot get those words out of my mouth without uttering a blasphemy.
No disrespect intended but I can only wonder what “god” is going through anyone’s mind who prays that way. The “prayer” above is taken from a recent blog by the illustrious Franciscan friar Richard Rohr who ranks among the mystically inclined gurus in the Catholic Church. Thousands of fans find his work truly inspirational. All I have to say is, “May the lord be with them.” This is my personal problem with self-as-God affirmations and this essay might be my confession to this imperfection, this problem I have.
Of course, I have an issue with all kinds of psycho-spiritual affirmation whether someone calls it a prayer, treatment, positive thought, spell, mantra, or whatever. I do not believe in the power of magic. So I am not merely picking on Rohr here—his example is useful.
Rohr has written many books surrounding the same mystical message and I think I know why—his deepest experience as a follower of St Francis exposes the intimacy and immanence of God in his life. St Francis had a way of seeing God in and identifying with people, animals, nature, and the sun and moon. Typical of Rohr’s insights, I quote from an advert for his recent book Immortal Diamond: the search for our true self:
Fr. Richard invites us to search for the True Self that, like a diamond, lies buried deep within us, formed under the pressure of our lives, awaiting resurrection.
In an earlier blog of mine, Why Catholic?, I practically, and I mean practically in the sense of in practice, wipe out all meaning to I am God affirmations of any kind, whether they appear to come from the Jesus of the Gospel two thousand years ago, the neo-Gnostic occultism of 19th century Theosophy, the revealed and muddled A Course in Miracles from 1971, or the indomitable actress Shirley MacLaine in that radical scene in her 1986 film Out on a Limb in which she excitedly jumps up and down on a beach shouting repeatedly I am God, I am God, I am God… I also recall a scene I witnessed during an intervention to exit a young man from the Ramtha cult in 1988 when his diminutive mother took a roundhouse swing and slapped him after he repeated what he learned from Ramtha: “I am God.” After she slapped him hard, she firmly asserted, “You are not God” with her finger in his face. Two days later that young man agreed with me that he was not God and that Ramtha, the allegedly 35,000 year old entity, was a product of the cult leader’s mystical experience and imagination and not a very good one at that—I compared Ramtha to a host of other channeled entities for him.
Rohr tends toward viewing the self dualistically, a notion consistent with most Christian tradition but radicalized with the emergence of the Gnostic cults. Later dualism in the 19th Century developed in both Theosophy and New Thought that borrowed from earlier concepts: Brahman/Atman; Self/self; higher self/lower self; Christ consciousness/human consciousness; Perfect Mind/imperfect mind; Permanence/impermanence; Moksha/samsara; Big Me/little me, or, according to the Gnostics, as a divine spark trapped in a material body. That divine spark is the “Immortal Diamond” within “awaiting resurrection” of Rohr. My observation based on the Gospel and personal experience finds no diamond within. I am entirely corrupt and corruptible. I am entirely mortal and have not a clue what can be immortal about me or anyone. When I read these words attributed to St Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:53:
For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. (New English Version),
I read nothing about a “diamond” or eternal spark within. I read that this corruptible mortal that perishes entirely must “put on immortality” to resurrect. This immortal cloak or eternal covering as a glorified body is a gift that God gives me, or can give me if I repent and accept it, not something I am born with within.
Perhaps orientations or language like this [My deepest me is God] is a minor semantic problem but it places mystics like Rohr in tension with orthodoxy and radical Christians like me. By orthodoxy here I include all the Abramic religions. I make that distinction—orthodox from radical—advisedly. I do not employ all the rules and regulations if the Church, the “holy days of obligation,” and everything in the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church as necessary to my being Christian. Neither do I accept a strict Evangelical deviation from Roman tradition: Sola scriptura has too many cultic notions—the Bible like tradition is not inerrant and never was, even in its original utterance. Only God is perfect. When man repeats or reveals what God inspires or reveals, man creates imperfection and corruption immediately.
This mystical experience and intimate connection with God or Being in any form is both delicious and terrifying to human beings. Our churches and New Age seminars are stuffed with wannabe mystics, but even angels can be terrifying if we can believe the scriptures of all religions. One of the first things an angel might say is, “Fear not, quit shaking in your boots, get off the ground, I am not here to hurt you.” The Rohr experience, the Course in Miracles experience, the Theosophical experience, the Franciscan experience, though expressed in separate cults of devotion, would minimize God’s terrifying aspect and emphasize the intimate, ecstatic, loving, and transpersonal. God is just here, this is “it” right now, the holy instant is always perfectly here, etc—but you are just too thick-headed and blind to notice. Yes, you the inner emperor really has clothes on. That ecstasy and love you feel is not just endorphins in your brain. It is God!
But me, this little self, remains terrified because my suspicion and my faith includes not only a God of love but also the same God as judge.
Being terrified does not mean farting or shitting in my drawers whenever I contemplate God confronting me with my sins. Back in 1971, I shook and farted like hell in my sleeping bag under the stars one night in Yosemite Park as a bear continued to sniff my head around 4 a.m. No, I am not terrified of God the same as I am of a wild bear sniffing my head at night. That is a real explainable human terror. Mystical terror is cosmic, not of this world, and without careful self-scrutiny, that kind of terror can devolve into paranoia and phobia or a “fear of things not there.” That paranoid terror is what many Christian preachers and New Age cult leaders exploit with the fire and brimstone hells or bad karma awaiting the unrepentant sinner. That paranoid terror is of the endless rounds of suffering in incarnation after incarnation if you are Buddhist, Hindu, or Pythagorian. No, I do not have that kind of terror but I know what that is: I grew up Catholic taught by nuns in the 1950s—if you know what I mean.
Rudolf Otto defined best what I am getting at. He called G-d the mysterium tremendum in his landmark study, The Idea of the Holy (Das Heilige, 1917). Otto spoke about human experience of the numinous or wholly other as both utterly terrifying and utterly attractive—we really have to die to meet God. All else is a kind of pretense or spiritual narcissism.
Beauty is nothing
but the beginning of terror
which we still are just able to endure
and we are so awed because it serenely disdains
to annihilate us.
(From the Duino Elegies by Ranier Maria Rilke)
Catholic neo-mystics might feel connected to feeling the God within and I get that—it is a comfort to already “be there” even if in Gnostic fashion. But that makes no Christian sense to me. Like I said, it actually terrifies me—perish the thought!
The Jews were right to condemn Jesus for even hinting that he was “one” with the Father, in effect claiming to be the “I am that I am.” Jesus had to be stripped of all such notions for he had not proved his faith to anyone, much less to him self. From all early accounts, Jesus knew he had to pay for his great sin—he still had something to prove after he challenged the Jewish blasphemy law and it was the law that made him sinful. Like Socrates, Jesus could have avoided death but chose to obey the consequences of the law.
He prayed, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” He prayed that on the cross as he faced death. He did not pray, “I forgive them for what they do to me.” He no longer claimed to be that God. He was yet a Jew and Mary’s son in every way, albeit a Jew who made blasphemous faith statements that in the end he let go. He sweats blood as one Gospel reports when he prays for the cross to be taken from him in the garden of Gethsemane. It was not taken from him and he endured utter and painful annihilation and “went to hell.”
My conclusion as a Christian remains with Jesus on the cross: There is no divine spark or diamond self—whatever that is must face annihilation before facing God, this same and only God that sacrifices being God and takes on all sin to die on a cross and then goes to hell. No, Jesus on the cross was not God and neither am I. “Take up your cross and follow me,” he said.
Heavy lifting ahead if you are not in good shape…