Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
In traditional Quakerism there was a tendency to dissect the human consciousness into two warring parts: the 'natural' [aka 'worldly'] mind and 'Christ' ['the Spirit'], the inner light which the natural mind generally kept imprisoned. That 'imprisonment' is a nice metaphor for what people generally do with our more difficult higher urges, but other than that it's a mistaken description.
What's mistaken about that is that it misses the underlying unity between surface self and Christ at work within each person. What, isn't there ongoing 'war' between the two? Well, that's the appearance and the all too common experience. [See this story if you need an example.]
But 'surface' and 'deeper Self' are better metaphors. There has to be a surface, and this will be what's most readily visible, most seemingly in control. But God has, after all, created this arrangement in the first place. God's activity beneath the surface may well move us in unexpected directions; but those directions are, after all, in accord with our deeper, truer identity.
Various spiritual 'practices' are intended to help people attune our surface, 'ego' identity with the 'Self' that's the true Life of all that lives. Life is far more harmonious to the extent we can do this. But doing so comes down to realizing that God is at work even in ego, that ego is at work even in much of what we consider 'holier than me' -- that we needn't keep up an endless internal war -- Because God actually does love us; we don't need to defend ourselves against some 'external' inner tyranny as so many people imagine God wants to impose.
In terms of the coming of the Kingdom of God -- not the destruction of the world, but the arrival of Heaven.
Perhaps I will bring into the conversation a view of the soul from a different source outside of Quakerism in hopes that by contrast or comparison, a certain clearness might arise. So, here is the part from outside Quakerism's tradition - it comes from the insights of Rudolf Steiner (1861 - 1924) , a clairvoyant and a PhD scientist who synthesized from many different spiritual streams.
Steiner's working hypothesis is that the human being has a physical body, a soul, and a spiritual component. So far this tracks with Quaker insights. Steiner then draws from the ancient Vedic insights and goes on to say that the physical body also has within it something which animates it which he calls a "Life Body" or "Etheric Body".
The soul he suggests is comprised of three elements which are a "nested system" within our physical body: willing (intentionality), feelings and thinking. We are pretty much asleep in our willing (we don't think about walking, for example); we are dreaming in our feelings and clearly conscious in our thinking.
He also calls the spiritual component the "Ego" or "Higher Self" which can be in contact with our thinking - but, as we know, our thoughts are not always "enlightened" by the spiritual part of ourselves. Steiner suggests that our "Higher Self" operates at the level of the Angels and certainly it is here where we have a possibility of working with the Spiritual World including the Christ.
Again, these are not presented as "dogma" but as an operating hypothesis. Does any of this resonate with thee?
Steiner was an odd one, clearly on to something -- but hidden behind a language barrier (besides the obvious German-English one) that makes him useless to me personally.
How much sense does it make to talk about "what I "have" or "am"? -- aside from these being common grammatical conventions? My role is being a roving viewpoint in this physical/spiritual universe. My sense of "me" doing or "feeling" or "thinking" or "willing"? -- I certainly do have that sense of things; but do I actually have any more control of them than of what some character in a book happens to do? My sense of a spiritual purpose at work in what happens to me, of a spiritual coherence to events that doesn't reduce to physical causation -- is a little less immediate, but I'm utterly certain of its validity. If my body and my mind are both effects of the same spiritual process at work -- does that make either of them less 'spiritual' as realities, or does it make either of them any more or less 'me'?
"If the body is created by Spirit, that is a miracle. If the spirit were a product of the body, that would be incredible!"
Summing up -- There is this universe which exists (so far as we can know it) via our experiencing of it... that fact of 'experiencing-at-all' being the true mystery. And yet something beyond what we experience directly makes that experience orderly; without such an order it wouldn't even make sense to speak of 'a universe'.
That experiencing-plus-ordering seems to be what people and the universe are 'made of.' We are its children; and my experience so far fits the hypothesis that it is teaching us -- but isn't done with us yet. I find myself being offered different models, occasionally needing to shift models of what people are and how we 'operate'. [Maybe one of these times R.S will even make sense to me!]
But what seems most important is the difference between a 'low' anthropology and a 'high' one. That is, is 'redemption' supposed to be the demolition of who we are and the construction of a new building? -- or more like the maturation of what's always been here?
Not surprised you found Steiner odd. Many have. Spiritual insights received by revelation, by their nature, require some tenderness and time if one attempts to understand them. I am adding the following so that readers here at QUAKERQUAKER don't get the wrong impression of Rudolf Steiner as being so "odd" or "wacked out".
On the topic of Continual Revelation, I think Steiner is pretty sympatico with traditional, "old school" Quakerism and our contemporary feeling for "The Presence" - which is being expressed here.
Excerpts from Lecture #1 on “The Inner Aspects of the Social Question”, February 4, 1919. Steiner was active in the post World War I era in trying to heal the horrendous post-war situation. He approached the situation with his spiritual insights and this is but one of three lectures on the topic. These lectures were made to people familiar with approach to spirituality which he named, “Anthroposophy” (from the Greek: anthro=human + Sophia= wisdom). A link to the entire lecture is provided.
“Inner Aspect of the Social Question”, Lecture 1, February 4, 1919
¶ 9 – “Whoever is breathed upon by the impulse of Spiritual Science – if I may put it so – will not merely think about spirit: he will allow the spirit itself to speak through his thoughts. The immediate presence of the spirit, the active power of the spirit – these are what Spiritual Sciences leads us to seek.”
¶ 16 – “Let us not forget that we are living in the age when the free spiritual activity of man is due to reach expression – when the gods in accordance with their primary purpose, may not reveal themselves unless the human being, by free resolve, opens the innermost sanctuary of his soul to receive them.”
¶ 20 – “The right way to grasp Spiritual Science is not to believe that the entire substance of Christianity is contained once for all in the Gospels, but to recognize that the Christ is in truth presented at all times, even until the end of the world. And present not as a dead force, calling merely for belief, but as a living power which increasingly reveals itself. And in our pocket what is this revelation? The content of modern Anthroposophical Spiritual Science. Spiritual Science is concerned not merely to talk about the Christ, but to utter what the Christ wishes to say to men in our time, through the medium of human thoughts.”
I welcome the perspective you are sharing but as for this:
"so that readers here at QUAKERQUAKER don't get the wrong impression of Rudolf Steiner as being so "odd" or "wacked out"."
I don't think Rudolf Steiner will help anyone with that! Biodynamics for one thing, but also everything else he says and the way he says it. I feel that he has deconstructed a lot and spoken of it in this neutral and deconstructed language that may be fully accurate but still is likely only helpful to people particularly interested in "neutral" sounding sources who speak of "Spiritual Science" instead of "God".
I have trained in one version of this sort of "energy work" -- exposing me to the physical realities of our spiritual lives within us. For me it was indeed revelation to be able to feel God so present as all that. But I have found that for most Quakers it's not something they want deconstructed and spoken of in the ways I would do it. Though they don't mind if I use the information in service to the community.
I agree with Forrest's point about low and high anthropology though I make no judgment of Steiner or of the "energy work" I refer to as I say that. But I am in agreement that if these things help us to have a Relationship with our Divine Source, that's what matters. For me, being able to "speak with someone's human body on the spiritual level to help them heal" (or whatever we call this sort of action) is very much about surrender to Christ and letting Christ do the rest. And turns out to sometimes involve some specific awarenesses about the spiritual science behind the physical body. But I generally find that most Quakers (as with most people who believe in a personal God) don't seem to want this deconstructed -- to them it feels outside the Spirit though to me Spirit is all over it. It may just be an indicator of how bad I am at talking about it! Others may have better luck. ...Or it may be that the only people who want to hear these specifics tend to be people "called" in this direction and for them it IS part of the experience of God.
hmmm. This IS a topic on "anatomy of the soul" but I seem to be exploring at the moment whether we want to know about that in particular or not.