Norton Juster has written a marvelous little children’s story entitled, ThePhantom Toll Booth. In this story, a little boy named Milo goes through the phantom toll booth into the “lands beyond.” He finds himself in a forest, and as he journeys deeper into the forest, it gets thicker and darker. He is feeling almost claustrophobic when he suddenly emerges out upon a precipice.
“Isn’t it beautiful,” gasps Milo.
“It all depends on how you look at things,” responded a voice.
“I beg your pardon,” replied Milo, for he did not see who has spoken.
“I said, it all depends on how you look at things,” replied the voice.
Milo turned around to find himself staring at two very neatly polished brown shoes. For, standing directly in front of him – if you can use the term standing for someone suspended in mid-air – was another boy about his own age, whose feet were easily three feet off the ground.
“How do you manage to stand up there?” asked Milo.
“Well, I was about to ask you a very similar question,” replied the boy,
“for you must be much older than you look, to be standing on the ground.”
“What are you talking about,” asked Milo.
“Well,” replied the boy, “you see, in my family we are all born in the air,with our head at exactly the height that it will be when we are an adult. Then we grow towards the ground. When we are fully grown up – or in our case, fully grown down – our feet finally touch. But you,” the boy said to Milo, “you must be much older than you look to have already reached the ground.”
“Oh no,” said Milo. “In my family we are born on the ground and we grow up, never knowing how far until we actually get there.”
“My goodness,” replied the boy. “That is a very silly system. Why… that means that as you grow, your head will keep changing its height, and you will see things in a different way? At fifteen things will not look the same as they did when you were ten, and at twenty, your perspective will have changed again? What a silly, silly system.”
Like it or not, we seem to have inherited Milo’s system. Individually, and as a species, as we grow our perspective changes. We have seen things from a different, and usually a wider, perspective.
At one time we thought that the entire cosmos was created just six thousand years ago – but, then, we grew up a little, gained a different perspective, and realized that we are part of a fifteen billion year process of creation. At one time we thought that the earth, and our lives, were at the center of the universe, and that this is the only place of God’s activity – but, then, we grew up a little, realized that we had been living in a very small self-centered perspective, and that the number of stars, solar systems, and planets where life probably exists exceed our mind’s capacity to comprehend the numbers. At one time we thought humanity was placed upon this earth just a few thousand years ago, looking just as we do today – but, then, we grew up a little and realized that we have been part of a magnificent, marvelous, wondrous web of evolutionary life-forms, participating in a generative process we are only beginning to understand. Human existence on this planet, it seems, has been characterized by a process of growing up and expanding our perspective. We have, indeed, inherited Milo’s silly, silly, system of growth, development, evolution, and expansion. Our point of view does, indeed, change from time to time.
I am told that there was a book written in England at one time, in which it was mathematically proven that it was impossible to cross the Atlantic Ocean in a steamship. That book, I understand, now resides in a museum in New York City, and on the inside cover it is written – “This book was brought to America in the first steamship to cross the Atlantic.”
Indeed, for anyone who has been paying attention, history has been a humbling process – littered with our pronouncements of what is impossible, only to find that it becomes possible. Life, if anything, has been a process of discovery, change of mind, expansion of perspective.
I invite you to think with me about how our notions of progressive Christianity fit within the larger context of a growing and changing human journey. The world in which we are living and working can no longer be viewed from within narrow or restricted perspectives. Let’s revisit the big picture of the history and evolution of the human Soul, that I introduced yesterday, thinking about how there has been a different DNA of Soul for each evolutionary epoch, specific values to facilitate humanity’s maturational journey.
I will summarize very briefly the first two epochs and their respective deep-values, because our purpose this afternoon is to spend most of our time on the four new deep-values that are just now emerging from humanity’s Soul that will shape and determine our future, as well as the future of Christianity.
It is helpful, however, to consider the larger context within which today’s transformation of Soul fits.
As you may recall, in yesterday’s lecture, I indicated that humanity’s Soul awakened about 35,000 years ago, and that for the succeeding 25,000 years one deep-value system created and sustained human cultures. One of those deep-values was the profound sense of unity with nature in general, and a high respect for the powers of the animal world in particular. A careful and thorough study of the paleolithic cave “sanctuaries” reveals the attempt, through art and shamanic trance, to become one with the “power animals” and an almost worshipful awe and respect for the various powers of the animal world.
The second Epoch I deep-value was an emphasis upon the feminine side of Soul. Humanity valued very highly the capacity to give and nurture life. Our societies were centered around the woman, thus matricentric. And, we traced our lineage back through our mothers, thus matrilineal. It is a mistake, however, to think of this time as matriarchal, for there is no evidence that we thought of relationships in a hierarchal manner with a pattern of dominance and submission – that was a creation of Epoch II, which we will get to in a moment.
The third Epoch I deep-value was that of non-violence. As incredible as that may sound to contemporary ears, we need to be careful not to project our current value system back upon Epoch I humanity. And, although we need to be careful not to overly romanticize humanity’s childhood, the fact is that we have not discovered any evidence of human or animal sacrifice, war, human-on-human violence, or any glorification of warriors throughout the art of this 25,000 year period of time. So, until we find evidence to the contrary, it seems only reasonable to say that Epoch I humanity was a far more peaceful humanity than what we have known in Epoch II.
Epoch II began 10,000 years ago when the evolutionary purpose of humanity apparently shifted from physical development to mental and psychological development. We had developed a human body, it was now time to develop a human ego and mind. An individual, as we know, develops a ego, a sense of self, by learning to distinguish between “self” and “other.” This is “me’ – that is “not me.” Humanity essentially did the same thing. We developed a human sense of “self” by separating, dividing, and distinguishing “humanity” from the rest of nature.
The first Epoch II deep-value, therefore, was reductionism, and the first act of reductionism was that of reducing the whole of human-nature to the parts of humanity and nature. We then went on a ten thousand year long binge of reducing wholes to parts and believing in the essential separateness of the parts. We valued categorization, compartmentalization, and specialization. It was an ego-building time, based upon pride in the part – my part, my species, my race, and eventually, my religion, and my nation, etc. We can look to virtually any field to see how ego separation and the pride of the part has dominated mainstream human endeavors for the entire epoch.
Although for a necessary developmental purpose, when humanity separated itself from nature, there were severe and extremely influential consequences. When you separate from nature, you are separating from the organic, archetypal, feminine side of Soul. That made patriarchy inevitable. Humanity thus shifted from the worship of an immanent Mother Earth Goddess, to a transcendent Father God “up in his heaven.” All the major religions, all the institutions, including most family structures, became patriarchal.
A patriarchy is, of course, a hierarchy and so it dealt with reductionism in a very particular way. It did not reduce wholes into pieces and then arrange the pieces horizontally – it arranged the pieces vertically, hierarchically, with considerable value judgment. The good, the pure, the powerful was up – the bad, the sinful, and the powerless was down. This Epoch II deep-value system laid the groundwork for seeing the world through a prism of isms – making sexism, racism, anti-semitism, religionism, and nationalism inevitable….and valued.
The other Epoch II deep-values that resulted were an inordinate need to exert power and control over others, with the strategic use of forced conformity to rigid belief systems and an enormous use of violence.
As you can see, with only a brief survey, these are the deep, fundamental, causal influences that have created the dominant cultures world-wide, and all our institutions, including religion. Regarding the specific interest at this conference in Christianity, it takes little elaboration, and little imagination, to see how this Epoch II deep-value system dominated the development and history of institutional Christianity for its first two millennia.
We come now to this incredibly interesting time in which we are living – what deep-value research suggests is only the second transformation of Soul in humanity’s entire evolutionary journey. This is huge. Consider, for instance, that Christianity has had its entire history within the Epoch II Soul. It is no small task, therefore, to discern what in our history, experience, and tradition, was a preview of the spiritual maturity to which God is now calling us, and what was a manifestation of an adolescent Epoch II deep-value system. It is an intellectual, emotional, and spiritual challenge – the size of which should not be underestimated. We are still within the chrysalis time in history when we are familiar with and influenced by the caterpillar experience in which ego and mental development was the primary agenda, and yet at the same time, our individual souls are being drawn magnetically into the orbit of a collective Soul that is growing into an entirely new evolutionary purpose – that of a more mature spirituality.
The challenge for Christians – as it is with all religions – is to discern what are the elements of our history, tradition, rituals, and symbols that are consistent with the new Soul of spiritual maturity and, therefore, to be retained, honed, and sharpened, versus what are the elements that were clearly manifestations of the Epoch II adolescent, self-centered, ego-developmental, value system that must now die.
Deep-value research suggests that we are at the time in our maturational journey when, having developed a body in Epoch I, an ego and mind in Epoch II, it is now time for us to mature spiritually as we move into Epoch III. And, further, it suggests that, examining the deepest causal influences, we can get some hints of what the new DNA of Soul will be – what the new deep-values are that will guide and direct, shape and determine, humanity’s development for the foreseeable future.
The deep-values that will facilitate spiritual maturity are, apparently, four in number – and I will spend a little more time on each one of these, for they are the future in which we will live, work, and attempt to be faithful. They are the deep-values that will transform Christianity – just as they will dramatically change all cultural institutions.
THE FIRST EPOCH III DEEP-VALUE: RE-MEMBERING HUMAN-NATURE:
We will re-member that which we dis-membered 10,000 years ago – humanity and nature. Albert Einstein said that we had an “optical delusion of separateness,” for we never could be separated from nature – we just thought we were. For the necessary development of ego and self-identity, however, humanity lived within that delusion for the entire epoch. Only now, in this chrysalis time in history, as the Epoch III butterfly begins to take shape within our Soul, are we beginning to realize that it IS an illusion. It is also unsustainable.
The environmental and ecological movements of the past few decades are, however, but early ripples of a tsunami that will wash over the human Soul. We cannot even imagine the extent to which we have been influenced by the Epoch II deep-value system, nor the extent to which the Epoch III deep-values will change us. As we reconnect humanity and nature, we will be redefining the very nature of humanity. As we re-member human-nature, we will discover an expanded nature of the human species.
First of all, we will heal the original sin of Soul. If sin is defined as separation, and for this discussion I will use that definition, then the original sin of Soul is when we separated ourselves from nature, the organic, archetypical feminine side of Soul, ten thousand years ago. In separating humanity from the rest of nature, and elevating humanity over nature, we essentially fractured the Soul along gender lines. We sublimated the feminine side of Soul, elevated the masculine, gave humanity the self-declared right to dominate nature, which led to manipulation, control, management, use, and eventually, abuse of the feminine side of Soul.
That, as we said earlier, not only made patriarchy inevitable, but it set the stage for ten thousand years of particular, and distorted, concepts of femininity and masculinity. In reconnecting with nature, in healing that original sin of Soul, we will be redefining femininity and masculinity, respectively. Any system of dominance and submission simply does not facilitate wholeness and, conversely, any whole-making cannot tolerate such false and artificial notions of dominance and submission.
Patriarchy, therefore, obviously and necessarily, is “history,” to use the slang of today. It is done with, kaput, out-a-here. Patriarchy is “history” precisely because its time in history is over. We have had the epoch of ego development that necessitated our delusional separation from nature, and we are now entering the epoch of spiritual maturity which necessitates a reunion, a reconciliation, a re-membering humanity and nature. Any patriarchal institution of Epoch II will either change or it will die – for the healing of the original sin of Soul creates a soil of Soul in which patriarchy cannot survive.
Again, and I cannot emphasize this enough, because we are just now growing up and out of a ten thousand year long adolescent epoch of separation from nature, we are incapable of imagining the extent to which a reunion with nature will change humanity.
One additional way it will change us, however, is to make us born-again pagans.
The word pagan has gotten a bad wrap and is, largely, misunderstood. The popular notion of the word “pagan” is that it means to be irreligious in general, and non-Christian in particular. But, original meaning of the word “pagan” simply meant “to be a country-dweller.” It is that original meaning of the word that I am using in this discussion.
The Epoch II need for us to become separated from nature led, over the past ten thousand years, to become civilized and city-fied. We felt our job was to distance ourselves, as much as possible, from being too close to nature, from being a country-dweller. We changed from an Epoch I at-one-ment with nature, to demonizing anyone who was too closely identified with nature. Because we unconsciously knew that nature represented the feminine side of Soul, we slipped into the demonization, and then the horrible torture and murders of the witch-hunt, the ecstatic Cathars – for we also came to fear the wild within, as we separated ourselves from the wild without. We were preoccupied with taming and/or denigrating the wild within and the wild without.
Progressive Christians, I am suggesting, must refamiliarize themselves with nature by becoming born-again pagans. The “born-again” part refers to the fact that, in Epoch I, we WERE pagans – we lived in and drew our identity from our relationship with nature.
This is not to say that all of us have to move out of the cities and actually live in the wild, but it does mean that we must find the possible and appropriate ways in which we can truly reconnect with the natural world. Theologian turned “geologian,” Father Thomas Berry, has suggested that by dividing ourselves from the natural world – by closing ourselves in with bricks, mortar, and asphalt – we have become autistic in our relationship with the natural world. We have lost our capacity to hear, see, or feel the wild, the wilderness, the natural world.
Although I want to reemphasize the fact that each of us need to find the kind of reunion with the natural world that works for and is appropriate for our own lives, for me it was to actually live in the wilderness.
I can no longer write books simply as a head-trip. Particularly when it comes to the attempt at understand the spiritual evolution taking place during our lifetimes, for me this had to be a holistic experience. I had to try, at least to the best of my ability, to live out my thoughts, experience the research, walk the talk. So, as I was trying to write Sacred Quest, it meant actually moving into the wilderness and trying to overcome my previous 60 years of autism vis-a-vis the natural world.
So, five years ago, my wife and I built a home where we could experience, first-hand, the correspondence between the wild without and the wild within. For Diana, it was simply a “home-coming,” for she seems to have never lost touch with organic feminine side of Soul, the wilderness, and the animal world. She has always been a pagan, it seems, whereas for me it necessitated a born-again experience. For me it was a process of remembering a forgotten at-one-ment. And, Diana has been my primary teacher.
It has been an incredibly important part of my spiritual journey, and an essential experience in order to write Sacred Quest from my heart and soul, and not just from my head. It has been an awakening. I began to watch, listen, and feel the wild all around me – in other words, to pay close attention to the natural world that surrounded me. At the same time, I began to meditate more deeply and more receptively. Oh, I had been a meditator before, but too much of it was an active and agenda-driven meditative practice. To correspond to the wilderness, however, I began to meditate more deeply, more passively, more receptively.
I would like to share with you a couple of experiences – not to suggest that anyone should follow my example or experience necessarily, but simply to illustrate what living in the wilderness has contributed to my own spiritual journey, and to my attempt to understand the Epoch III emergent deep-values.
The first experience was with the mountain lion – and it is a story in three chapters. At least, to date.
So important was Diana’s connection with nature in general, and her Native American spiritual practice in particular, that after we purchased the land – the gentle top of a mountain along the front-range of the Colorado Rockies – and before we decided where to build the house, she walked the land until the mountain “told” her where her Medicine Wheel should be built. She then built her Medicine Wheel on that energetic spot, and began her ritual work of connecting with the land and the animals.
On one day, before our home was built and while we still lived in Boulder, Diana was up on the mountain, by herself, on her medicine wheel conducting a ritual of blessing – asking that we might live there in harmony with the animals who were there first. As is her manner, out of the Lakota tradition, she called in the “power animals” of the respective directions – the white buffalo to the North, the eagle to the East, the coyote to the South, and the serpent to the West. She often kidded that since we have eagles, coyotes, and snakes on that mountaintop, if a white buffalo ever showed up, we would know that this is REALLY sacred land. But, again, the emphasis of her ritual this day was to ask that we might live in harmony with the animals of that mountain.
After she had finished the ritual, she was off to the side some twenty or twenty-five feet from her Medicine Wheel, stacking some stone that had been unearthed while our contractor was establishing a level foundation for our home. She began to hear an unfamiliar sound but, for a while it was subliminal, unconscious, for she was concentrating on stacking the rocks. When the unusual sounds worked their way into her consciousness, she looked up and realized that the sounds were coming from a mountain lion – inexplicably calling attention to itself, which is extraordinary behavior for a mountain lion when it is not being threatened or protective of its young. And, interestingly enough, the mountain lion was standing in full profile, with its head turned looking directly at Diana, and STANDING PRECISELY JUST OFF THE NORTH SPOKE OF HER MEDICINE WHEEL.
Diana came back down to our home in Boulder and looked up the symbolic meaning of the mountain lion – only to discover in a book by Sun Bear, that for those born in the Picean time of the year (Diana’s birthday is February 20th) the power animal to the North is not the white buffalo, but the mountain lion. Diana accepted this immediately as the mountain lion responding to her ritual of harmony and cooperation by showing her that it, the mountain lion, was to be her power animal to the North – in contrast, I was having a left-brain cramp! How do you make intellectual sense of this kind of experience, I wondered? My left-brain, it turned out, had a lot to learn.
The second chapter in this story occurred eighteen months later. We were now living on that mountaintop, had seen the mountain lion’s tracks, but not the actual mountain lion in a year and a half. I was in the process of writing Sacred Quest, up before dawn as usual, meditating on what God wanted to come through my soul on that particular day of writing – and I was writing about that very story of Diana’s first experience with the mountain lion. About mid-day, Diana was down in Boulder at her psychotherapy office, and I was literally at my desk, fingers tapping on my computer, writing about that experience of the mountain lion which had occurred eighteen months earlier.
All of a sudden, I was startled by a yelp from our dog, Gypsy-Bear, who was down in the first-floor library – but, a yelp of a nature and quality that I had never heard from her. I ran downstairs. Just outside the library,