I come once again to the question that Paul poses in his letter to the Romans (chapter 2.)
Paul speaks mysteriously of a circumcision of the heart, of the Spirit. Now, we could try to understand this from the literal point of view, simply saying that it is a symbolic and abstract act of consecration, allegorically related to the Jewish practice of removing the foreskin.
I prefer to understand it from a more inner point of view.
Speaking again from this question of becoming naked (a metaphor I have invoked more and more frequently of late) to the truth of our condition, what is it to circumcise the heart? To circumcise the spirit?
In order to open to something that is real, we must be willing to expose our most intimate and sacred parts by removing the thickness that cloaks them. In our ordinary state, they are covered up with the thick foreskin of our personality. Personality as we have it today in the Western world is in excess; it prevents our intimate parts from breathing. Unclean substances build up in us as a result. The only way to counteract this is to shed our personality so that something more real and more intimate can come into contact with the forces that wish to help us.
In order to do this, I need to find a way to inhabit my humanity more thoroughly. That inhabitation needs to take place through feeling and sensation, not just the idea that I should inhabit, which arises in my mind.
My mind cannot take me there. It needs the participation of the other parts if it is to make any progress.
Everything that I am, all that I manifest as, is what Gurdjieff would have called "habit." It is a build up of layers that have been acquired from outside. Each one of those layers insulates me both from Truth and from the influence of forces that could help me. By now, I am so accustomed to being separated from those forces that I think I don't need them. I think I can hide. I cover my most intimate parts in the same way that Adam and Eve did when they were cast out of the Garden of Eden. They no longer exposed the reproductive parts of their spirit to God; they discovered shame.
We still have that force of shame in us. To pretend that we don't would be absurd; none of us have escaped from the human condition that man fell into as a result of that allegorical set of circumstances. Gurdjieff referred to a lost sense of "organic shame." One doesn't hear this term discussed much any more, and I haven't heard too many people venture to suggest exactly what that means.
He did suggest that we needed to rediscover this lost quality. I believe that it relates to this question of spiritual circumcision.
Why do I believe that?
I believe that because in my own work I see that this wish to hide, this refusal to expose my most intimate part to God, essentially arises out of shame and fear. Whether or not it is true that I am "originally perfect" -- whether or not it is true that everything is "inherently good" -- we don't understand these things. They are philosophical arguments. We can, however, understand what happens when we encounter a force higher than ourselves and attempt to surrender.
What happens then, in my experience, is that I see how corrupted and unclean I have become in my personality. Hence the shame; hence the fear. Can any of us say, if we were truly honest and presented our self to God, that we would not tremble in fear in the admission of sin? At best, the very best of men can only see how very much more is necessary; the rest of us naïvely think we have done enough.
I cannot fix this problem myself. As they say in AA, the only way that it can be fixed it is to "believe that a power higher than myself can restore me to sanity." And of course, I can't be restored to sanity if I am unwilling to offer my most intimate self to the powers that are above me.
Paul calls us to a mystery. Mr. Gurdjieff's work contains an essential part of that mystery. Once we walk past the signposts of academic argument found in "In Search of the Miraculous," we encounter the extraordinary, rich, byzantine alleyways of Beelzebub.
Here, we slowly enter an uncharted territory where the call of the Mullah to evening prayer carries more meaning than the rule of laws and how to escape them. This is the point where we have to take an emotional risk in our work, rather than relying on how clever we are to carry us forward.
No wonder the Muslims bow their heads to the carpet. What else is left, when one finally admits that one cannot understand the majesty of God?
The act of spiritual circumcision that Paul calls us to is identical to the act of Islam -- submission. Only when we are naked in the eyes of the Lord -- only when we have agreed that we are nothing -- can anything else take place. It's reminiscent of Meister Eckhart's contention that every single last shred of our own will must be stripped from us before the will of the Almighty can emerge.
Mr. Gurdjieff, of course, said a good deal about submitting to another man's will. All of that as practice for being ready to submit to the will of the Almighty.
May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.