Saturday, March 18, 2017

Absolutely devastating, part I: the absent God

Agra, India

Last December, a close friend of mine and true teacher of inner work sent me the following essay,  Mark Nepo—Not Holding Back—which, I think, establishes a certain standard of excellence.

"Ah," you will say to yourself. Why does he say that? Well, first, I suggest you read the entire interview, which is well worth it, even though it is quite long (over 8,700 words.) Mark covers many essential points of personal inner work and relationship with life. When I began reading it, I didn't expect to finish it, but his voice was so heartfelt, compassionate, and intelligent because I signed on for the whole ride.

Nonetheless, the essay left me with questions. These are, admittedly, questions peculiar to and essential for those with strong religious inclinations of a particular kind; but questions they are.

 The interview had a strong emphasis on self, strong enough that the ego of both of the interviewee and humanity seemed to be the center of gravity for the exchange. There is no doubt that this kind of ego is vital and important to search; yet despite the touching, intelligent, and correctly stated insights about our inner nature, the practice that's described seemed, in the oddest kind of way, very outward.

What was completely missing in it for me was God. God doesn't appear anywhere in the exchange; to be sure, Grace appears, but without God, what is Grace?

 Perhaps we can ascribe the absence of God here as a consequence of Mark's stated practice of following all paths; and there is enough Buddhist language and philosophy in the piece to infer that the Buddhism has trumped God, who is not generally invited in the door in the Buddhist practice— certainly not, at least, in the Western vision of Buddhism.

 So my critique of the piece and of Mark's practice, which is not really a critique so much as a set of observations about its limits (we should not forget that everything has limits, no matter what one does) revolves around my own Christian understandings — which, let's be frank, also have their own limits.

Nonetheless, in testing my own practice here, I also test Mark's and everyone else's. That test says, where is God?

In the article, we are told, "Faith is not the result of wisdom. Wisdom is the result of faith." I would submit that this is a profound misunderstanding. Divine Love and Divine Wisdom are foundational; everything is the result of them. To say that wisdom is the result of faith is an incorrect theological statement. It surmises that wisdom — a quality that belongs, ultimately and irrevocably, to God — rests on a human action, that is, faith.

Yet only through the Divine Inflow of Wisdom can faith ever be discovered. Wisdom in its Divine form is the progenitor of faith, not the other way around. Yet doctrinally and philosophically incorrect statements of this kind are easy to propagate and sell to people, because they sound very important. Everyone loves a sound bite that they can pass on to others in order to represent themselves as profound. Many absolutely terrifying theological and philosophical mistakes are firmly cemented in the public and modern mind because of a collective failure to critically examine and understand their premises. Take great care when hearing such things: challenge them, and think. Remember that the public mind and the memes it popularizes are both vulgar; that is, ordinary and common.

We must ever search beyond the mean for meaning.

 Our search, in a nutshell, is not all about us; yet this particular interview, and everything of value that Mark has discovered here (there is much of value) does not directly touch on that.

More on that in the next installment... in which readers will discover where the title of these posts originated.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

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