Meditations (Spirituality): Emergent Zone
It’s Ash Wednesday. The beginning of Lent used to mean penance, fasting, and rituals galore. Compelled to go to Mass most days before school and on Sunday as a child, the 40 days of Lent were when you really got the full dose.
At an early age I realized that there is no correlation between religions and religiosity. I quit the Church in my teens, once I reached the age of moral consent, and became religious without a religion. At 30, a philosophy professor told me with a straight face that I should start a religion. Bemused, because I had felt he was wiser, I said, you mean be like the man who spends years searching for the truth, and then, when he finds it, accepts the devil’s offer when it says, “here, let me help you organize it”?
Looking beyond Rome's hierarchy and the factions of Protestant reactions, what does contemplative insight reveal about the life and mission of Jesus?
I submit that a genuine urge to understand the teachings of Jesus, when arising from meditative stillness, reverence, and love, reveals more truth and meaning about his life and mission than all the handed down interpretations of the Catholic Church or the Bible.
Regarding the Bible, Thomas Jefferson, who made an extensive study of the text, said it best: “The whole history of these books [the Gospels] is so defective and doubtful that it seems vain to attempt a minute inquiry into it …in the New Testament there is internal evidence that parts of it proceeded from an extraordinary man; and that other parts are of the fabric of very inferior minds. It is as easy to separate those parts, as to pick diamonds from dunghills.”
Jesus’ message of awareness, that “the Kingdom of God is within you,” has been perverted beyond recognition. His last words on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” are not the words of one who was sent to suffer the physical agonies depicted in Mel Gibson’s film of spiritual pornography. Jesus was confident of his mission until the whole thing went terribly wrong. He was not meant to die on the cross, but to revolutionize people’s hearts. He failed, though the failure was not his.
I stand at the edge of water frozen
as far as the eye can see.
It is bitterly cold. Flurries are blowing hard off the bay, and it’s painful to exposed skin.
I don’t linger, but walk inland a bit, to a covered observation platform on the edge of an ice-covered marsh. Remnants of cattails protrude from the solid expanse. The sign reads, “Emergent Zone.”
The wind is driving the snow almost horizontally across the brown foliage of the ice-caked marshland. It’s not the banks of the Ganges or a creek side in California, and there’s no time to languidly watch nature. However one can awaken meditation in a minute if one learns how to observe thought/emotion without the separative mechanism of the illusory observer. The mind quickly quiets down.
Color is almost non-existent, so much so that even the subtle shade of maroon in the branches of a line of bare bushes stands out. The desolate beauty and silence are immense, and palpable beyond physical sensation.
I get up and walk a few hundred meters to another viewing shed in the woods. There are brown squirrels on the ground, and a half dozen species of birds feeding in four stands that the preserve managers have erected and keep stocked through the winter.
The half dozen squirrels are fat and frisky, eating grain scattered on the ground by nuthatches, titmice, and woodpeckers. I reverentially approach the astonishing scene. The varied birds are feeding nearly an arm’s length away.
Suddenly a cardinal appears, landing on a branch in front of me. The other small animals are vibrant in their activity, but even the woodpeckers have a muted coloration. The abrupt arrival of the dazzling red bird propels this microcosm of life’s exuberance on a desolate day to another level, yielding a transcendent quality. Something beyond words is imprinted on my heart, and will remain there until my dying day.
There is a sacredness beyond thought, which neither devotional religionists, nor devoted secularists, can ever know. For it to infuse one, which is always an unexpected occurrence of the moment, one has to let go of everything--every idea, goal, and belief.
- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The author welcomes comments.