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Monday, May 03, 2010

The discernment of spirits and connecting with God

In looking up the discernment of spirits and how God and people connect - through mediation or directly - I came across a paper - The Structure of the Rules for Discernment of Spirits by Michael J. Buckley SJ, from a 1975 issue of The Way. The article mentions three ways to connect with God - preternatural influences, process of intellection, attractions of affectivity (I think my own experience has been through affectivity). The article is long, so here's just a bit of it - as usual, it's best to read the whole thing, especially as I've left out the footnotes ......


[...] A fundamental conviction founds and supports the history of religious consciousness and commitment: God himself will direct a man's life .... how does God direct human life to himself? What are the means of contacting or of being guided by God? Where does one locate this directing power of God? ..........

Some have sought or found their guidance from God through the mediation of the preternatural, personalities or realities which - while not identifying with the divine - so transcend and influence the human that they alter thoughts or control destinies or marshal forces or tempt resolution or effect liberation or deceive intention. Joan of Arc had her voices, Socrates his daimon, Antony his devils, and even Rilke fell back upon the angels as embodying the higher degree of reality of the invisible, angels reminding men of their remoteness from human destiny or providing what Rilke called the 'direction' of his heart. Saints, devils, and angels. The Gathas present a cosmos dominated by the unseen conflict of light and darkness, while the orthodox tradition of Athos, jewish apocalyptic writings, and Qumran see it locked into a parallel warfare of spirits. Islam made the angelic order one of the six pillars of its truth, a source of revelation and of providence, while popular buddhism sees the intividual situated within a struggle of spirits and demons over his choices and actions In the Kabalah, this superhuman inter-mediation constitutes the 'Archetypal World' or the Yesod; it is the 'Perfect Land' of the ancient egyptian religion or the 'Astral Plane' of the tradition of the occult. Contact with this super-sensible world allows hermetic science its method of attaining that ultimate which illumines the phenomena. In this effort, spiritualists invoke the ghosts of the dead, astrologers chart the movement in the stars, and gnostic religious doctrines posit the emanations as intermediaries by whose influence a man can journey back towards God. What all of these traditions, rich and divergent, contradictory and discordant among themselves, have in common is this: they posit an ultra- human reality with whom one can come into contact, through whom his life will be guided by the divine. Men must touch that which is above man so that God might instruct and lead them to himself.

There is, however, another path: 'We mortal men can find no other ladder whereby to ascend unto God but by the works of God', wrote Robert Bellarmine, distinguishing the ascent of the mind from the rapture of the spirit and representing an intellectualistic tradition which he himself would trace back to Bonaventure's Itinerarium mentis in Deum. Man progresses towards union with God by comprehending the real nature of things; these are divine products and 'the efficient cause may be known by the effects, and the example by the image'. Conversely, the possession of God works a new union between the knowledge of God and all things in Jacob Boehme: 'In this light my spirit directly saw through all things, and knew God in and by all creatures, even in herbs and grass'. There is a significant shift here from an arcane, magical immersion in the preternatural to a rational ascent made through graded orders of being. So this tradition often speaks of a ladder or of a journey of the mind to God, as Plato found a continuity of the developing intellect ranging through all studies and arts to its final contemplation of that which is best in existence. Porphyry wrote that Plotinus's 'end and aim was an intimate union with God who is above all things', and the method by which his life moved towards this completion was dialectic, passing through the nature of things and the differentiation of categories to rest finally in the unity of them all. 'Things here are signs, they show therefore to the wiser teachers how the supreme God may be known; the instructed priest reading the sign may enter the holy place and make real the vision of the inaccessible'. The end is attained in ecstasy and vision, but the path and the guidance to this fulfilment is the dispassionate use of the mind, years of serious human thought. In orthodox spiritualism, this ascent structures the three degrees of knowledge of Isaac of Nineveh, and in the catholic, the dialectic ascent of Monica and Augustine at Ostia'. So the Tao is approached not through conventional knowledge but by the practice of the 'simple and subtle art of wu-wei', knowledge becoming knowledge only in a docta ignorantia. Mahayana Buddhism in Nagarjuna moves towards religious liberation, as the 'middle way' dialectically refutes each metaphysical proposition in order to experience its relativity before a final intuitive enfightenment.

It is this mysticism which underlies the coherence between the religious and scientific consciousness, so that the pattern of the planets enabled Kepler to reach a coincidence between his mind and that of the Creator, or the outreach of the phyla for Teilhard de Chardin speak out the directing influence of the cosmic Christ, or the advice to physicians of that 'strangely wonderful man', Theophrastus Paracelsus: 'He who understands and knows much of nature's work is high in faith, for the creator is his teacher... He should know about the earth, what grows on it, of the sea and sky, so that he knows the Creator of all things'. When Spinoza attempts the contemplative realization 'of the union between the mind and the whole of nature', his essay transposes this tradition from a dialectical to a logistic mode; and his 'third kind of knowledge' terminates in presence and union: 'As each person becomes stronger in this kind of knowledge, the more he is conscious of himself and of God, of himself that is in God and of God as in himself'.

For still another tradition, neither the transcendence of the preternatural nor the elaborations of reasoning and vision offer an approach to the divine. 'The heart has its reason, which reason does not know'. Men are carried into the divine by affectivity and the surge of emotion. One is touched by God. So William James scores Cardinal Newman for his failure to realize that 'feeling is the deeper source of religion', and all intellectual operations are 'interpretative and inductive operations, operations after the fact, consequent upon religious feeling, not co-ordinate with it, not independent of what it ascertains'. It is far more important to feel contrition; the only function of intellect, implicitly stated, would be the secondary contribution of knowing its definition, becomes the teaching of the Imitation of Christ. John Wesley's Journals record 'righteousness, peace and joy in the holy Ghost. These must be felt, or they have no being'. And again: 'How do you know whether you love me? Why, as you know whether you are hot or cold. You feel this moment that you do or do not love me. And I feel at this moment that I do not love God, which therefore I know because I feel it'. Out of this persuasion issues the enthusiast, moving towards God under the impetus of religious exuberance, while 'especially, he decries the use of human reason as a guide to any sort of religious truth'. Feelings can offer a more profound threshold of Consciousness which catches up the whole person in the intensity of his experience, and allows experience to indicate conversion, justification, progressive sanctification, co-operation with providence, and the promise of salvation. But feelings can also live in the far more modest statement of the Theologia Germanica: 'So this love so makes a man one with God, that he can never be separated from him'. This same assertion of the simplicity of affectivity comes through the tradition of the Sufis: 'Through the heart you can make your connection with God', wrote Attar of Nishapur; while the Cloud of Unknowing makes this claim much starker in its contrasts: 'By love he may be sought and held, but by thinking never'.

Preternatural influences, process of intellection, attractions of affectivity - these have constituted the several ways in which men have attempted to secure the guidance of their God, and their distinction and their interplay continue the complicated history of religious experience. Seldom does one predominate to the total exclusion of the other two. Often two will exist at various moments as the same movement towards God, sometimes even existing together in collaboration and in opposition to the third: affectivity can join with the preternatural to war against reason, or reason can find support in human emotions for its rejections of angels, emanations and stars.

It was not the genius of Ignatius of Loyola that he counted all three factors as critical within religious experience. This he did, but so did other major figures of his time such as Teresa of Jesus, John of the Cross, Peter of Alcantara, etc. What Ignatius provided was a structure within which each of these finds a significant place; none is dismissed out of hand. A co-ordination among them is established so that they reach an integrity of effect, and one is taught how to recognize and reply to each. This, perhaps more than any other contribution, comprises the unique value of his Rules for the Discernment of Spirits ......



Blogger Mike L said...

More years ago than I wish to admit to I head a lecture by a man that was studying how information flowed through the brain. In his study he found that there were two distinct ways of thinking, one was by visualizing things, the other by using logic. A practical application was in learning to read. Phonics uses reasoning, the look and say method uses visualization. The lecturer had determined that about 10% of the population was limited to using visual thinking methods, another 10% were limited to using reasoning methods, with the rest being able to use both methods. Turns out about 10% never learn to read using phonics, but do with the look and say method, while about 10% do not learn to read with the look and see method, but do with phonics. Today most schools incorporate both methods and reach a much larger percentage than they used to. And yes, it is very hard for the extremes of one method of thinking to communicate with someone that uses the extremes of the other method.

I had this problem with one of my supervisors, we just couldn't see how the other one was thinking. We worked it out by each going our own way, and if our answers agreed, we knew we had the problem nailed. If they didn't agree, we each started over. Turned out to be very effective.

Perhaps our path to God follows the same path. Crystal and I tend to follow the affective path and have trouble with all the logic of theology, while others can't figure out where we are coming from. But when all of us come to an agreement, we know we have it nailed down even if we can't understand how the other got there. I expect some real surprises when I get to heaven :).


Mike L

7:48 PM  
Anonymous Henry said...

Ha, ha, ha, ha... I too expect some real surprises when I get to heaven - although I think I will spend some time in purgatory with my friends ;)

Great post Mike.



7:52 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

I guess it doesn't matter how we get there as long as we do.

When I was in high school I was interested in Hinduism and it had four paths to God ... the path of selfless action, the path of philosophical study, the path of yoga and meditation, and the path of devotion/love. Mike, you and I are devotees :)

Henry, go straight to heaven and skip purgatory - I've decided it doesn't exist :)

1:47 AM  

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