I am reading Louis Dupré’s “Reflections on Roberto Mangabeira Unger’s The Religion of the Future” published in The Journal of Religion. I could care less about Unger’s book; Dupré is my bread and water these days.
Specifically, Dupré helps me contextualize the challenge of living Christianly, especially when “Christianly” is so deeply entwined with A Course in Miracles, which can be so weird, misogynistic and self-aggrandizing.
Question: given this life so clearly given, which appears to include free will, what shall we do? How shall we live? What shall be our values?
A Course in Miracles does a terrible job answering these kinds of questions, mostly because it’s not designed to answer them. It really is just a year-long course that aims at liberating our thinking from familiar patterns, thus allowing us to experience mind in a more substantial and creative way.
Tara Singh, who probably more than anyone else functioned as a quasi-teacher for me, was insistent on bringing the course “into application.” He aligned his small community to Mother Theresa’s order, yoking the course to intentional communal living and service. Even Ken Wapnick, whose antipathy towards the body was surpassed only by Helen Schucman’s, shifted his teaching in the last decade or so of his life to “living with” A Course in Miracles.
In other words, I think “how shall we live” is a nontrivial question, avoidance of which begets confusion and disorder. There is, as Brother Thetford said, another way.
Louis Dupré defines living religiously as ” . . . a full, practical commitment to a Godly life, purified of hidden selfishness and open to a future that is more than a project of one’s own making.” In other words, the garden prayer of Jesus: “Not my will but thine be done.” Living this way is oppositional to a culture which emphasizes our will and desire. We want everything – from sex to world peace – on our terms.
Dupré asks us to reconsider.
A religious person’s primary task has never consisted in overcoming the world, or in humanizing it, or in struggling with it. He or she will undoubtedly face these tasks, yet all of them, as well as the virtues we shall have to practice in realizing them, must be preceded by a receptive, passive attitude toward an event in which I had no active part: some mysterious power must first touch me.
Ah . . . But what power? God? Love? Earlier in the review, Dupré acknowledges that “Christian separation between the level of human experience and that of nonhuman nature” is “objectionable” though he prefers to phrase it as “the split between nature, including human nature, and a supernatural realm.”
I think that’s a good definition of separation, which is not a historical or metaphysical event, but rather an evolutionary process by which we somehow managed to convince ourselves that we’re better than – other than – the world of our observation. This is nonsense, of course. And most of us intellectually get Krishnamurti’s observation that the “observer is the observed.” But to live that way turns out to be a pretty high psychological hill to climb . . .
If we set aside a supernatural realm (i.e., ascended masters, Helen Schucman’s reincarnated self, lights et cetera), and focus on the natural realm – what is given – then we find ourselves faced with a problem: what touches us? What constitutes God? For once we allow the cosmos to be as it is given, the mysteries bleed out and all appears less as a Father-driven hierarchy than a messy mossy welter with nary a boss in sight. It’s less organized than organizing itself in time according to principles that appear to have more to do with surviving rather than loving.
Loving is real! Loving is a thing. And Love, which I suggest manifests in our living as cooperation and coordination, the recognition we are playing together a non-zero sum game, is a human quality; thus, it is a natural quality. But it is not the only quality and it doesn’t always fare well, even with humans. Take a look at the headlines coming out of Belarus. But still.
This is why Dupré’s emphasis is not on acting – which he agrees is fundamental to religious living – but rather on listening, for it is only in listening that we learn whether we can and should act and then to what ends. “Thy will not mine be done” means listening so that I can actually learn what “thy will” means.
And that is super hard, because our minds are trained to to heed the “me first and me only” voice. The collective – caring for others, including starfish and elephants, cannabis plants and moonlight – is an afterthought, a side effect. There is another way.
Dupré says – and I think he is right, and I think this is what A Course in Miracles, for all its wackiness, is saying too – is that caring for the other is what God is all about. Caring for and about others requires coordination and cooperation which is Love which is God which is caring for and about others.
Indeed, Dupré suggests this “call to listen before acting” is a universal feature of all the major religions. “Great religious revolutions did not start in a burst of enthusiasm, but in a sound from beyond heard by men and women in silent waiting.”
This waiting, says Dupré, must be “totally open to the unknown.” For Christians – including those of us toiling in the marginal arbors of ACIM – the future is mystical because it’s all about listening, communing with the One who speaks in us apparently apart from us but not actually apart but in a way that’s hard to express and . . .
Well, we don’t have to express it. Or rather, it expresses as us when we are receptive and stop insisting that we know what shape or form or process it should take. Our spirituality acts in the world, yes, but its action always bends towards deepening our shared fundamental receptivity to love.
Or so it occurs to me on Friday morning a little after dawn, reading and writing, happy in the way my favorite scriptures promise means the Lord is near, and happy too.