Final value of all spirituality is what we are and what we do

Friday, April 23, 2004


Written by Tom Harpur

Apr. 11, 2004.

"Start blooming, frozen Christian!" challenged the medieval mystic Angelus Silesius. "Springtime is at hand. When will you ever bloom if not here and now!"

That is truly the message of this Easter and of any Resurrection to newness of life. Silesius, (1624-77), has been quoted here before. His other famous words are never far from mind:

"Though Christ a thousand times in Bethlehem be born, / But not within thyself, thy soul will be forlorn; / The cross on Golgotha thou lookest to in vain / Unless within thyself it be set up again."

Coming alive again with joy is what all true religion is all about. Thanks to my brother dropping by for a brief visit last week and giving me a copy of Living Buddha, Living Christ, by Thich Nhat Hanh, the renowned scholar and mystic, I have been powerfully reminded of this truth we all know but so easily forget: That the final value of all spirituality, however sourced or named, is what we are and what we do. All the rest is an add-on. This can't be stated strongly enough.

If we are not more alive because of our faith, if we are not more compassionate, more awake and aware, more moved by the universal holy spirit of God that breathes in every single one of us, then all the anthems or hosannas today and all our theological correctness avail us nothing at all.

Silesius, who in his mystical and often controversial poems, was greatly influenced by another holy man, Meister Eckhart, uses the potent analogy or metaphor of the dramatic explosion and renewal of nature every spring to call for each would-be believer's personal resurrection.

No amount of sermonizing about the story of Jesus being raised up from the dead, no thundering arguments for any particular theory can ever replace the lived reality of knowing and showing that the same resurrecting spirit dwells in each of us.

I firmly believe in the truth of a life that is infinitely glorious that shimmers on the other side of the transition we call death. Having studied this and researched it now for several decades, I find the constant, reductionist arguments of the skeptics and nay-sayers wholly wanting. No, it's not a matter of rewards and punishments; nor is it some atavistic fear of personal extinction. It's not some evolutionary benefit we've dreamed up to keep us toiling on.

Beneath the surface of the Gospel accounts of the Resurrection, with all their contradictions and problems, there flows a message as old as the race itself. The inner meaning of the Jesus Story this day is a major testimony to our immortality. We have sprung from other, spiritual dimensions of being and to those we shall return.

Regular readers of this column know that I am not given to swallowing unexamined or purely traditional "truths." I do not subscribe to the magical thinking school of religion that believes in afterlife rewards selectively based on whether you accept or have "faith" that someone else long ago was "raised from the dead."

But, neither do I believe or accept the mental contortions some "experts" are prepared to go through in order to "prove" their dogmatic assumptions that the grave is the end and that's that.

For example, the would-be debunkers of the near-death experiences (NDE) so familiar to everyone and witnessed to by millions of people everywhere of all religions and of none, never cease to amaze me with the lengths to which they're prepared to go in their debunking attempts.

They try every futile argument: to wit, the whole thing is a product of anoxia or other changes in the brain when near death; it's a reliving of the birth process (!); it's a hallucination or some other imaginary projection, or whatever. Some have tried valiantly to reproduce an NDE by special helmets carrying electrical stimulation to specific parts of the brain.

Not one of dozens of such theories explains the deeply numinous, spiritually charged dimension of the real (as contrasted to induced) experience. None explains why an NDE is so life-transforming. None accounts for flatliners (no brain waves at all) who nevertheless were aware of all that was going on around them.

But life here is what counts — now. On Easter Day, beyond all days, Christians have to ask ourselves some serious questions. Why are religious people often so dishonest, mean and miserable? Why is theological hatred the most odious and virulent of human prejudices? How does ardent faith so often go together with a closed mind and a judgmental outlook on life? Do other people regardless of creed, colour, sexual orientation, looks, or rank, feel a glow of empowering warmth in our presence and begin to blossom — or can you , if you're aware enough, see them visibly begin to wilt and wither?

Happy Easter. It's time to really bloom!

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Tom Harpur's latest book is The Pagan Christ — Recovering the Lost Light (Thomas Allen).
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