Wednesday, September 11, 2013

'How Much Should it Cost to Find God?'

As I was surfing through the news this morning, I came across an article by this title in The Atlantic, by an author with the obvious pseudonym of Natasha Scripture. It's worth reading, if only to see how desperate people are, and how willing to be fooled people are. The comments posted below the article are about what you would expect.

At the risk of repeating myself, the self-help and so-called spirituality industry in the USA is now worth 13 billion dollars.

While it is everyone's privilege and peril to choose their own poison, there are several very basic principles to remember about this business—I use the word advisedly.

First, it thrives on telling people, directly or indirectly, that there is always something wrong with them.

Second, it sells its products by encouraging people to have an 'experience' of some sort. As we all know, spiritual maturity is about self-forgetfulness, not self-preoccupation, and looking for 'experiences' is bound to bring emptiness, disappointment, even despair.

Third, when people crash and burn from the high they have experienced from one of these self-styled gurus they are told once again that something is wrong with them. And on and on in an endless, vicious circle.

Remember what Eckhart said: If you're doing anything special, it's not God.

This doesn't mean that there are not books that are helpful, but they are mostly texts before the 15th century—with the exceptions of Julian of Norwich (who died sometime after 1414; read the Glasscoe edition, which is published by Exeter, and I believe is now online), Gerson, Nicholas of Cusa and others of the apophatic tradition. After the 15th century the names are fewer and fewer: some Quakers, some metaphysical poets, Simone Weil, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. However, it is also necessary to remember that most of these works, when they have originated in another language, have probably been mis-translated, because many of the translators also are looking for 'experience'. If you see the word 'experience' discount it. It's probably a mistake. This solipsistic meaning of 'experience' doesn't appear until the 14th century. Up until then, and still today in French, it meant 'experiment'. That's why the Cloud-author uses the word 'prove'.

The worst danger of all, perhaps, comes from those so-called teachers who have understood to a certain extent and then sold out to the commercial 'spirituality' industry.

The hardest fact to accept in all this is that, for the most part, there are no teachers. The wisdom has been lost. But we can help each other, and all it takes is a little common sense, an increasingly rare trait in itself. Better to go to a trusted friend when in need of discernment and encouragement than to shell out the month's rent money to one of these charlatans who will only lock you deeper into your self-consciousness.

It's not about 'special': feeling special, special clothes, special activities, special teachers. It's about living an ordinary, everyday life—which has also become increasingly rare.

'Seek to the beholding', says Julian, and everything will be added unto you.

That's all we need to know, and all the rest will be added unto us.

8 Comments:

Blogger changeinthewind said...

What about Martin Laird? I think Into the Silent Land is a useful book.

I "looked" hard for several years within the so called mystical Christian community and could find no community not for sale. The simple truth is I cannot afford to go, go, go and pay each time, and, the world IS warming up for reasons now well understood.

This come-to-me way of ..?.. makes no sense.

However, there are Buddhists, and not few who train incessantly and eschew "experience" as you use it here.

If, at the "root" all is no thing at all, will they not suffice as companions on the way, be it Jesus or Siddhartha to which they attend?

1:21 pm, September 11, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, Maggie. This last part is what I needed to hear. Ordinary activities through transfigured perception. Cling to the faith. Soak in the silence. Think not of you're own survival.


It's not about 'special': feeling special, special clothes, special activities, special teachers. It's about living an ordinary, everyday life—which has also become increasingly rare.

'Seek to the beholding', says Julian, and everything will be added unto you.

That's all we need to know, and all the rest will be added unto us.

3:39 pm, September 11, 2013  
Blogger Valerie Stark said...

How much should it cost to find God?
Nothing--and everything.

5:41 pm, September 11, 2013  
Anonymous Matthew Carlisle said...

Was the shift towards an overriding emphasis on 'experience' the consequence of a shift in epistemology (how we know things)? It seems all the talk about 'experiencing' God stems from the basis that in order to 'know' God you have to 'experience' something. I think many of us are recovering addicts in this sense - there doesn't need to be a special feeling just living an ordinary, everyday life in God.

8:00 pm, September 11, 2013  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

They are certainly connected!

9:17 pm, September 11, 2013  
OpenID postmodernquaker said...

I mentioned you in a recent Postmodern Quaker essay on these issues. It's called "A Song of Experience."

1:43 pm, September 13, 2013  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

This is a terrific article. Thank you.

For a PDF of an article that deals specifically with experience, see 'Behold Not the Cloud of Experience' in 'The Medieval Mystical Tradition in England VIII', ed. E.A. Jones, Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2013 OR for a PDF of this article please leave a comment with 'DO NOT PUBLISH' at the top and containing your email.

2:00 pm, September 13, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Maggie,

Can you define for me what it is to 'live in sin'?

Thanks,

Nick

4:55 pm, September 13, 2013  

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