An old and treasured friend asked Roberta for advice because she respects her spiritual values. Donna explained that her brother Warren, long the black-sheep of their family, had become obsessed with religion. After a soap opera life-style filled with conflicts, disappointments and a messy divorce, Warren claimed to have had a spiritual awakening that makes life deeply satisfying. His persistence was annoying to his older sister. When Donna paused to catch her breath, Roberta asked about Warren. She wanted to know what was currently going wrong in the brother’s soap opera life.
Donna hesitated for a moment before answering.
Well, nothing actually. Warren’s stopped his carousing and running around with other women and has gone back to Susie. He’s patched things up with the kids and taken up his career. He’s paying off his debts with interest.
Roberta couldn’t resist the temptation. And that disappoints you?
Donna was annoyed with her question.
Of course not! I’m pleased for him but he keeps calling to talk about my lack of faith. Warren is fanatic about it. He wants me to accept Christ, to relate to God as he has; whatever that means. Why should I, when I’ve never messed up my life as he did?
Seldom has anyone opened a door so wide for spiritual dialogue between two friends about the vital faith factor in a life of personal satisfaction! Roberta quickly pointed out the difference to Donna between a casual acceptance of religious beliefs and a focusing of one’s life in a covenant relationship or a meaningful connection with God. For, her friend was wrong about not needing a relationship because she’d never made the mistakes Warren had. We know Donna too well to accept that — her tragic quartet of suffering, guilt, rage and death is as real as our own or as yours.
Eunice Tietjens spoke for all of us in her poem written metaphorically in blood during the desperate days of World War I.
I have too many selves to know the one.
In too selfish a schooling was I bred.
Child of too many cities that have gone
Down wicked crossroads of evil schemes,
And at too many altars bowed my head
To light holy fires to self-proclaimed gods.
Warren was phoning Donna to share the good news that his spiritual slate was wiped clean, that he was empowered to start life over anew with a spiritual restoration so dramatic Jesus called it being born again. His life is far more satisfying than it had been during his locust years and he lives with a new sense of purpose and permanence in something greater than his narcissistic appetites and illogical fears. Rather than selfishly grabbing all the pleasure he can, he now lives with an accepting and loving life-style. No wonder he wanted to tell his sister about it! He’d found the strength and courage to become the kind of husband he always wanted to be and could never become in his own strength. Donna may have been annoyed but Susie was delighted since she’d never stopped loving Warren. He no longer feels like a cosmic orphan in a cold and dangerous universe and that changes everything in their marriage. He’s ended his spiritual bankruptcy through God’s grace and is at peace with the Lord of the Cosmos, with Susie and their children for the first time in his life. He is consciously connected in the Cosmos and cannot be silent about his newly satisfying life.
Each person who seeks satisfaction, whether good or bad or more realistically a combination of both spiritual and secular interests, has to deal with the tragic human triad of suffering, guilt and death. Because of our primordial ancestors’ terrifying experiences as fangless and weak little hominids, struggling to survive the great felines and canines on the African savannah, we still have hidden deep within our souls anxieties that never completely vanished. This homosapien angst includes the potential for greed, rage, dishonesty and violence when we feel frightened, devalued or endangered. I don’t have to point out that every person who ever lived has suffered from various sources, life teaches us that. We fear pain and try every way possible to avoid it but it is part and parcel of human existence. Our suffering includes physical distress from accidents and illnesses and emotional pain from the loss of loved ones and, for example, the suffering from being discarded by a lover. Existential frustration or spiritual bankruptcy causes philosophical distress. Then too, every person with the slightest grasp on reality realizes we are all doomed creatures. We perish and to go the way of all flesh.
William Shakespeare expressed it well when he wrote in one of his brilliant plays;
Every man born of woman owes God a death that shall be collected at the time and place of God’s choosing.
Between the beginning and the end of human existence, every person must cope with the distressing feelings of fear, inadequacy and guilt that are buried deep within the unconscious aspects of each soul. No one escapes unscathed the death dread that comes from our approaching extinction. Neither do we miss the guilt that follows our sins of commission and omission. None of us, except for paranoid psychopaths, go through life without making choices that we regret and also failing to do many decent things we should have done. Our greed and our fear of being hurt sees to that. Even today, I can think back and feel twinges of guilt and relive times of inadequacy that come from relationships I bungled as a teenager and from choices I handled badly in adulthood. I have no doubt that the parents of the youthful shooters in the Littleton, Colorado tragedy at Columbine High School were crushed by their guilt of commission and omission. Actually, the only secular way to get rid of the tragic quartet with its suffering, guilt and death dread is by repressing our anxieties into our psychological unconscious. There they fester and disrupt almost every activity and relationship we have. To break the grip of the tragic triad, to mature beyond the turmoil it causes, we must step up to a higher level of personal responsibility. Here is the truth of the matter.
Over fifty years we have synthesized the work of the best psychologists in the world and have discovered that science and faith, psychology and religion and psychotherapy and worship are far closer and more crucial to satisfaction than most persons realize. Both well up out of our human traits; they come from our need to deal with the tragic triad, to find security and peace in our complex world. After discarding our homosapien anxieties, rage and guilt, after connecting with God, we discover for ourselves what the deeply dedicated physician Albert Schweitzer meant when he wrote;
We must stop attributing our personal and cultural evil to other persons and to society, and learn to exercise our own wills and to accept our responsibilities in the realm of faith, worship and morals.
Indeed, a conscious commitment to God includes a regained sense of personal worth and responsibility for self and humankind or it is a self-serving and bogus connection. Early Christian faith was intensely personal, including a conscious relation- ship with Jesus when he was alive and later, metaphysically in the spirit. Unfortunately, after a few hundred years that personalized faith was lost as secular nobility and a church aristocracy ripped Christianity away from the people and reorganized the faith for their own benefit. The concept of connecting with God personally was discarded in favor of a hierarchy that stood in the door to determine who would be acceptable to God and who wouldn’t. The priesthood substituted ritual which they could control for a personal faith they couldn’t, demanded payment for deliverance and used torture against dissenters that would have gagged a Nazi storm trooper. As late as 1960 the Magdalene Society of Ireland was still flogging, starving and working to death poor pregnant girls who’d come to them for help. The psychotic Mother Superior called it redemption through penance but it was a vicious punishment scheme right out of the horrors of the medieval church. No wonder that Pope John Paul, as he approaches the end of his life, suffered much guilt for the way his church completely justified the assailing Muslims, burning odd women as witches, murdering heretics and Protestants during the Inquisition and failing to challenge Germany’s destruction of European Jewry during the Holocaust.
The Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran traditions have always stressed growth in faith through the sacraments and learning rather than a dramatic Damascus Road experience in which St. Paul was knocked senseless from his saddle when God finally got his attention. Obviously, there is much good to be said about rearing children in the faith from their earliest days. I know only enough theology to get into trouble with it but I do understand that at the very least a personal commitment is sound psychology and good theology. Which is why denominations that forty years ago wouldn’t have anything to do with Billy Graham’s relational ministry, now have prominent pastors and laypersons leading city wide crusade teams? They have learned that spiritually committed women and men make more faithful members than those who merely agree that faith is nice and possibly more satisfying than a secular lifestyle.
Although it is difficult for secular skeptics to believe that joy and satisfaction is found through a spiritual life-style, we can prosper in many ways through our faith. This can now be seen through a large body of research. Psychiatrist Raymond Moody, some years ago, researched and wrote the amazing book called Life After Life. In it he described scores of experiences through which persons from all walks of life died clinically and then were called back through heroic medical procedures. Multitudes of persons, perhaps as many as several million, including Roberta who bled to death during the birth of our third child and was revived miraculously, went through the now famous tunnel to the light on the other side of life and then returned to complete earthly missions. The life after life experience has become too common to deny, although some scientists legitimately debate its cause. However, most researchers see it as a real event. From time to time we catch glimpses that existence isn’t all over for us with the death of the brain and body — some aspect of our soul seems divine and linked forever with the God who brought us into existence. We suspect the human race has been experiencing this for a long time, which would account for the elaborate Egyptian celebration of life after life during the ages of the pharaohs.
We can also verify the power of prayer in our lives as believers after relating to God. Professor of Cardiology Randolph Byrd of the University of California Medical School in San Francisco studied some 400 patients at San Francisco General Hospital over a period of several years. They were in the Cardiology Unit with massive heart attacks or severe chest pains that required serious treatment. Dr. Byrd conducted traditional double blind research in which neither the health care professionals nor the patients knew which half of the sufferers were being prayed for – in addition to the best care the hospital could offer them. Their names were sent to church groups around the Bay area for regular prayers. The two hundred control patients received the precise same medical treatment but without consistent prayer. The results were spectacular, far beyond statistics, almost beyond belief!
According to Larry Dossey, M D, who has written Meaning And Medicine and Healing Words (The Power Of Prayer), the group being prayed for reacted precisely as if the patients were being given a miraculous new medication. The 200 being prayed for, although taken at random in a double blind, had far fewer deaths, required less surgery and were soon put on a much milder medication schedule. They healed more quickly than the control 200. Dr. Dossey reports that had any new drug been so effective, it would have been hailed world wide as a modern medical miracle. Dossey cites some one hundred thirty research studies which show that prayer heals and how it is connected with the temporal area of the brain’s right hemisphere! We can call this telepathy or communicating with God or whatever, but the truth is; When we pray for you with love, compassion and concern, knowing we are connected with God, something good happens to you! Also — the other way around when you pray for us.
From the day I learned that my innocent nephew on Death Row in an Arizona prison was getting an appeal hearing, I prayed devoutly that justice would be served, that the judge would see the truth and release David. What happened at the hearing? Within forty-five minutes the judge threw the conviction out as being without any merit and sent David home with his mother and father. When we connect with God — we also connect with each other and it can be a fulfilling connection! A tremendous victory over evil men and systems can be had through prayer.
The operative word in the all-time favorite gospel song Amazing Grace is to believe; to believe God’s great spiritual revelation to humankind. Some years ago, the story goes, a college pre-medical student told her professor of New Testament Studies that she could no longer believe the Bible, that it was filled with impossibilities such as the virgin birth, the calling forth of Lazarus from the tomb and the resurrection of Jesus. The professor smiled benevolently and explained.
Mary Ellen those are the little issues, the starter beliefs to get you moving in the right direction. If you think those are odd, wait until you find that God expects you to come for communion and to believe that the big and ragged, scary-looking black man kneeling beside you at the altar rail is your brother in Christ. And that you are being called to leave your prestigious medical practice to serve as a clinic doctor to the Hottentots of Africa. That you are to take up your cross daily and follow Christ in simplicity as the Quakers taught rather than buying a new Mercedes coupe every other year. That’s what you shall find almost impossible to believe!
Viktor Frankl, my mentor in this distinctly spiritual approach of Logotherapy, wrote that each person has a deeply philosophical nature, the spiritual unconscious, which is as vital to health as the psychological unconscious discussed by Freud. Of course Christian philosophers have always taught this in the church’s dual emphasis on personal redemption and maturing discipleship. Research reveals in a variety of studies that men and women who hold strong spiritual beliefs – who live with a focused faith, hope and love — with God’s grace, have far fewer physical, psychological and philosophical ailments than those who do not. Life is much more satisfying in a wide number of ways when we consciously connect to God through a personal covenant relationship with Christ.
Sound research studies also reveal that women who relate to God have about sixty percent more sexual orgasms, of a deeply satisfying nature, than irreligious women. Also, husbands and wives who consistently worship together are sixty-eight percent more likely to enjoy loving, peaceful lives. Quarrels, child and spouse abuse, divorce and family abandonment are reduced enormously in families that worship together.
In other words, if you want to marry well, to have a long, deeply satisfying sexual relationship with someone who will be a supportive lover for life, with a true partner who shall not abuse or abandon you and your children, you’ll cut the odds of failure by more than half through finding your soul-mate within a faith community. Of course you shall have to continue maturing spiritually through your own acts of grace in order to meet the needs of your spiritual unconscious.
Accepting Christ, becoming conscious of God’s grace, being born again, establishing a covenant relationship or committing your life to Christ — is an early step toward maturing spiritually. Then we must love each other and pray regularly for one another. A fulfilling life through a covenant relationship and service to humankind isn’t at all like buying a ticket on the Boston to New York shuttle. We are required to keep paying our dues to the people with whom we share life and love. Warren has discovered this as he keeps pedaling his bicycle along and we hope his sister does also.
Here is a great starting point. God the Cosmic Creator and Seminal Spirit is open to all souls who hunger and thirst for a spiritual restoration. No one gender, race, class, country, congregation, denomination, political party or economic system is more precious to God than any other.
God offers us a come as you are invitation!
Unfortunately, we regularly see nihilistic, narcissistic persons pretending that God loves them, their political parties, countries and companies best, in order to claim power and prestige over and to collect money from others. Such narcissistic religious, racial or gender exclusivity and superiority is always an egoistic, all too selfish way of dominating others, of boasting;
I speak for God so all you inferior sinners must bow to my spiritual superiority. You must believe as I believe, worship as I worship and even vote as I vote or the God who gives me power over you, shall reject you as unworthy of associating with we the better people.
This is the narcissistic, pharisaic sin of spiritual neuroticism that Jesus condemned more harshly than any other human failing. He blasted the religious egoists of his day, calling them empty cups with nothing to offer, calling them brightly painted tombs filled with rotten bones rather than life. Unfortunately, the more frustrated and alienated from God and each other persons become, the greater the temptation to pretend that one is superior to the rest of humanity. That way, the pretenders’ spiritually bankrupt don’t seem quite so meaningless. Of course, it is all a sham — any form of exclusivity and superiority is devastating to spirituality and loving relationships. Superiority pretensions really are a form of neuroticism, a defense mechanism by which possessions, pleasure, power and prestige are substituted for a spiritual sense of purpose and permanence. Spiritually maturing persons don’t need egoistic self-deception to feel good about themselves. They can prosper without making others look bad. They are able to see the good in other women and men without becoming petty and mean spirited.
Ranier Maria Rilke cautions us in these words:
All those who seek God tempt Thee,
And many who find solace would bind Thee,
To gesture and to form, to ritual and release.
As if their small candle had banished the darkness!
Alberta Jernigan of Houston spoke at a recent conference of Christian women.
We affluent American Christians are the fortunate of the world. We are the people who must express love by doing all we can for suffering humankind. Henry and I worked hard for decades to build our oil business but we never grew greedy and mean as so many financially driven, secular minded business people do. We never tried to pull up the ladder after ourselves as many Texas politicians did when they sold out to the racists and sexists. God has blessed us, but our love becomes real only when we serve others.
Spiritual love makes a tremendous difference in our values, attitudes, activities and relationships. Perceptive writers from John the Beloved to world-class psychologist Carl Rogers report there are two basic types of persons.
There are those who love others and those who do not love.
I take that one step further. There are many reactionary persons in business, government, education and even in the church who are so filled with frustration, fear, greed and resentment that they cling desperately to the past. They are unable to love freely, unwilling to adapt when change threatens them and thus they cripple themselves and their families because life keeps shifting inexorably around them. There are also courageous women and men who accept change as it comes, adapting in new activities and relationships, thinking creatively about life and their place in it, loving others deeply. They go on, empowering their families and organizations psychospiritually in confusing times.
We must mature spiritually or our relationship with God remains passive and weak rather than active and strong. Of course, as committed Christians we do believe that a covenant connection occurs through faith, hope and love in the Lord Jesus Christ. We must work at developing sources of meaning and create places of the heart in which we meet with the people with whom we share love and life. All our maturing attitudes, activities and relationships begin with God and probably end with God. As we commit our lives spiritually through purposeful activities, focusing our powers within God’s grace, our lives do become satisfying. We shall not always be happy, although we have often heard thoughtless young people assert that a spiritual commitment resolves all of life’s difficulties. They’re mistaken; their problem is that they haven’t lived long enough to gain wisdom about life’s tragic quartet of suffering, guilt and death. They don’t realize that on the average of five years, every person, family, church, company and community faces a major problem that cannot be resolved but must be bravely endured. The great tsunami that swept in from the Indian Ocean ruined spiritual and secular people alike. Kindly saints lost everything as quickly as violent dope dealers for the rain falls on the just and the unjust alike.
It should be obvious to any thoughtful person that humankind’s spiritual conflicts are real enough. Humans do indeed have the desire to control others, to force weaker persons to yield to our choices, to rule the roost as we did so briefly in childhood. Yet, there is also that inner aspect of the mind Viktor Frankl calls the spiritual unconscious. We all start with an inner response to the way life should be lived, sensitivity to beauty, love, decency and wholeness. Immanuel Kant, the philosopher, called this tendency the moral law within each human soul. Kant felt there was no way to explain it, that this law existed within everyone from creation. We believe it is what our ancestors in the living religions of the world called the god-ache — the yearning to be connected to the Seminal Spirit. We have discovered through our decades of research, counseling and teaching, that any attempt to understand the meaning of life must account for Kant’s universal conscience that exists within human hearts and minds. We all want to feel good about ourselves. We strive constantly to increase our times of satisfaction in ways that reveal how nature itself is thrilled by the joy of wholeness in working and playing, loving and learning and in worshipping and persevering. But, along with this need for completeness, nature has also arranged that is almost impossible for humans to find fulfillment directly in our activities and relationships. As with so much of life, we have to use a by-product approach.
We humans have our spiritual unconscious that leads us to seek the love, grace and beauty of God and the Cosmos. God is the ultimate source of all music, art and creativity as we live communally with those who appreciate and support us. Of course, we also wish to be unique, to shine greater than our peers, to dominate them in order to gain the lion’s share of life’s benefits. The first motive comes from our fear of being alone, our horror of isolation, of being at the mercy of nature, having to rely on the meager physical, emotional and spiritual resources we carry within ourselves. We want to love and to be loved, to co-mingle with our peers in all manner of ways. This desire to be part of something important from which we gain respect creates feelings of self-transcendence. This is the religious love called agape, the delightful uniting of the creature with the Creator that leads to conscious kinship with the Cosmos and its elements. Psychoanalyst Otto Rank put it this way;
For only by living in close union with a God-Ideal that exists outside our own ego, are we able to exist at all.
The need to connect with the divine isn’t merely a simple superstition or a search for assurance because of our limitations in a vast and dangerous Cosmos — even if that is what some contemporary researchers think. They assume that the concept of God is a human invention used to compensate for the terrors of existence. Actually, faith and belief are developing perceptions of what is really going on in this incredibly complex Cosmos of which we are each so small a part. Connecting is an out flowing of our human need for completeness — now and forever in a self-transcending relationship with the Cosmic Creator that lifts us up and out of ourselves. As Rank said, we cannot prosper alone, in our own strength, although in our secular society, many abandon spirituality along with simplistic forms of worship, neglecting faith, hope and love and trying to prosper with inadequate searches for satisfaction. Such persons starve spiritually while going to great lengths to fill their empty souls with possessions, power, prestige and pleasure — becoming careerists, gamesters, gangsters, recluses and even deviants. They become existentially frustrated and alienated in the midst of the greatest human prosperity of all history; then wonder why they feel lost in life, stuck in a swamp of meaninglessness that breaks their spirits and leaves then feeling purposeless.
This is the other side of human nature. Along with the universal search for love and meaning that we call agape or divine love, we often yearn to dominate and manipulate others
— to stand superior to all the world, to win prestige and enjoy pride as if one were god-like. While the self-transcendent aspects of life are called agape or divine love, these narcissistic elements are certainly Eros or sensual love. This is far more than mere sexuality, including all forms of potency and power. This includes the urge — the compulsion — for a life free from rules and regulations, for exciting experiences, the unfettered development of one’s powers, the longing to rise above nature and to win prestige greater than one’s peers through pleasure and possessions. This is the urge to maximize one’s personal gifts, to achieve on one’s own terms through self-expansion. However, if we focus too completely on Eros we become ruthless predators. If we live only with agape, we fail to develop our powers to any large extent. We must strike a balance in all of life.
Of course, we accept as completely acceptable to God that women and men connect, worship and serve others in many different ways. Human personality is too complex for uniformity and so is faith and the organized church. Our one small candle never casts out the greater darkness. We illuminate life only by uniting with others in places where we belong. Roberta made a simple confession of her childhood wrongs when little more than a toddler. The Nazi murderer of millions, Herman Goering, confessed his many crimes and connected with God just before he was scheduled to be executed. A friend of mine reached the great decision point in his life while plowing a field of cotton with his tractor.
Many confuse esthetics with spirituality, apparently unaware that humans have always been a religious species — that every one of our previous civilizations was built around religious beliefs. Some of the worship was simplistic and occasionally very cruel as with the Aztecs, but the clergy were scholars and engineers and often rulers. Humans have always craved mystic, supernatural experiences and relationships to feel at home in a vast and mysterious Cosmos. That is represents our yearning to connect with our Creator and we are all vulnerable until we develop meaningful spiritual practices that take us closer to God’s ideal for us in the community in which we belong.