The following is Part 4 of a review of the Refreshing Winds conference at Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg this February, with Brian McLaren and Steve Bell. Based on his new book, Naked Spirituality, McLaren’s talks were about the four stages of spirituality. Below are Menno-lite’s ‘end notes and commentary’ on this conference..
Saturday morning’s fourth session(1) of Brian McLaren’s Naked Spirituality series at CMU began with a discussion about a grotesquely deformed turtle with a plastic ring around its middle. This was to demonstrate that in certain kinds of religious communities, in stage one and two, ‘plastic rings’ fit perfectly, but farther on those rings now become life threatening to our spiritual health. Often the act of snipping those rings seems insignificant at the moment but one little snip and you find yourself finding new possibilities. In many ways, said McLaren, we are all having problems in our different religions. Part of the discovery of the gospel is being liberated from the rings of our religion into something bigger and freer, moving beyond stage three. This is the stage of Harmony, a stage of deepening.
Many people stay in stage one (Simplicity, where everything is knowable), the stage of good/evil, black/white, us/them. In fact, said McLaren, the majority of people stay in stage one or stage two and that works for them. But with some people (and about this he said his friend Richard Rohr is absolutely right)(2), it’s often great pain and great love that pushes us. Many more of us are nudged into stage three.
Higher education is the place of stage three, and this is where the graduates and faculty stay, and can make a living being critical of stage one and two, but many of us are pushed into stage four. Here there is a rediscovery of a few grand essentials, the move from not just thinking ‘right or wrong,’ but now ‘wise or unwise,’ ‘fitting or unfitting,’ focused on filling potential. Now the doubter moves to an integral, synthesizing, holistic frame of reference, comfortable with saying some things are known but that there are a lot of mysteries. He is now comfortable with questioning and not having everything nailed down, having joy in the journey and the quest.
In this stage, you go from being dependent and counter dependent to inter-dependent with others, and find your identity not just in stage four enlightened ones, you have to now discover your connection and solidarity with people at all different stages. Instead of reaching the top of the ladder you feel a new level of humility – the best sign you have crossed into this ‘new zone.’ (3)
You find new ways of talking about God and referring to God in stage four – our orthodoxy becomes paradoxy, a co-mingling of revelation of mystery. This harmony then becomes the new simplicity and then you will face new complexity, but once you’ve been though these stages you will recognize them. And then you will go through it all over again, but this time it’s different. (4)
The beginning of this fourth practice is to center on the word “behold” – which McLaren said means to slowly and deeply see with insight. He said, “My friend Richard Rohr, Franciscan priest and wonderful teacher, refers to ‘the naked now’, learning to see what the mystics see. The term Richard uses is non-dual seeing, a kind of seeing that isn’t immediately rushing to judgment.” (5)
Then McLaren related an old tale as an example of this, “conveyed by an old Buddhist, er, Chinese tale” about a farmer whose son broke a leg, and the neighbours said it was so terrible, but the father said it may be good. The next day solider came by to draft his son into the army, but the parents said great he couldn’t be drafted because he had a broken leg. The story goes on, but the theme is: “it may be bad, it may be good.” We reach a point, said McLaren, where we are able to perceive things and not immediately perceive them as good or bad. Like in Genesis 1, what God sees is good. In each stage God sees good, and there’s a deep thing going on in Genesis. In the six line narrative, we want to re read the narrative – what happened with the tree of good and evil was the judgment of good and evil. At he end of the story Joseph sees good out of evil. There is more to see than throwing things in their categories. Like in Acts 10 (Peter’s vision of clean and unclean). There is a progression of thinking. (6)
McLaren said that if anyone is in Christ – the messianic body, the new creation, this new realm of God’s kingdom, this new way of being human – for that reason we don’t recognize anyone according to the flesh – now we just see them, no categories. (7)
Referring to an earlier picture that had been shown, McLaren commented that all those beautiful images, the boys in India, arms around eachother, vitality, kinship and friendship of boys that made you transcend, Christian or Hindu, white or brown – make you behold the other as a human. Like the story of Hagar, forcing the sons of Israel to remember their kinship with the sons of Ishmael – cousins, related. This is the practice of seeing in ‘a new way.’
McLaren doesn’t think it’s possible until you’ve been through that deep dark valley of perplexity and you are brought to a new place. This meditative non dual seeing moves us to a natural next step, deep in our Christian tradition, but becomes cliché – surrender or consecration. This is the practice of joining with God, surrendering – to stop holding my separateness from God so strongly. In the eastern tradition they talk about estheosis. Here McLaren mentioned Steve Bell’s song, Burning Ember.
He talked about yielding of ourselves to God, entire sanctification to God, and the old division between activism and contemplation – the contemplative and missional life. My friend Richard Rohr, mentioned McLaren AGAIN (third time), started the Center for Action and Contemplation. When we yield to God we become part of God’s action and the distinctions disappear. (8)
The last word McLaren mentioned is the practice of Silence: Contemplation – being with (God) who is with us…in the silence(9), the being together, just knowing. The 14th century Sufi mystic Hafez(10) had a great way of saying this: God and I are like two fat people in a boat who keep bumping into eachother and laughing. It’s the joy of being alive with God, not needing to say anything. It’s a strange kind of prayer that expresses itself in not praying or barraging God with words, being aware that there’s a ladder, a stairway, a connection, whether you know it or not, it’s there.
In stage four we begin to see the face of God in the face of the other, even in the face of the estranged brother of enemy (re: Jacob and Esau).(11)
McLaren ended in a prayer; “Lord please reach down and snip the rings that deform and hold us back, set us free to be with you. Amen.”
END NOTES AND COMMENTARY:
(1) Listen here:
Saturday, February 5, 2011, 9:00am
Plenary: Brian McLaren, Naked Spirituality, Stage 4: Harmony
(2) Richard Rohr is a Franciscan friar and founding director of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He also writes and teaches about male spirituality, the Enneagram , New Age practices and eco-spirituality.
(3) Humbly ascended into the enlightened zone?
(4) This concept is based on the Spiral Dynamics systems theories of Graves, Beck and Wilber which McLaren so briefly mentioned in the first session (see here).
(5) For more on McLaren’s good friend Richard Rohr and his ‘naked now’ spirituality, see these:
Priest: ‘The boy always gets naked…’
(6) This was not about a progression of thinking, but a brand new covenant. “In this new dispensation, after the cross, all meats are allowed for food, there is no prohibition of clean or unclean because we are no longer under the Law of Moses, that made these distinctions but are under a new covenant (Acts 11:8-9; Romans 14:14), but under the law of Christ.” Source: Are we allowed to eat meat today? [http://www.letusreason.org/Biblexp38.htm]
(7) There are only two categories of people in the world: those who have been born again and are spiritually alive (awake, reconciled to God), and those who have not been born again and are spiritually dead (asleep, separated from God by sin).
“And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.” Romans 13:11
“Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.” Ephesians 5:14
(8) Distinctions? Christian/Buddhist, Catholic? Do our distinctions of ‘spiritually alive’ or ‘spiritually separated’ from God disappear in His eyes through our action and contemplation? The Bible says it’s when we repent of our sins that we are washed clean, and God can look at us because of the righteousness of His Son Jesus Christ. What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
(9) This is the silence that is promoted by both New Agers and Christian leaders but is different than finding a quiet place away from noise and distractions. The silence is referring to a stillness of the mind. See here:
(11) While we are made in the image of God, He does not dwell in everyone, and we will not see His face until we are with Him (Revelation 22:4).
McLaren’s Refreshing Winds at CMU – Part 1
McLaren’s Refreshing Winds at CMU – Part 2
McLaren’s Refreshing Winds at CMU – Part 3