I have been struggling with a dilemma for many years. The more my consciousness evolved, the less likely traditional theology and religion were satisfying and meaningful. The symbols of my faith tradition lost their efficacy and potency. The hymns sung as part of the devotional practice of my church did not inspire spiritual awareness. Prayer became less important than meditative practice. I could not reconcile the faith of my childhood with the developing post modern view found in revelations of Integral spirituality, with its inclusion of Eastern religions and meditative practice.
I found myself in the position of many in the modern and post-modern era who would announce that they were “spiritual” but not religious.
I initially concluded that these two world views, these two theologies, were incompatible. Evolution of consciousness transcends devotional religion, I decided. What we may call the Eastern traditions, which include the teachings of Buddhism and Hinduism, are problematical to traditional Western theologies.
Western traditions separate divinity from the material secular world. The two interact, but are never the same. One need only remember the fresco which adorns the Sistine Chapel to understand this point of view. Michelangelo portrays God (the Divine essence) reaching out to, but not quite touching Adam (the human representative of the physical world). We can be in relationship with God, but we can never be Gods. Jesus is the only entity who is both divine and human.
The Eastern traditions by contrast, do not separate the material world from divinity. Everything is divine. Thus, in meditative practice, one comes to the awareness of one’s own divinity. This was considered Christian heresy in the early Church. In part, one may conclude that this was a necessary reaction to some of the religious traditions of the West in which gods and humans were combined, or the reaction to the Roman Emperors who declared that they were divine.
It was through my study of Ken Wilber’s Integral Spirituality, that I began the process of reconciling this dilemma in my own spiritual practice. Wilber integrates these theological traditions in his descriptions of the three faces of God. It may make more sense to translate “face” as “experience of,” or “manifestation of.” The three faces of God are infinite God; intimate god; and inner god.
Infinite God is the God described in the Old and New Testaments who is high and lifted up. This is the God of Moses burning bush whose very name cannot be spoken without potential consequences. This is the God who reveals Himself through Jesus, but who can never be fully known. This is the God who is worshipped through religious behaviors of devotion. This is the God of our historical tradition who demands obedience, and to whom we bring offerings, hymns, and commitment to a lifestyle. This is the God I feared as a youngster in the conservative church in which I was raised. This is the God I learned to love when my mother took me out of the sermons of hell and brimstone, and introduced me to a different understanding in a different church.
In that new church of my adolescent years, I came to experience the second face of God: Intimate God. This was the “face” of God revealed through Jesus of Nazareth. I began to develop a prayer life in which it was very clear that I was in a relationship with my God. I did things, not out of fear of punishment, but out of love for someone who first loved me, and sacrificed for my forgiveness. I did not want to disappoint this God. This relationship propelled me into a decision to dedicate my life to full time Christian service and ministry.
It was in theological school, some years later that I first began to experience confusion and doubt. Perhaps it was part of systematic theology studies, or looking at the New Testament in a more scientific way to determine its origins. My faith sustained me through most of my doubts well into midlife. However, during this time I also discovered transpersonal psychology (which later became part of Integral psychology) and Eastern traditions. And then, through meditative practice, I began to work actively on my evolution of consciousness.
This brought me ultimately to understand and experience the third Face of God: Inner God. This was the experience of my own divinity, as part of everything which is divine.
This is referred to as “no boundary” or “One Taste” in Integral spirituality. The separation of reality into spiritual and material; sacred and secular, falls away. The problem is that my church had not evolved along with me. My minister still talked only about the first two faces of God. The devotional practices of my church lost their meaning because the Third Face of God was missing on Sunday mornings. When asked by close friends “What are you, religiously speaking”? I could only react by saying “I guess I am a Christian/Buddhist.” This was an unsatisfying answer to me. And I missed my Church. I was not looking for a Sangha instead.
Paul Smith, in his book “Integral Christianity” helped me to move through this period of confusion. I began to understand that I needed to overcome the dichotomy between my childhood and adolescent experience of God, and the evolution of my consciousness into the awareness of my own divinity. It did not have to be either/or. It could be both/and. I could participate in the religious practices of my church which are oriented to the First and Second Faces of God, while still recognizing that there was more. It was the evolution from fear, to love, to self awareness. I didn’t have to exclude devotional practice, I could include it with meditative practice.
In Eastern traditions this is the journey of the bodhisattva, the enlightened being who returns to the world with “bliss bestowing hands.” It is an awe inspiring journey. I have much work to do. Recognizing that I am one of the “Faces of God” and perhaps the only face of God some people will ever see, fills me with a sense of great responsibility. I fall so short of putting my own beliefs/awareness/evolution of consciousness into practice. It makes me want to say:”Oh well, I’m only human.”