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Spiritual Transformation in Apocalyptic Times
What is it like to have your life uprooted?
In this materialist day and age, it is oh-so easy to mess everything up and make everyone miserable: you don’t accept anything higher than you, which means that no matter what elaborate theories you come up with, no matter the rationalizations, the justifications, you will live your life according to your whims. Granted, it isn’t always straight-forward, and I don’t mean to say that you must necessarily believe in this or that to live a decent life. But the materialist worldview will eventually seep in; its implications will play themselves out. And this will have consequences, although we often don’t see it, refuse to see it, can’t see it.
But even back in the days when people took religion seriously, or today for religious people, salvation is far from guaranteed. When you follow religious rules, codes of conduct, or rituals, you will still eventually mess everything up and make everyone miserable. Because no matter the rationalizations, etc. pp. Just think of the stereotypical holier-than-though people who act in supreme cruelty towards others, including their kin, and whose hammer of judgment crashes everyone around them even while they act horrendously themselves—just following their religious rules, of course.
These are perhaps extreme examples, but the general pattern holds true for all of us.
If that is so, how do we get out of it?
It is all about descending to the underworld, and coming back deeply transformed. There are many stories, myths, and teachings that all basically describe this same idea.
The important thing to understand is that spiritual transformation, like everything else of value, doesn’t come free. It is paid by suffering, by giving up one’s illusions about oneself. The descent into the underworld is a metaphor—how it actually manifests depends on the individual circumstances. But the good news is that we have help on this narrowest of paths. Indeed, getting in touch with this helping force is, in a way, the point, because without it, we are lost to the opposite forces.
I have been reading the very interesting book Conversations in Apocalyptic Times: A Guide for the Spiritual Seeker by Robert J Fraas and Arthur Versluis. The authors describe the Christian perspective on this transformative process:
The Risen Christ is ultimately the reality that has survived in presence for everyone. In other words, whether you’re a member of a church or whatever it might be, there is a spiritual presence that the Risen Christ, the risen Light can bring to any individual. So, in a sense, you can start with Christ saying “I am with you always.” That the knowledge that there is a reality of being with, in a kind of a sacred dialogue way, no matter if you go through a church, if you do not, no matter what path you take there is someone, in this person in this divine presence, the divine light that you can start with. So I think that that’s what, at the core, no matter where you would like to start, you don’t have to start alone. (p. 18-19)
You will receive help. But the way is yours, particularly the suffering that comes with the realization that you got everything wrong, that you went through life blindly, and the consequences this had for others in your life. Especially that.
Spiritual transformation starts there.
What follows is the descent to the underworld.
It is a deep, rumbling groan of the soul. You are utterly consumed by regrets, guilt, shame. How you wish you could go back and take different decisions. At the same time, the realization hits you that not only you can’t go back, but you don’t want to, because that would be just another sin piled on top of the infinite series of sins that is your miserable existence. It would be a forbidden shortcut. You must learn. You must face the music. You must transform. Everything in your life has had a purpose. All your life before was nothing but that which led you to this culmination point of perfect agony. Aah, the pain. But no self-pity allowed. No reveling in misery. Just the misery, pure, simple, all-encompassing. Your brain hurts, because it can’t figure it out. The more you think, the more painful it is, and yet you cannot stop thinking. Give yourself over to it. But no. You must find a way. You must change—radically change, and now. But you can’t. Or can you? You try. Only to find out that the very act of trying is messing everything up even more, and worst of all, hurts others. All the while, the pain becomes more unbearable. Oh yes, the sweet grace of the Highest. Just before you explode inwards, it grants you a break, although you know you don’t deserve it. You experience a moment of happiness, of calm. Only to find your mind wandering again to the source of your pain, because deep down you know that this source is also your salvation, your only way out. Push. Push. You are giving birth to a new world. You must persist, and you can’t. Years go by, perhaps. The dark tunnel cannot be measured in time, or length. And suddenly, you get a glimpse of the other side. It is only a glimpse, but oh the sweetness, the quiet, the understanding that reaches all the way from heaven to hell and back. You see, you feel everything before you: the entire cosmos, why we are here, how it all works, how it all fits together in the most sublime, perfect way, undescribable by mere words or thoughts. You discover that divine voice of supreme subtlety that is both within the depth of your body, and yet outside it, and still runs all the way through, in every dimension: from the deep to the shallow, from the low to the high, from the end to the beginning, from the mundane to the far-out, from the dirty grime to the cleanest, most spotless, from the raw to the refined, from conformity to madness. It cuts right through it all. And you know, you know. You know every dot in this most confusing matrix, every line, every figure, every shape. It is all there, reaching out, with its purpose, its grace, its grand design. Everything, everyone has their place in it, you have your place in it, a place that can’t be pinned down in space and time, and yet appears to that advanced sense of yours as a precise location, that sense which is not thought, not emotion, not sensation, but all of these things and more, so much more. A sense that, again, cuts through everything, a warm swirling spiraling movement permeating your body and imbuing every fiber of your soul with the most subtle, and most clear information that you know exactly how to read, and that you know exactly you can’t read, can’t control, can’t manipulate. Only to see it gone, for you to be thrown back to the mundanity of daily life, which you know is the most important of it all, itself the nexus of everything that ever was and will be. And you will be normal, regular again. You know you must not, and will not, chase after the divine, the spectacular, the bliss, or radical transformation. And yet, once you allow yourself to look back a month, a year, a decade, you know that the most radical of transformations has happened, even while you live your life as normally as any other human being, struggling with the rollercoaster that is our earthy existence, doing your best to keep your head above water. But everything has changed. You have changed. That new, radically new sound within is with you now, it is you even while it is without; it is always at your fingertips, even while you have no control over it.
You will always keep on walking.
But you walk in a different garden now.
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