Whether in contemplative circles or the culture at large, the terms enlightenment (more antiquated) or awakening (the more contemporary use) carry with them a radical or seemingly unattainable quality, some kind of perpetual “mountaintop experience” of perpetual wisdom and bliss once we’ve broken through. We might think of some distant sage, revered by followers, doling out wisdom untouched by worldly events.
But for most, the experience, at least from the outside, looks far more ordinary. One of the temptations on the spiritual path is always to romanticize or fetishize an entirely other order of life, rather than imagining a transformed version of our existing everyday context.
As a child growing up in an Evangelical context, Catholic depictions of Jesus fascinated me. One especially striking image was that of the Sacred Heart in which Christ touches his chest with his heart aglow.
Maybe it seemed archaic or too formal or stoic on the one hand or too simplistic or too melodramatic. Maybe it seemed too obviously metaphorical and therefore a little bit dangerous. But maybe the most striking aspect of it was it seemed too vulnerable.
During an especially difficult period for me I connected with a friend who was going through difficulties of her own. She’d recently gone through a divorce and was confronting addiction issues in her life head on.
As one of the few people whose book recommendations for me are consistently spot on, I asked what she was reading at the time. One of the titles on her current list was Awareness by a writer I hadn’t heard of: Anthony De Mello.
Toward the end of Seminary, I experienced a deep anxiety. One reason for entering seminary in the first place had been for discernment. What vocation to pursue. Academia? Ministry? Missions? Music? Here it was three years later and I was no closer to the goal, and still directionless.
Home sick from my job working for the Special Education department in the local school system, I borrowed a set of DVDs from a friend and looked forward to the day of rest and binge watching. It was Season 2 of Alan Ball’s Six Feet Under. In the show, each episode begins with a death. Some tragic, some comical, some accidental, some natural. Its power, though, lay in its treatment of the complexity and nuance of our psychological responses to the deaths we experience.
As a little boy I was concerned for George Lucas’s eternal soul. In Sunday school a seven year old told me George Lucas actually believed in the force and that we should pray for him. So we did.
He needed to understand the Christ died for his sins and that he should repent and accept Jesus, so he could go to heaven like us.
I was six.
Sure, we watched the movies every chance we got, played with the action figures, and divided up roles on the playground, but we knew if you bought into it, this force mumbo jumbo could be extremely dangerous and put your soul at hazard.