Editor’s Note: Lorian is a collection of different voices and perspectives, each one authentic to our collective experience yet also simultaneously unique and particular to the individual. A recent exchange between Julie and David Spangler over the latest “Ask Julia” question led them each to respond in slightly different, yet complementary ways. Taken together, these corresponding views offered a well-rounded response while also affirming the inherent individualism and “spiritual tenure” that comprises a core understanding of Incarnational Spirituality. This emerging dialogue inspired us to consider a different approach to our “Ask Julia” column. Going forward, we will open up questions to our wider group (and whenever possible present different responses.) This updated column will be called “Conversations with Lorian."
The following blog post is David Spangler's response to the question that inspired this update to the"Ask Julia" column, which going forward will be called "Conversations with Lorian". (Please click here to read Julia Spangler's response from last week.)
What does it mean to genuinely be in contact with the God within? How is it different from people claiming to have “Conversations with God” or claiming to channel “Jesus” or some other archetypal image of the Sacred? How do I respond to and discern what is a real inner contact?
These are excellent questions, ones that my wife Julia addressed very well last week drawing on her own experiences. I agree with everything she said, and so I would like to explore a different approach. I find at the heart of these questions a deeper one: How do I recognize a contact with the Sacred whether that contact is within myself or in the experience of someone else?
In part, the answer to this question depends on how I define the Sacred. If I believe the Divine is a fair but stern parent, then I will look to those parental qualities as my criteria for recognizing divinity. If I see God as the loving, nourishing energy of life uniting all creation in a wholeness, then that expectation will shape my perception. Do I see myself as God’s creature and thus as something separate from the Divine, or do I see the Sacred as the underlying, foundational Identity of everything that is? If the latter, then I will be more open to the experience of an indwelling divinity with which I can commune; if the former, then God is the Other from whom I receive messages, instructions, and teachings, which can just as likely come from someone else as from within myself.
Whatever my belief may be, how open am I to an experience that expands or challenges that belief, requiring me to see the Sacred in new ways? The Sacred might contact me from a place within my own consciousness, but if it does so in an unexpected or unfamiliar way, then I might not recognize it as a genuine contact; whereas I might accept someone else is having a conversation with God or Jesus if their experience conforms to images that I expect or in which I have been taught to believe.
One of the terms for the Sacred common in Christian theology is “the Ground of All Being.” This means to me that the Sacred is at the root of who we are, the foundation of our identity, the core of our being. The Sacred draws us into ourselves and deepens our sense of who we are even as it enhances our ability to connect to and lovingly engage the world beyond ourselves. In this sense, it doesn’t draw our attention away from who we are; rather it gives us a fuller, deeper taste of our own beingness, our own “flavor,” so to speak. In so doing, it takes us beyond words, beyond images, even beyond thought and feeling. Though our minds may almost immediately cloak such an experience into words and images, the contact itself transcends such intermediaries. It is an upwelling of our own nature that distinguishes us yet connects us seamlessly to the fabric of creation.
Here’s a metaphor I find useful: how do I tell the difference between orange juice freshly squeezed and orange juice that has been reconstituted? One way is to have a discerning palate that can detect the “freshness,” but what exactly is the flavor and quality of this “freshness”? It comes from the experience of actually squeezing a fresh orange and drinking the juice. If I only ever drink orange juice from cans of frozen juice or bottles in grocery stores, I’m getting the flavor second hand. I may not know what truly fresh juice is like, so I have no basis for comparison and discernment. On the other hand, if I can get hold of an actual orange and squeeze it, then I can begin to know what fresh orange juice tastes like.
Most people get their sacredness—their sacred messages and contacts—second hand, frozen in books or packaged in various ways through various teachings. This contact may be inspiring, but is it the same as “fresh divinity”? The only way to know, really, is to do the work necessary to experience “fresh divinity,” which would mean through a skillful spiritual practice of inner attunement, meditation, contemplation, prayer, etc….whatever works for you. You deliberately seek out the Sacred in yourself and in your life and see what it tastes like, quite apart from the messages and teachings that others provide. You have to do something to put yourself in the orchard where “fresh God” can be picked and squeezed. And you have to do this more than once (after all, you learn what fresh orange juice really tastes like by tasting the juice squeezed from several oranges, not just from one).
When I taste the juice of an orange, two things happen. First, there is the actual experience of the impact of the juice on the taste buds in my tongue and mouth. I feel its liquidness, its sweetness, its tartness, its citric tang, and so on. But second, there are my mental thoughts and descriptions to myself about what I’m experiencing. If I like sweetness above other sensations, I will look for that and will evaluate the juice on the basis of how sweet it is; if I like the citric tang or the tartness, I will look for that and use that for my evaluation. I will say the juice is the “real thing” if it is sweet or if it is tangy and tart, depending on my preference. To really understand the flavor of orange juice, though, I need to go past these preferences. I need to take the juice on its own terms, so to speak.
Same with divinity. Do I think of God as a sweet, loving, empowering presence or as a tart, tangy, fierce, stern presence? Is God someone I must obey or something that infuses and nourishes my life? How I think about God, how I define divinity, will affect how I recognize, respond to, and discern a Sacred encounter. So I need to understand what my mental and emotional habits and expectations, my imaginal images are, around divinity and how those images may affect my inner “taste buds”.
If I have an experience of the God Within, the key factor is that, unless my thought forms and expectations get in the way, I’m having the potential of experiencing an actual presence or energy—a genuine flavor fresh-squeezed. If I’m listening to someone else’s contact, I’m receiving it the way I get orange juice from a grocery store, pre-packaged in some manner. It may still have a wonderful flavor, but it’s second hand. It’s not direct from the orange.
So I need to find the "orchard" where this divine fruit grows, and if I am serious about it and see divinity truly as the Ground of my Being, then I enter this “orchard” through moments of honoring and loving myself. For I am the tree whose roots are in God and from whose branches the divine fruit hangs. This is why I find an incarnational spirituality to be important, for it brings me to the orchard of myself. There, in the mystery and love of my own being, I can find that fresh divinity and discover its taste for myself. When I do, it’s a taste I will know anywhere, whatever the package in which it is served.
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