The disappearing open theist

disappear-from-search-enginesOK, look, I embrace the open view of the future. Let me get that out of the way. I embrace it because I think it makes best sense of things existentially, philosophically, and yes, overall biblically speaking. But I gotta tell ya, I don’t think any of the biblical authors were open theists in the sense that they held to the sine qua non of the view today, that is, divine epistemic openness (regarding future contingencies). Let’s abbreviate that as DEO to save me typing.

When I say there’s biblical evidence for the open view, I mean I think there are examples of biblical authors conceiving of the future in open terms, that is, they believed human beings were responsibly free, faced genuine options, weren’t victims of fate, and that their lives, choices and prayers made a genuine difference to the course the world took. And they believed God truly related to them and engaged the world in such terms, all convictions which form the basis upon which modern-day open theists argue for DEO. And yes, I do agree that DEO makes better sense of these convictions, just the way I think the doctrines of the Trinity (later conceived) and of Christ’s two-natures (later conceived) best explain the Bible’s overall narratives.

But the more I ponder things, the idea that the biblical authors, Old or New Testament, actually espoused DEO seems nearly impossible to imagine. In the end I think they were all substantially Arminian (obviously an older term, but let me use it here) on these questions. That is, they believed in pre-recorded open theism, you might say. They affirmed freedom and contingency, the genuine relatedness of God and the world, and the consequential nature of prayer that motivate open theists to adopt their unique view in the first place.

Yes, the biblical texts do sometimes describe God as contemplating an open future. I don’t at all think these are explainable either as God accommodating himself to our ignorance by presenting himself as contemplating an open future or as human authors presenting God in such terms while actually believing otherwise. If biblical authors very occasionally stumbled into a way of thinking about God’s knowledge and engagement of creaturely affairs in terms of DEO (and I can hardly imagine it) it is far from being the established “biblical” view of things. I simply think the biblical authors never reflected philosophically along the lines of the particular questions (compatibilism/incompatibilism) that overwhelm the conversation today.

If cornered on the specific question of DEO, I think Moses, Jeremiah, Jesus, Paul or any other biblical figures would’ve said, “Well, of course God knows what’s going to happen.” Perhaps—perhaps—Paul, given some of his arguments and his philosophical training and disposition, might have cared enough about the matter to contemplate the problem.

Here’s the thing. I simply don’t know how to account for the absolute disappearance of DEO from biblical faith on the assumption that it was an intentional, studied, contemplated belief of biblical authors. If as open theist authors have argued, the Old Testament authors, and Jesus, and all the Apostles and the Apostolic church all held to the core open view doctrine of DEO, then the obvious question is ‘What happened?’ because in no time at all the Church and its leading thinkers had no abiding commitment to such a belief, not even the memory of anything like DEO having been the belief of former generations. Irenaeus (disciple of Polycarp who was a disciples of St. John himself) holds to the traditional (Arminian) view and never even hints that St. John taught DEO to Polycarp. Come on. That doesn’t seem remotely suspicious to my open theist friends? True, by Origen’s day the question of prayer’s relevancy in light of divine foreknowledge had become enough of a philosophical-existential issue that Origen wrote a book on it. But he shows zero awareness that anything like DEO was ever believed by any Christian, anywhere, of any generation. There’s just no good explanation for the disappearance of DEO on the assumption that the Apostles and their churches explicitly held such a belief.

disappearing-cycleway2It will be claimed (by Greg Boyd and other key open theist writers) that Hellenism is to blame, that in virtually no time at all pagan Greek philosophy corrupted biblical faith and DEO was among the first beliefs to go. All this damage occurred within St. John’s lifetime  and his supposed belief in DEO never makes it to Irenaeus, not even as an academic interest in what former generations believed. And the effects of Greek philosophy upon Christian belief were so thorough and universal that not a single mention by any Christian thinker of even the memory of previous Christians having held a view on foreknowledge different than the traditional view, appears anywhere on the horizon even though the problem of foreknowledge does appear early (in Origen). This strains credibility.

I’m open to seeing the evidence for the universal disappearance of DEO and its very memory from Christian thought by the opening of the 2nd century under the influence of pagan Greek philosophy, but this better bey good (Greg). My own sense is that DEO does cohere best with the biblical themes of personal freedom, responsibility, the efficacy of petitionary prayer, divine-human synergy, etc., but that it simply was not explicitly held to by any biblical authors, though their texts make perfect sense in light of DEO. They were less than consistent. So what? But—to anticipate a certain reply—wouldn’t the actual beliefs of biblical authors be normative for us today? The short answer, for me anyhow, is ‘No’. I think it’s obvious that their beliefs—as they held them—are not all automatically normative for us simply because those beliefs appear in the text. But that’s another subject.

Just to be clear, and to forestall misunderstandings—I do hold to DEO, and I do believe it makes best sense of things. But I don’t believe any biblical author held to it. That is, I don’t think any biblical author was an ‘open theist’.

Love let the world be


Love let the world be,
     Gave space and voice for thought and choice,
     Primal desire and hearts on fire
To know, to love, to see.

Passio essendi, the Latins say,
     To be is to be given, to breathe to be driven,
     Before all else we are gifted this,
We choose the script but not the play.

Conatus essendi, the struggle ongoing
     To face the Void and not be destroyed,
     To embrace it all and hear Love’s call
In the desiring and the knowing.

Love let the world be,
     Gave space and voice for thought and choice,
     Primal desire and hearts on fire
To know, to love, to see.

No shadow of turning


James makes an interesting comment about God in the middle of a paragraph about God being the trustworthy source of all good gifts, God who is bringing forth in us his life as truth. The curious phrase, not altogether simple, comes at the second half of v. 17: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (NIV) The curious claim that God “does not change like shifting shadows” invites us to imagine a picture of it, shadows that is. Objects outdoors on a sunny day cast shadows. As the sun moves (or as the Earth rotates, the difference is of little consequence), objects cast a changing, shifting shadow. The relevant point is made from the perspective of the objects as measured with respect to the Sun. Objects cast a changing, shifting shadow.

The phrase is variously translated:

NLT: “He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.”
ESV: “…with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”
NASB: “…with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.”
RSV: “…with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”
RSVn: “with whom there is no variation due to a shadow of turning.”

David Bentley Hart has a wonderful meditation (“No Shadow of Turning: On Divine Impassibility,” Pro Ecclesia, Vol. XI, No. 2) based on James’ description. And while the general point of the paragraph is clear enough (viz., God is the unchanging source of every good gift, preeminently the gift of new life), I’d like to reflect on this from a slightly different perspective.

I’d like to suggest that the point of the illustration is to make it clear that God is unlike objects which cast a shadow when held to the light of the sun because God cannot conceivably be thought to stand in the light of any reality or truth other than himself. Objects cast shadows because they are passive in relation to a source of light outside themselves which they reflect and according to which they cast a shadow, revealing their form. The only thing that can cast a shadow is that object whose substance reflects light cast upon it from a source outside itself, and its shadow is the outline of its reflected form. Its shadow shifts and changes as the object moves relative to the light. Everything on earth reflects the sun’s light in this way.

To say God “casts no shifting shadow” or that God is he “in whom there is no variation of shifting shadow” is to say (among other things) that God does not stand in the light of some measurement, that God’s reality casts no shadow because there is no reality outside God whose light or presence or truth God can be said to reflect and in reflecting reveal his form or substance, that God’s gifts do not reflect a goodness other than God.

God cannot be objectified in the light of anything.

He reflects no light, reflects no image, casts no shadow in light of any truth or reality outside himself. This is the point of saying every good and perfect gift comes from God who created the lights that cast our shadows. The point, it seems to me, is that God is the Source (of life, of light, of truth, of beauty, of goodness), and as Source he can stand next to nothing as compared or contrasted “in the light of” ______ (fill in the blank with whatever best, most virtuous thought, source, or standard other than God you wish to imagine).

Another way to express the experience of this is Jean-Luc Marion’s notion of the “saturated phenomenon,” that is, experiencing “an excess of presencing that so overtakes and overwhelms the knower that she cannot objectify the source of this saturation and enclose it within her cognitive grasp.” Nothing other than God can cast the light of its truth upon God and see reflected back its own truth and in the transaction thus reveal the form of God. God casts no shadow because he stands in the truth of nothing outside himself.

Just a thought.

Blissfully blind, blindly blissful

5765096345_840be04e46_bAs we approach the end of April, I realize that this month completes our third year here at AnOpenOrthodoxy. We took a break of several months last year but are happy to back (as time permits).

Dwayne and I have been traveling partners on this road to—to what? I don’t even know what to call it—enlightenment, wholeness, theosis, apatheia, peace in Christ, and more. Thanks for being there, Bro. I know you know. You know I know. That’ll have to be enough for us, however crazy or mistaken those on either side may hold us to be. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God. That’s true before anything else is true.

To commemorate six years of learning to say and unsay, to walk into the Cloud, to embrace the Void and find our true self on the other side, and then to call back to tell others its safe to step through, I thought John Godfrey Saxe’s (1816-1887) telling of the Eastern legend about the blind men and the elephant would be a fun birthday present.

It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

The first approached the elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
“God bless me! But the Elephant
Is very like a wall!”

The second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, “Ho! What have we here?
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me ‘tis mighty clear
This wonder of an elephant
Is very like a spear!”

The third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
“I see,” quoth he, “the elephant
Is very like a snake!”

The fourth reached out his eager hand,
And felt about the knee.
“What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain, “quoth he,
“‘Tis clear enough the elephant
Is very like a tree!”

The fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: “Even the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an elephant
Is very like a fan!”

The sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Then, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
“I see,” quoth he, “the elephant
Is very like a rope!”

And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!

So oft in theologic wars,
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an elephant
Not one of them has seen!

Wise and foolish builders

MAIN-xlargeSome parables need explaining. They might be difficult to understand because of some strange cultural practice of Jesus’ day that’s completely foreign to us. Other passages are impossible to misunderstand. Their point is clear and you have to work hard to miss it or turn it into something it isn’t.

The parable of the wise and foolish builders (Luke 6.46-49) is the impossible-to-misunderstand kind. It’s not at all complicated. There are no strange foreign customs to get lost in. No difficult grammar to hide behind. No hard to understand theological terms to confuse or disorient. Here we just have Jesus in simple language making himself the absolute center of our destiny and confronting us with the challenge of what to do with him. Jesus asks:

Why do you call me, “Lord, Lord,” and do not do what I say? As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like. They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.

With parables like this, the best thing a preacher/teacher can do is get out of the way as quickly as possible. That’s what I’d like to do, just as soon as I point a few things out.

First, this parable is Jesus’ conclusion to his teachings in the Sermon on the Mount (either the abbreviate form of it in Luke or the longer version in Matthew). Christ has addressed a swath of concerns (more in Matthew than in Luke)—spiritual poverty, humility, peace-making, judging others, divorce and remarriage, lust, anger, what the Sabbath is for, praying, fasting, giving in the offering, doing religious duties, being anxious about tomorrow, trusting God, loving our enemies—all things that Jesus regularly taught about in public. All of these are what? They are what life in the Kingdom in a fallen world looks like. The conclusion makes Jesus’ single point: To be in the kingdom is to live its life, to do these things, to be spiritually broken, to mourn one’s sin, to make peace in the world, to not objectify women through lust, to be faithful in marriage, to not judge others, to love your neighbor, to build your life on Christ—this is what it looks like to be the Kingdom in the present world.

I confess. I’m prone to forget it. It’s easier to make something else, something other than Jesus, what it’s all about—holding to correct doctrine, going through the routine of religious devotion void of spiritual brokenness and hunger for righteousness, busying one’s self with the care and service of others (add whatever you do if you’re in vocational ministry). There are always good things we can lose ourselves in and miss the point. So I have to come back to this point, back to Jesus’ conclusion, and ask myself, “Am I giving my whole heart to living this life?”

Second, parables invite us to use our imagination. We are meant to imagine ourselves into the story, to play each part, and perhaps find the part that is most like us, or most unlike us, and in the difference hear God speak to us. What’s the parable mean? In the end comes down to where you find yourself in the story? That’s what it means.

But sometimes we don’t like the options and want to change the story. With this particular story we have the opportunity to pick one of two options: I’m either a wise or a foolish builder. Now I’ll be honest. I don’t like such stark either/or options. I think Jesus is being too polarizing. Sometimes things aren’t so black and white. Sometimes people aren’t just ‘this’ or ‘that’. Sometimes we’re a mixture. I think Jesus isn’t being very accommodating to struggling people (comme moi). And so I say to Christ in prayer, “Jesus, let’s recognize a third option over here: those who build unwisely but on the rock. That work for you, Jesus?” Jesus is silent. I know the answer.

We’re meant to find ourselves, something about ourselves, in these parable as they’re given, not as edited by us to accommodate ourselves. The healing truth about us begins in identifying of ourselves within the constrains of the parables. And that’s hard to do.

Third, forget the wise builders for a moment. Consider the foolish builders. They’re more interesting. What do they do?

  • They name Jesus as their “Lord” (v. 46) Lord = Master.
  • They “come to Jesus” and “hear” or attend to what he says. That is, they know the teachings of Jesus. They are where Jesus is, listening and agreeing.
  • They are not ignorant of who he is (Lord) or of what he commands and they agree to the rightness of what he teaches. That is,  they build their lives on hearing, knowing and agreeing to Jesus’ teachings and they call him ‘Lord’.

And these are the foolish builders.


What don’t they do? They don’t actually put Jesus’ words/teachings into practice. They hear, they know and understand, and they agree (because they’re calling Jesus “Lord”). But they do not do what Jesus says.

CM_SpringTrendGuide201610A 2014 story in The Wall Street Journal entitled “Yoga Poseurs: Athletic Gear Soars, Outpacing Sport Itself” laments the disparity between those who spend good money to purchase and don athletic wear but who don’t actually work out and those who actually work out. The byline reads “Customers Snap Up Stretchy Tees and Leggings, Boosting Growth for ‘Athleisure’ Apparel.” We’ve created a new term: “Atheleisure.” People wear the garb and talk the talk enough to be associated with a group, but they never live the life that those clothes or that language or those associations represent. They wear hiking boots but never hike. They don yoga leggings but do no exercises. They spend money on specialty running shorts, but never jog. They invest in the gear and want to be seen in it. They just don’t do with their bodies what the gear is designed to support their doing.

If only Dallas Willard were still around.

Early last fall I was on campus at a local university for a class I teach. Walking across campus, I noticed two men with tanks on the backs. The tanks had short hoses attached to them with spray nozzles at the end. The men were painting the lawns green. The previous month or so had been especially dry, so our campus lawns were admittedly brown and ugly. ‘So what?’ I thought. But it was a day or two before “Campus Days” when high schoolers are invited to visit for a few days, attend classes and check out the programs. It’s all part of convincing prospective students to attend after they graduate. You want the campus and grounds to look smart and clean, but the grass was an ugly brown. I get it. I was just surprised. Paint it green? It just struck me as an example of so much of our religious life in general. OK, my religious life. Fine.

What kind of builder am I? Wise or foolish? Can I be a third option, something in between? No. I can’t.

Do I give myself to doing what Jesus did? Or do I just give myself (attentively!) to hearing and agreeing with what he said while never doing it? Do I buy hiking boots and wear them but never hike? Do I fertilize and water and tend to the health of my soil? Or do I spray paint my dead grass green so that it looks healthy?

Living outside the box

blogpost1-300x300A David Benner thought got me to thinking about the role of imagination in what we call “thinking outside the box.” When someone invites us to think outside the box we set aside our normal way of being ‘realistic’. When we do this we access our core, Spirit-given creativity and as a result see all kinds of new possibilities. But we typically surrender this imaginative mode of cognitive exploration and return to realistic ways of thinking when we’re done brain-storming.

But is this return to realistic modes of thought as our primary framework for life really necessary? What if instead of infrequently tapping into our imagination as a service to realistic thinking, we turned the tables and saw ourselves as tapping into realistic modes of thought in the service of imaginative living? Is that imaginable? What if we lived outside the box, so to speak, in a perpetual imaginative-creative framework and only thought inside the box (realistically) when needed?

Just a thought.

The Mountain That I Want To Climb

Young man climbing natural rocky wall with volcanoes on the background

The mountain that I want to climb
Rises through the veil of time;
The face of it is sheer and steep,
Beneath it lies a valley deep
Where lay the bones of those less wise
Who did aspire to the skies
With bad intent and full of pride,
Could not ascend but had to slide,
And now lay in a woeful heap,
A lesson for the rest to keep.
The rest a different story tell,
How from the gaping maw of hell,
They the ancient face did scale,
Aided by that ancient nail;
On it alone their hope suspend,
On it alone fully depend;
With every glance below they view
The end of those who did pursue
As though toward some mere human end
Which did on their own strength depend.
To reach the peak does not require
Fanciful human attire,
Nor for vain accomplishment
Was the bloody nail meant.
All this the climber leaves behind
And clings to a securer kind;
And dressed in pure intent he’s free
To climb into eternity.

Becoming your true self—Part 3

Leunig-Trueself-582Permit me one final post on Benner’s book. Parts 1 and 2 summarized the variety of ‘selves’ (‘identities’) we navigate through in our process of spiritual awakening. I thought it would be enough to describe those, but Benner’s breakdown of human development in Chs. 3 and 4 was so helpful I wanted to bring it out here.

Benner arranges human development along two axes. The first axis consists of the different lines or dimensions of the developing self (toward fulfillment in the Spirit-centered self). The second axis describes levels of development experienced in each dimension.


In the first diagram below we have illustrated the first axis: dimensions of the developing self. I like these because they’re centered on essential, God-given, existential questions that motivate and drive our development and only rest as answered when they rest in their divine ground. Any other resting place constitutes a false self. These first axis dimensions are examined in Ch. 3 (“Growth and the Lines of Development”).


It’s easy to see how connected these 12 dimensions are and how connected they all are to the first. One might say that each presents a perspective on or an aspect of the developing self (the first in series). And as the varieties of ‘false self’ are confronted (Parts 1 and 2) en route to personal fulfillment in Christ, the existential questions at the heart of all the domains subsequent to the first (e.g., “Who am I?”) express aspects of the fundamental concern for our truest and most fundamental sense of identity. As I’ve suggested before: All our choices are either a search for or an expression of ‘who’ we believe ourselves to be. We are either at rest in our God-given, Spirit-centered self, in which case all we do expresses who we are, or we are not at rest in our truest identity in Christ, in which case all we do is an attempt to secure who we wish to be in response to the driving questions (in the above diagram) that irrepressibly propel us toward a satisfying rest. I love the way the domains are grounded in these God-given questions. They provide a nice self-assessment tool together with the second axis.

The second axis (from Ch. 4, “Transformation and the Levels of Development”) describes the level or depth of awakening in each of the domains that constitute the first axis. This second diagram of Benner’s below provides a way to view these. The diagram presents 5 of the 12 dimensions for a hypothetical person:


Nobody operates at a single level. As the diagram shows, there is bound to be divergence among the domains of development. Benner suggests that at any given point in time our ‘way of being in the world’ is organized around a single, developmental “center of gravity.” For this hypothetical person of diagram 2, that average level would be “2.” Some domains are beyond this and others are behind it. But most cluster around this level, which is a kind of platform upon which this person stands. It organizes our life. It is (Benner referring to Ken Wilber) our “overall level-of-consciousness development.” But because we stand on it, Benner says, we tend not to see it. We must exercise great intentionality to examine it and such examination always causes it to shift under our feet. Benner writes:

But how then does consciousness relate to the various lines of development? How does growth in the various dimensions of self affect his spaciousness? And how does that affect how we experience phenomena? Wilber offers a metaphor for how this works that I find very helpful. He suggests that each of the lines of development is like a path up a mountain, each offering its own unique view. What each allows us to see is related to the existential question that each addresses. Thus, for example, a the path of faith development rises, one sees more clearly how to trust; while climbing the path of moral development, one sees more clearly how best to make choices. Wilber points out, however, that the view on different paths is similar at similar elevations. Higher altitudes on any of these mountain trails represents broader and more inclusive perspectives. The stages or levels of development therefore represent the perspective from a particular elevation: increasing elevations represent increasing openness to apprehending reality on its own terms. This accounts for the fact that for various dimensions of self, descriptions of the higher levels of development all tend to converge. Just as mountain trials to the top of a mountain all converge as one nears the summit, so too do the higher states on all the various lines of development.

…In summary, therefore, we can say that shifts in our center of gravity represent shifts in our consciousness. At a minimum this will always involve a change in two things: our sense of our self (identity) and our view of life and the world (perspective). Movements up the vertical axis correspond to bigger selves and larger perspectives. At the core of both of these is increased awareness.

Benner addresses the question of how transformation relates to movement up the vertical axis of consciousness development. He describes this along a scale of “openness,” “consent,” and “awareness.” By “transformation” upwards he means four things:

1) increased awareness
2) a broader, more inclusive identity
3) a larger framework for making meaning (how we understand and make sense of our self, others, God, and the world)
4) a reorganization of personality that results in a changed way of being in the world

Benner, again:

With each expansion of consciousness, we do not simply become aware of new things; we also experience a change in how we organize these new contents of consciousness. This movement of increasing the contents of consciousness (awakening) and reorganization of those contents (transformation) is what we will be examining as we consider the journey of the awakening or unfolding self. In psychological terms, what I am proposing is that human development is primarily organized around this expansion of consciousness and the reorganizations of the ways of understanding the relationship of the self and the non-self that are involved in it. Each shift to a new platform on which we stand and from which we view our selves and the world is associated with changes in how we organize our experience and consequently with changes in our identity.

And a last word to the wise:

The journey…is far from linear. Do not trust any map of the journey that reduces it to a formula or leads you to expect a simple straightforward path. The walk is the same from beginning to end: openness and faith that expresses itself in sufficient stillness and solitude to allow you to be a good host to the Spirit, who is the inner engine of transformation. But the path is far from straight and far from simply one long gentle incline of ascent. It is a path that must take you right through the middle of life as it comes to all of us—with its great losses, loves, suffering, hopes, disappointment, disillusionments, and fulfillments.

There is so much more in Benner’s book I wish to recommend but space won’t let me continue. You won’t regret the purchase.

Becoming our true self—Part 2


Continuing Brenner’s description of the false selves confronted en route to our true self:

The Soul-Centered Self
The Reflective Self: “I am my experiences”
The first face of the soul-centered self that we encounter is the reflective self. First and foremost, this reflection is built on attention. Attention is our connection to experience. It is the connection between us and what happens to us. But, far from being automatic, this connection must be cultivated. Therefore the practice of attentiveness is the foundation of soulful living. However, because attention to anything opens a window to the transcendent, it is also foundational to spirituality. Attention [viz., “nepsis” for my friend Dwayne] makes reflection meaningful. Reflection in the absence of attention is empty and meaningless. Attention brings experience into focus. Without reflection, we are simply being carried along by the flow of life. Attention momentarily introduces a short pause in that flow, marking an experience with a soul flag that allows us later to come back to it if we choose to reflect on it.

…The focus of reflection is not simply experience but my experience: thus the object of reflection is my self because at this stage of consciousness development, I am my experience. Being my experience is not the same as being what happens to me. Identification with what happens to me, whether trauma or bliss, is a body-self way of organizing consciousness. Experience is not simply what happens but how I sense the event: how it registers on my body in my emotions, and how I process it in my mind. This is quite personal. No one but the individual can speak for the experience of an event; it is this experience, must more than the actual event, that is crucial in determining the impact of an event.

…Because at this stage of development I am my experience, all reflection is also self-reflection. Thus, as we saw in an anticipatory way for the individual self (“I am myself”), the reflective self is also concerned with existential issues such as being myself with integrity and authenticity. Questions of actualization (“How do I become who I most truly am?”) and fulfillment (“How should I be in order to experience the greatest degree of happiness and well-being?”) also become important. In this stage we encounter the first clear expression of a desire to be and to become all one can be. This is clearly a spiritual desire, and the response to this desire forms an important part of the resulting spirituality.

Unfortunately it is quite possible to become lost in this soulful reflection rather than allowing it to be a platform on which we can stand to view the vistas of an even larger self and world. This happens whenever we accept the penultimate identity with too much rigidity. One such possible identity that emerges at this stage of development results from identifying with the soul work I’m doing. The identity that results from this is “I am my issues.” Although it is important to work on those issues if I am to become all I most truly am, my transformation will be blocked if I allow myself to be reduced to my issues.

The Shadow Self: “I am my shadow”
One of the most important matters that we will inevitably encounter as we reflect on experience is our shadow: the disowned parts of self that we are unwilling to acknowledge as “me” because they are either too negative or too positive. Since we have denied and disowned these shadow parts, we project them onto others and encounter them as things about other people that disturb us. When we are ready to begin to recognize our shadow and get to know it, the first place to look is always to the things in other people that we find most annoying, irritating, or upsetting.

A failure to embrace one’s shadow compromises all subsequent developmental possibilities. But this is the hardest challenge that we encounter on the journey to this point. Many who confront this challenge do not ever move beyond it because they seek only to eliminate the troublesome experiences and are unwilling to acknowledge them as parts of their self. Most people, however, know nothing of their shadow self. Even if they develop a reflective self, they remain distracted by the myriad of easier personal issues that become their focus and fail to recognize how these issues represent parts of themselves, not merely problems they keep running up against.

…Embracing our shadow is essential if we are truly to know ourselves. Until we do this, we will never escape the enormous disruptive influence that these lost fragments of self play in our lives when we try to keep them locked up in the cellar of our unconscious[ness]. But when we are finally able to receive them with hospitality as parts of our family-of-self, they can then be integrated with the other part selves, and as a result we can become our whole and true self.

…“I am my shadow” is a distortion of the truth that “my shadow is part of me.” It may feel that my shadow and I are interchangeable because the shadow will often feel quite overwhelming. It will be hard to imagine that it could be merely one among many parts of me. But, brought into the daylight, it inevitably shrinks and can be seen for what it is: a lost fragment of self that was set aside because it didn’t seem to fit with who I thought I should be. Although I never really am my shadow, this is the illusion that we easily slip into when we identify with our shadow…Identification with our shadow is a place of powerlessness. There is nothing pleasant about it. But shadow work is essential if we are to move to higher levels of consciousness.

The Divided Self: “I am not always my true self”
Our shadow is simply one of the many part selves that confront us with the reality that we are a kingdom divided. We try to appear to be the single self we wish to be, but all of us are a family of different selves, and some of these part selves are inevitably in conflict with others. We are not the consistent self we try to present to the world. That persona is but one face of the multiplicity that we are. Until we are willing to welcome the other part selves into the family, we will never be whole.

Becoming aware of our dividedness is a mark of entering this next substage of consciousness development. Now our dividedness becomes a central feature of our consciousness: growing awareness of our lack of wholeness forms a prominent part of background awareness as we gather hints of what it is to live our truth and yet be surrounded by evidence of how little we do so. Although the way of being my truth is now on the horizon and I have touched it enough to know its singularly intense taste, much more of the time my experience is of being other than this wholeness and truth. My self therefore is the one who is not always living the truth of my self.

…Sometimes the true self is presented as if it is hidden in the larger false self and only discovered by peeling away the levels of untruth, much as one might peel away the rings of an onion. Unfortunately, the results are about the same; when the last ring is peeled away, what you are left with is a lot of tears, but not much more. Our truth does not lie in some hidden or lost part of us that must be uncovered: it lies in a way of being. This is why I prefer to speak of true and false ways of being.

…Many turn the quest for their true self into an exercise in self-discovery or self-actualization. It should be both of these things, but unless it is also a response to a taste of what actually is—an encounter with their larger self—it will never be more than a project of the false self. The transcendent is lurking in the background during all stages of the unfolding self, but it comes closer to the edges of consciousness as we move closer to the spirit-centered self. There is always a spiritual component to any genuine self-discovery and self-actualization…But what makes it a spiritual quest is when it is a response to the Spirit, who invites us to live out of the center of our being in God.


The Spirit-Centered Self
The Essential Self: “I am”
The experiential focus of people whose consciousness and identity [are] organized at the level of the essential self is being. We have seen hints of this in the soul-centered self, where being true to one’s self (authenticity) and being at one with one’s self (integrity) are not simply values but are central planks of consciousness. But now that focus becomes not being in a particular way as much as simply being.

It is highly significant that when Moses asked by what name he should be known, God self-revealed as the “I am who I am” (Exod. 3:14), sometimes translated as “I am he who is.” Jewish and Christian theologians have plumbed the mysteries of this name for millennia, but one thing is clear; it reflects an identity that is based in being. This terse statement of being requires no predicate. “I am” requires no qualification. It tolerates no limits. It marks the Deity as eternal, unbound being.

…We too can know that it is to have our identity grounded and centered in our being, to have our self distilled to its essence and to know our self as an “I am.” But notice how naked this stands in relation to all the other “I am” statements we have encountered at each of the previous levels of consciousness development. Up to this point each of the selves we have encountered limit our being by equating it with some object, experience, or state: I am my body, my image, my possessions, my role, my thoughts, my beliefs, my community, myself, my experience, my shadow, or my dividedness. The essential self recognizes that while all of these things may be true, they do not define me. I am much, much more than any of them. I am. My being is not constrained by my characteristics, history, possessions, abilities, or experiences. I simply am. And in realizing this, I am filled with the wonder and the simple joy of being.

…It is quite remarkable how something so fundamental to our existence can be so far from awareness…[But t]here is a noticeable vitality and presence to those who live out of this essential center. The vital presence that they are able to offer others arises from their presence to themselves and from their at-one-ness within themselves. This does not mean that they are thoroughly consistent or completely integrated. But it does mean that there is a simplicity to their being—a kind of elegance and ease of being that comes from living out of a place of such centeredness and distilled essence.

The Divine Self: “I am one with God”
The next manifestation of awakening is that of the divine self. This we see with singular clarity in Jesus when he repeatedly speaks of being one with the Father. His alignment with the Spirit of God is so profound that the apostle Paul describes him as the visible image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15). Jesus didn’t simply try to practice a life of alignment with the Father; he lived out of a deep knowing that he and the Father were one.

Being one with the Father seems to have been central to the consciousness of Jesus. His whole life flowed out of this fundamental awareness. I am quite convinced that his was an awareness that had to be cultivated. It makes a mockery of his humanity to think that as an infant he knew he was God. His humanity demanded that he grow physically, psychologically, and spiritually; central to that growth was for him, as it is for us, the development of one’s own identity and consciousness.

Without understanding it, I believe that the oneness with the Father that Jesus experienced and continues to experience as the risen Christ is unique. However, I also believe that his own teachings assure us that we also can and are meant to know a similar oneness. This is the testimony of those who have encountered their divine self. Those who have traveled into the realms of the spirit-centered self on the journey of awakening tell us that the farther they proceed on this journey, the more the boundary between them and God becomes fuzzy for them. They also speak of it being increasingly impossible to fail to see God in all humans, and indeed in all that is.


The Cosmic Self: “I am one with everything”
There is yet on more level of spirit-centered awakening. The cosmic self reminds us that oneness with God is not intended to be a private experience. Because all people live and move and have their being in God (Acts 17:28), it is not just me and God that are one. Even beyond this, because everything that exists is held in the unity that is Christ (Col. 1:15-17), everything that exists is one in Christ. The old joke about the mystic who walks up to the hotdog vendor and says, “Make me one with everything,” misses the point. I am already one with everything. All that is absent is awareness. This awareness is the gift of the cosmic self.

…To be one with everything is to have overcome the fundamental optical illusion of our separateness. We establish boundaries to try to reinforce individuality, but what we get is isolation and alienation. We think we have bodies instead of being our bodies, and the result is the alienation from our bodies. We distinguish between our self and the natural world, and we end up exploiting the environment from which we feel estranged. We think we are separate from other people, and the result is a breach in our knowing of our underlying shared humanity.

…The life of the cosmic self is meaningless apart from love. You cannot see the creation as being held and sustained in Christ and not begin to care for it as you would care for anything or anyone being held by God. Similarly, you cannot see others in God and God in others without an opening of your heart; when this happens, love leads you to know your deep solidarity with all humans as you and they are held in God. As you live in God and increasingly see others through eyes of love, you discover that the ways in which we normally categorize people and set ourselves apart from others are less and less meaningful.