On seeking to define ultimate reality

I haven’t been to high mass since November, although I ask myself every Saturday whether this will be the day that I return. It’s a wonder to me that I have lost all enthusiasm for that which I once found so meaningful. In thinking about this, it occurred to me that the beliefs of a given church are like the ingredients in a recipe in that some are considered essential and others optional. The fundamentalist church of my childhood held all of its beliefs as essential, while liberal Episcopalians hold very few as essential, and is fuzzy on them. For instance, everyone is expected to believe in God and Jesus, but it is up to the individual what the words mean. This is done in the interest of inclusivity, but it has the unfortunate effect of making the words meaningless, and the expectation that everyone believe in them absurd.

I’m reading Meister Eckhart (1260-1328) a Dominican monk who was posthumously excommunicated for thinking outside the box. For example:

God is greater than God. 
The ultimate and highest leave taking is taking leave of God…
…a man should be so poor that he neither is nor has in himself any place where God can act…
…my essential being is above God...
…if I did not exist, God would not be ‘God.’

What Eckhart objected to was envisioning ultimate reality as a definable object and then worshiping the object. Truly, the Church of Christ idolized many things—the Bible, baptism, weekly communion, a cappella music, the name of their church, etc.—while liberal Episcopalians idolize but few—primarily God and Jesus—and separate even those from a required meaning. Yet, it remains that a primary goal of even liberal Christianity is to reduce God to an entity that can be defined and controlled. 

There’s a place in the soul where you’ve never been wounded.

This is the place that has riches beyond what any church, philosophy, holy book, or interpretation of God can offer, and Eckhart appears to have lived from such a place.

In my birth, all things were born...and if I had willed it, I would not exist nor would anything exist; and if I didn't exist, ‘God’ too would not exist.

In remembering childhood, we can all recall having knowledge that we have since relegated to the world of fantasy because it painted us as possessing a reality far grander than the one that we have been beaten into accepting. But does this mean that we have discovered reality or lost contact with it? I really don’t know.

I remember the very place on the road where I realized that I was creating everything that I saw even as the family car passed it, and that apart from me, nothing whatsoever could exist. I later abandoned this belief because I thought that, if it were true, I should be able to control my creation. Even so, from that time to this, I have never been able to completely walk away from what I knew to be true that day, so I am forced to occupy a position of not knowing.

Something that strikes me as central to Eckhart’s writing—and my experience—is that it portrays the universe as monistic, meaning that it is composed of a single substance (energy in the parlance of modern physics) from which all things flow and with which all things are one. The strength of monism is that those who accept it usually view reality as good. By contrast, Christianity is dualistic. As the story goes, a bad guy named Lucifer rules an accursed earth and will eventually be defeated by a good guy named Jesus who is from a perfect realm known as heaven. Christianity is thus a religion of conflict based upon a belief in opposites. This has made it an age-old instigator of persecution as its defenders have sought to align themselves with Jesus by vanquishing the soldiers of Satan (i.e. everyone who disagrees with them, including other Christians).

By viewing himself as being of one substance with ultimate reality, Eckhart denies our own separation from it and from one another. I can’t see how this is congruent with the Bible, but the Bible is what he had to work with, and he often came up with interpretations that were as novel as they were delightful. Even so, he was rare for his era in that he didn’t regard Christians as having a special access to truth:

Theologians may quarrel, but the mystics of the world speak the same language.

I think this is true, two universal elements of mysticism being that All is One and All is Good. I can agree with the first part, but as to second, many things appear very bad indeed. But, if I could, would I will myself to believe the second part? Yes. By wishing this, am I not acting in bad faith? The answer is contained in two questions: (1) Assuming that a false belief has the power to bring good into the world, is it then preferable to a true belief that does not bring good into the world? (2) To what extent do our beliefs create external reality? I would say yes to the first question, and a great deal to the second.

I suspect that we’re all are quixotic in that part of ourselves where we have “never been wounded,” and I strongly believe that if we surrendered to it, the world would be a far better place. Unfortunately, I don’t know how to surrender. I am too often filled with rage against the unfairness that appears to surround me.