Unlocking Imaginal Religion — Part 3: Creative Theopoesis
Beyond the Mind
It appears that the God question, which is also the Love question and the Life question, simply cannot be solved by logical arguments. But it can be dissolved in Love, drowned in beauty, blasted away in the sheer awe and ecstasy of seeing the holy mystery in – and of – everything.
With practice and devotion we can see through the intellect, even through consciousness itself. Then we are thrust beyond the mind, beyond reality, even— into the imaginal realm and the limitless freedom of magical realism. We take our unique place in Love’s infinite creative quest for beauty, weaving its way through innumerable beings, worlds, hearts and bodies. We become so immersed in the dance of the cosmos and the play of the mystery that we fuse with it entirely, never to return. Indeed we see that this is what we have been along. We never left!
We are God, God is Us. And what are we but love in action?
God is the shape of Love, and the shape of Love is the shape of our life, exactly as it is, in each moment. “God appears to you disguised as your life”. When we realise this, we realise that there is no God-shaped hole, not really: we created this idea of lack in our minds when we decided that only certain things are love (or are divine), while others — all the things we don’t like about life — are not. So the contours of the God-shaped hole are exactly all those things we don’t receive as love, as gift, as chances to awaken into a wider compassion and a deeper knowledge of the holy mystery. This explains why the God-shaped hole disappears when we gain the capacity to see and receive everything as love.
A primary function of the intellect is to make distinctions, labels and categories. This divine power of the mind — the power to conjure form from formlessness — also allows us to create holes, gaps and cordoned-off areas in the world (or psyche) that we can then refuse to look at and where evil can take root, protected by the darkness of our ignorance. The intellect then goes about generating countless “solutions”, because it sees these holes (these objects of perception which we crave, reject and get completely exasperated over) as problems to be fixed.
What the intellect can’t see is that our suffering doesn’t lie in the objects themselves, but in the fact that we fully participate in creating these holes and treating them as problematic. Basically, the intellect can’t get outside itself in order to see its own dysfunctionality.
Now when we lost the concept of God, the whole universe fell into the hole (of deadness, worthlessness and meaninglessness), taking us with it. As a result we relate to our entire self, life and world as a problem to be fixed. We operate on a premise of lack, scarcity, and the feeling that there is fundamentally something wrong. Our whole being is then geared to fix that wrongness. This is the mechanism that generates our entire world of survival-mode perception: we only see “apple”, and think that apple is real and essential, because we want to eat it to stay alive and escape death. With investigation, these objects that once appeared so substantial are revealed to be mind-created holes in the psyche: holes where we have forgotten – or refused to see – the presence of the divine light, of divine love. This renders us unable to perceive these objects imaginally – as alive, magical, divine, and unfathomable. Not as solutions to our problems, but as outpourings of mystical love in the search for ever-greater beauty and holiness…
“The world is the state of being unaware of God”, as Rumi put it.
And awareness of God is awareness of Love.
Love has the power to entirely dissolve and transform the “world as we know it” — if only we can summon the largeness of soul to open to this transformation. Unlike the intellect, the human heart is able to love and receive everything unconditionally without making judgements, measurements or distinctions.
While the intellect deals in holes, the heart sees in wholes. Contrary to what we usually think, love is not irrational but supra-rational. It transcends, includes and recontextualises the rational mind entirely. From the viewpoint of the heart, there is nothing to dispute or question. There is just an infinite and sacred mystery, and love is viscerally felt to be central to its working. From this viewpoint it is so clear that to assign the label ‘God’ to that mystery changes absolutely nothing — nor does refuting and arguing against that label.
Sensed with the heart, the objects of the world – such as apple – are re-enchanted and re-instated as unique and wondrous expressions of the holy mystery, of infinite divine love and creativity.
There are galaxies blazing and spiralling around one another for billions of light years in every direction. Each of them contains billions of planets; unimaginably strange and beautiful places, some of which bring forth hordes of blinking, awe-struck, and utterly spiritual animals. And it’s all just… hanging there… infinite worlds in the infinite void, burning and burning, dancing and weaving…
Take a good long look at this picture — try to open to the scale of it, and listen for the heart’s response. Reflect that we are all completely connected to every one of these galaxies through our shared presence inside — or perhaps more accurately, as — the universal mystery…
What is this mystery?
Isn’t it so clear that all of these intellectual debates about God miss the point (the utter beauty of it all) entirely?
The phrase “post-it notes on the ocean” comes to mind. We go to war over what’s written on those tiny post-it notes, and get so engrossed in them that we overlook the wild seas of wonder and beauty stretching out before us and within us. We miss that we have emerged from this ocean as products and expressions of divine creative Love; we were willed and summoned here by the love of our ancestors — as was everyone who ever lived. And who summoned the ancestors but Love itself: infinite, boundless, beyond time and space, containing all time and space within its fold?
Just possibly, this Love is worthy of the name God. We can each make our own decision on that. What’s in a name, after all? What the heart knows in the silence of prayer will never be captured by language.
Whatever we decide to call it, the essential point is that we go back to this ocean of love as soon as we realise we never left.
Then we can only feel compassion for the intellectual warriors who remain trapped in their back-and-forth logic battles. We may well experience a longing to help them out of their confused and desperate clinging to words and concepts, and back home to the infinite ease of the open heart.
Paradoxically, it seems to take a lot of struggle and hardship to arrive at that ease. I used to think that the “spiritual path” would give me the bliss of escape from the world’s suffering. Instead I got the pain of compassion (eyes opened to the suffering of the world, heart broken, tears rolling down the cheek) and only then a sense of glimpsing what it might mean to be a “spiritual being learning how to become human” – and not the other way around! Because learning how to be human is learning how to love.
Authentic religion isn’t teaching us how to have a spiritual experience but how to have a dignified, joyous and ecstatic human experience!
There is a Sufi saying: “she who has realised her humanity has realised her divinity”.
We are all learning how to love life, universally and unconditionally — and that means all of it, including all the death, war, disease, despair, torment, confusion and ugliness. That ugliness can only kill our spirit if we believe it to be meaningless and worthless and not somehow needed and necessary, in ways which we cannot yet understand. It is all a creation of love, however misguided and distorted that love may have become. If we can respond to the measureless suffering of the world with forgiveness and compassion, then we realise our full humanity — and thus our full divinity.
From this view the postmodern dis-ease of nihilism is so clearly an intellectual mind-trap (and a painful one at that) that can be unravelled, healed and transcended. When we sense that we are bathed in mystery, love and beauty, there is no question of a meaningfulness to life. And even better than the classical religious paradigm, we are not bound by any Absolute meanings or “Truths” (with a capital-T) that have been laid down by any prophet, deity or scripture (which could well be a school textbook). We are not bound by anyone else’s revelation but our own!
“The way is within us, not in Gods, nor in teachings, nor in laws.
Within us is the way, the truth, and the life.”
— C.G. Jung, The Red Book
Rather than serious seekers after “Truth”, searching for Answers with our magnifying glass, we can become like children in a ever-blossoming garden… every experience and image presents an infinite plurality of meanings and symbolisms to play with, entertain, pick up or put down, always guided by how they resonate, ignite, or open the heart and the sense of freedom.
Not bound to any one perspective, meaning or way of seeing the world, we can have solidarity with all people’s perspectives. We’re no longer reacting to them, rigidly identified with our intellectual beliefs, but appreciating them as a completely valid and wonderful expressions of universal divine love.
“The mind does nothing but talk, ask questions, search for meanings.
The heart does not talk, does not ask questions, does not search for meanings”
— Nikos Kazantzakis
There is so much humour here! Laughter comes often as a release of tension when we realise that a perspective we took be real and true is only one of many possible views, some of which suggest something completely otherwise to what we previously believed! Indeed the archetypal Trickster is one who freely and flexibly jumps between contradictory perspectives and beliefs — often to the bewilderment of their audience / onlookers / challengers. Instead of despairing at paradoxes, we thrive and revel in the freedom of them.
We find that we can entertain, with increasing lightness and openness, the different metaphysics and theologies of the great world religions — as well as of different tribes, cultures, and belief-systems. We are no longer concerned whether any of them are True, but rather:
Do they open my heart?
Do they heal the suffering of my own life, and enable me to respond to the suffering of others?
Is there poetry, beauty or reverence to be found and enjoyed here?
When these become our primary questions, we are initiated into a universal religion, undefined and unlimited by any outward forms or conventions. We sense our unity with all seekers throughout infinite time and space… all united by the life of the Great Spirit, by the life of divine love as it unfolds through each and every one of us. We are no longer concerned about a God that ‘exists’ or ‘doesn’t exist’, or about the “correct” or “true” form of God. We are freed from all that nonsense.
There is a Sufi saying,
“Wheresoever you turn, there is the face of God.”
And I find it just as beautiful, and perhaps more accessible, to change this into
Wheresoever you turn, there is the face of Love.
You can choose to see the world in this way. And when you do, it transforms forever — and so do you. If everything is the face of God (of Love), we are liberated from the quest to find the correct face. We can get to that liberation by loving everything unconditionally —by opening to and receiving everything as love — even the difficult, violent and ugly. If you don’t believe that’s possible, try reading about people like Etty Hillesum.
This new approach, which opens to receive everything as a face or form — a revelation — of the divine, might be summarised something like this: when playing with our relationship to different religious symbols, icons, and figures, the yardsticks of their importance, meaningfulness and significance are not truth and reality but freedom, love and beauty.
And the heart is the organ which indicates any changes or openings in our level of freedom — although, unlike the intellect, it is never measuring, judging or comparing. What an utter relief — to just let it all in, let it all happen, instead of constantly curating and engineering — basically fighting — our experience of life.
The journey of listening to the heart allows us to open and dissolve into all-pervasive mystical love (which naturally brings an immense sense of freedom, possibly even an infinite one) and also to reconcile our traumas around religion, which I touched upon in the last post.
Hanging heavy over the minds of all Westerners is the “One God” of the Abrahamic religions. And we need to make peace with this God if we are going to return to love — to seeing the divine in everything.
Making Peace With Monotheism
I believe that that a reconciliation with monotheism is essential healing work for us modern generations who had our early-life intuitions of sacredness and divinity systematically repressed and denied — in large part because they were co-opted by dogmatic religions who stated that their teachings are the One Truth, their God is the One God, and that all else is worthless and false.
How did we get into such a mess?
Swami Vivekananda retells the origins of monotheism as follows:
“The Babylonians and the jews were divided into many tribes, each tribe having a god of its own, and these little tribal gods had often a generic name. The gods among the Babylonians were all called Baal, and among them Baal Marodach was the chief. In course of time one of these many tribes would conquer and assimilate the other racially allied tribes and the natural result would be that the god of the conquering tribe would be placed at the head of all the gods of the other tribes. Thus the boasted Monotheism of the Semites was created. Among the Jews the gods went by the name of Moloch. Of these there was one Moloch belonged to the tribe called Isreal, and he was called the Moloch-Yahve or Moloch-Yava.” (Vol.III.p.l85)
“In time this tribe of Israel slowly conquered some of the other tribes of the same race, destroyed their Moloch and declared its own Moloch to be the supreme Moloch of all molochs. And I am sure most of you know the amount of bloodshed, of tyranny, and of brutal savagery that this religion entailed. Later on the Babylonians tried to destroy this supremacy of Moloch Yahva but could not succeed in doing so.” (Vol.III.p.186)
This progressive unification of differing tribes —and their differing Gods — ultimately lead to the emergence of “the One Overlord God who was raised to the status of the Sovereign or the greatest among them. Then it was seen that all other gods were subordinates, and were subservient to, and became supported by, the Highest — a concept that led to only one being called God; the rest were not God but demi-gods or angels and so on. This led to the application of the names of all gods to the One God — and all functions being transferred to Him alone.”
Vivekenanda even explains the three modes of monotheism:
- The One God may be conceived as an Extra-Cosmic Deity, who created the world and governed it, staying outside it as the Overlord.
- He was considered as immanent in Nature and supporting its evolution and history, both on the whole and in each one of its members.
- Third, as the Divine in oneself as one’s self and establishing His Kingdom eminently in the heart of man, the seeker, the mystic.
Varadachari adds that “perhaps all these three statuses of God are capable of being considered as co-existent”. Interestingly this is exactly what the Christian Trinity doctrine does. Try reading the above list again as 1) Father, 2) Holy Spirit and 3) Christ.
We can make peace with Christianity by opening to the poetry of Christ and his story, and with the notions of the Holy Spirit in everything and God as a loving Father. Again: does this way of sensing the mystery open our hearts? Or are the Intellectual Gatekeepers still blocking the flow of love? If this is something you feel called to then I would highly recommend Franciscan teacher Richard Rohr who is steadfastly centered in mysticism and contemplative prayer over unquestioned dogma.
Being able to return to the religious symbols of one’s childhood with openness, without fear of being wrong or right (because there is no wrong or right, not ultimately), without any fear whatsoever of being converted or conned or misled… this can be immensely liberating and beautiful. We can re-engage these with these divine figures and symbols on the level of the heart and imagination, not the mind. We aren’t questioning or seeking, but receiving, opening, playing. It’s a light and inherently creative exploration, not a desperate search for truth and salvation.
Ahhh. What a relief.
If we can make peace with the teachings of monotheist religions, unconcerned about their trueness and instead seeking to inquire whether they reveal to us beauty, poetry and love, whether they speak to our soul and the way in which it longs to live in the world, we no longer need to be so damn reactive and allergic to them. We gain a solidarity with religious peoples everywhere, at ease in the knowledge that at the heart-origin of all traditions lies an experience of universal love, interpreted and symbolised in a million different ways. Then the difference and diversity becomes something to be celebrated!
The “One God” doctrine is just one interpretation of the ultimately inexplicable mystery. It is a way of seeing and sensing things, one that we entertain if our hearts feel called to. No doubt it will bring unfathomable beauty and peace if we can open ourselves to it: because then we are opening to an experience of unification with the spirit (the aliveness, the love) in everything. But it is just one way — and there are countless other ways to see and sense God (divinity, mystery, beauty, love). That will be the subject of Part 5, Resurrecting the God-Images.
Now it’s true that certain qualities of Love, as it manifests in and through the people of the world, may well resemble the workings of a King or Lord. But if our conception of God is limited to this, it will be a severely narrow distortion of God’s (Love’s) infinite openness. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that patriarchal societies parade around saying that God is an almighty masculine being — its a distortion that reinforces their worldly power structures!
The concept and idea of ‘God’ is dangerous and historically very harmful, even deadly. It’s also tragic, because when it gives one specific face or form to the inconceivable and universal, it cuts us off from the infinity of other ways we might relate to the divine mystery.
We need not be limited in this way. We can enter into a poetic and ever-evolving relationship with God (Love) as we play with a vast range of living images and symbols for the divine: sometimes as a Goddess (the divine mother, Gaia, Sophia, the anima mundi or world soul), or a Buddha, a human child (or an angel?), a passionate artist, a deer in the morning mist, or the forest in springtime, or the woman on the subway — even our own face in the mirror.
This, my friends, is Creative Theopoesis (literally “God-making”) — a central element of personal and cosmological transformation in any imaginal Religious framework. It’s really about taking leave of the abstract and intellectual idea of God and embracing the experience of God through the cascade of perceptions/images that our life experience continually presents us with. We become increasingly free as we realise our capacity to sense the divinity and meaning and love in any and all of these images.
We may also realise that we are free to conjure, dream, create (as well as re-create and co-create) new divine images and symbols without limit.
Theopoesis is open-ended and infinite, always inviting us into ever-deeper participation in and exploration of the holy mystery…
“You must give birth to your images. They are the future waiting to be born.”
— Rainer Maria Rilke
And as we give birth to them, it becomes so clear that our images — our imaginal figures, friends and Gods — are giving birth to us. They are participating in the unfolding and expression of our soul, our divine self, and our fullest humanity.
The dynamic of how that happens is the subject of next piece of this series — Part 4: from Image to Action.
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I feel like adding a disclaimer that I don’t know what I’m talking about here. Not really. I’ve had a string of experiences that are very hard to talk about, and that I basically cannot explain, and yet they also feel like the most meaningful and profound things that have ever happened to me. And that leads me to want to create a kind of map of ideas that stops me getting stuck — allows me to keep flowing through these experiences with greater ease and fluidity and flexibility. In my view, that’s what I hope an effective imaginal religion will do: allow divine love to flow in every moment of life, no matter how difficult or challenging. Unlike the old religions (including science!), I don’t want to tell you about the way things are — though I am no doubt guilty of slipping into that mindset at times — but rather to explore the way things could be… the way we might view the world, if we really questioned our deepest beliefs about reality — or allowed these beliefs to be uprooted by utterly inexplicable experiences…
Jung was told in a vision that his worldly task was “the proclamation of the new religion”. Along with thousands of others I’m trying to work out what that religions looks like, feels like, tastes like. These articles no doubt contain contradictions, logical slip-ups, and a regression into truth-claims. When I admit that to myself — and to you, dear reader — I find myself in a place of greater ease because I’m no longer playing the modernist role of the teacher who “has it all figured out”. I certainly do not have it all figured out… these words are part of my process of trying to figure it out — and being continually reminded that we cannot possibly figure this mystery out — at least not with words and concepts! But what we can do is stop tricking ourselves into thinking that we’ve finally figured it out! We have to fight that intellectual self-deception with all the integrity, creativity and ingenuity we’ve got. That’s a fight I’m passionate about. May we learn this art of war (this war of art against the rational mind) for the good of all beings, all Gods, demons and ancestors who are with us in all we do.
We each seem to have an intuitive sense of what is sacred which, kindled and tended to like a little fire, may grow to embrace everything and utterly transform our notion of what reality is, who are, and why all this is happening. However, those intuitive senses — often very active in children — are repressed by a formidable clog of ideas and unfounded beliefs which are all taken to be true. This is the modernist dogma of realism, dualism and materialism that prevents us from listening to — let alone respond to and act upon — our soul-fantasies and innate senses of divinity. I’m trying to understand and unravel that intellectual clog in order to unblock the imaginal flow of love that longs to flow through us and out of us, into the vast world of beings.
I’m not saying that everything is literally imaginal — that would be a truth-claim and a regression to intellectual rationalism! I’m rather saying that everything can be seen (or sensed) imaginally, as image, and in practice this is a very liberating and enriching way of seeing things, one that can reach outwards to touch every aspect of self / creation / perception / experience and transform it into a living revelation of the divine mystery. It’s an invitation to a pragmatic, practical and practice-able worldview — and it’s my hope that it might afford you some greater freedom and flexibility in engaging in the senses of divinity and mystery and soulfulness that are already stirring and alive within you.