Friday, February 26, 2010

From preconceptions to conception: stepping to nowhere

Yesterday evening I went with a dear friend to a performance which featured, among other miracles, a tree made from two ladders and a host of suspended ladderback chairs. So when I read this morning, in Cynthia Bourgeault's Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening, about the prevalence of ladder imagery in Christianity, it rang a bell.

"For the vast majority of the world's spiritual seekers, it does indeed seem that the way to God is "up." ... the image of the ladder is deeply imprinted in our human spiritual imagination. To ascend is to move closer to God, toward the freedom and luminosity of pure spirit; to descend is to move further away, toward the density and confinement of "flesh."

This passage speaks to one of my most deeply seated notions of God, the one hardest to overcome, the one that requires the most conscious effort to shift or ignore: that notion of God as "other," as "out there, somewhere," as "above." This notion is reinforced everywhere -- in our language, in our hierarchical religious organizations, our church buildings, our gestures in worship -- and very hard to dispel.

And though I get -- on an intellectual level -- that God is in and around all of us, I'm not sure that knowing is planted deep enough in my consciousness. I cannot seem to rid my unconscious mind of the notion that there are steps to godliness, steps which bring me closer to Oneness, or which lead me further away -- even though I understand that Oneness is already here; I only need step INTO it -- not forward, back, up, or down, but IN. Oh, wait -- see? I did it again: I don't have to STEP into it; I really only need to Be, here, and now.

On our way home from the theater, we were still talking about the magnificence of that tree; about how when the first put the ladders in the center of the stage we were wondering "why ladders?", and how as the chairs came slowly down and into place there was that joyful recognition; the sense of having been invited into a mystery. And we remarked on the remarkable creativity of vision that -- knowing a tree might be called for -- could imagine it created of chairs and ladders. Such creativity, I think, calls for a willful suspension, not of disbelief, but of belief; a willingness, an openness, a setting aside of preconceived notions. In a way, the notions that keep Christianity stuck bear a lot of resemblance to the limitations that keep my art from blossoming into some new, unknown dimension.

So how can we move into that dimension, freeing ourselves of past perceptions and preconceptions -- or, to play with those words in the context of my post from yesterday, how do we move from preconceptions to conception? How do we step away from thought patterns framed and imprisoned by the past into the fullest potential of possibility, of being?

It seems to me that that movement is best accomplished by two things: by learning -- however slowly -- to live fully in the conscious presence that is Now; and by the practice of kenosis, self-emptying, releasing, letting go -- or, as they say in AA, "letting go and letting God." Each time we find ourselves fully present; each moment we are able to disengage -- however briefly -- from that constant stream of thinking... those actions bring us more fully into unity with the Divine, that creative force or energy that forms and holds and fills us all, which is neither above nor below but rather here, and now.

So what steps do we take to get there?

Oh -- wait. There are no steps! It's not "there." It's already here.

1 comment:

Maureen said...

I chuckled a little at mention of AA because of its "12 Step" approach.

We get rooted to steps because of process-oriented thinking that imbues so many aspects of what we do. God, of course, isn't a process. He is. Just as you are and I am.

Nadir and zenith. Rise and fall. Height and depth. High and low. Climb and fall. Get ahead and fall behind. Heaven and Hell. Our very words take our attention from Now. So, how to break from such language?

That tree on stage sounds so evocative. One of the most awesome pieces of art I've ever seen is Martin Puryear's ladder that seems to go on into eternity, getting small the higher it rises. Every time I see it I have an emotional reaction.