I've been away from blogging for a couple of months. I first took a break in honor of the holidays. And then I got busy editing my new series of novels for a quicker than normal schedule of publication. I hope you've already seen the prologue to the series, the book The Oasis Within. It's been out for a few months. And just this week, the first numbered volume in the series Walid and the Mysteries of Phi, The Golden Palace, appeared on Amazon. In two or three months, I hope to have volume two out as well, The Stone of Giza.
I'm almost done in my editing of the eight books I've already written for the series. And today, Sunday, I want to share a passage I just edited. Even though the books are set mainly in Egypt, certain things happen in faraway places, like Tunisia, or Berlin, or New York City. This passage comes from a story line in numbered Book Seven, The Ancient Scroll. The setting is New York City in 1935 at a Methodist Church. The minister, Bob Archdale, is working on a sermon. We get a chance to see into his head and heart as he makes notes. I hope you enjoy this passage.
Bob at the moment was in his office preparing his sermon for the next morning. He was planning to talk on the nature of faith and how it’s more about perception and values and commitment than just belief. He had decided to use as his biblical text the famous meeting at night between Jesus and the Jewish Rabbinical leader Nicodemus, as reported in the Gospel of John, chapter three. At a time when most of the religious establishment either disliked or feared Jesus, this prominent teacher had gone to see him at night, when, presumably his visit would not be public knowledge. He approached the controversial figure and actually said, “Teacher, some of us know that you were sent by God, because no one could do the things you do without divine support.” And then Jesus, rather than acknowledging the scholar’s rare open-minded reasoning and remarkable belief, says something instead that can be very puzzling on more than one level. His words in response were: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a man is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus is of course perplexed and says, “How can anyone return to the womb and be born a second time?” And then Jesus answers in such a way as to indicate that his entire ministry and mission aren’t primarily about reasoning and belief, but personal transformation into what’s really a new life, with new perceptions, values, and commitments.
Bob knew that, at almost any time, many of the people in his church were showing up, week-to-week, to make a deal with God. They would believe whatever they needed to believe, and do whatever they needed to do, in order to gain divine favor and everlasting life. Some were likely just hedging their bets and maybe living out the famous Agnostic’s Prayer: “Oh God, if there is a God, please save my soul, if there is a soul.” They were there in an effort to perhaps improve their lot and maybe defeat death. But God wanted them there to defeat spiritual blindness and deafness and idolatry and selfishness. He wanted to see them born anew, raised from the death of alienation and separation and selfishness to a new life of union with him and each other. He wanted an eternal life for them now, which was more about quality than it was about quantity.
He really wanted to get this point across to everyone who showed up for the service. The faith they were being called to embrace is about new life, new values, and new commitments lived all day, every day. He wanted them to understand that when the insistent felt needs of the untutored ego can be released, its real needs can be met. And then, we can experience the genuine power of humility, compassion, and deep faith. The reverend was hoping to get all this across in a persuasive and illuminating way, so that at least many of the members of his congregation could perhaps see the issues of faith in a new and richer light.
When people approach religion for what they can get out of it, they ironically make it nearly impossible to get the most out of it. It becomes a tool—an instrument the ego is merely using to enhance its own interests, whether those interests are healthy or not. That’s why we’ve had so much war and violence and oppression in the name of religion throughout history. These things have nothing to do with true spirituality, but are perversions or deformations of what faith and the quest of the spirit are supposed to be all about. We often come across people pursuing their own greed, with their own ambitions, and superstitiously seeking to assuage their worst fears under a false patina of religious language, ritual, and sentiment. And this wasn’t just a danger for other times and places, Archdale knew, but it’s a temptation for any of us unless we can come to a true understanding of spiritual things.