Idolatry and Mystery

We are heavy, dense, stupid. We are coils of neurons, patterns of habit, symbols distilled from our animal life. We come to spiritual work with base understanding and strain to see the highest and most subtle through it. When we pray and invoke the subtle powers, we bring them to ourselves and our weighty lives. When we do this for a long time, deeply and passionately, the mystery of that only intensifies. While we sense more clearly the vastness, the subtlety more subtle than the subtlests part of our awareness, we also discover the heaviest parts of ourselves growing bright. If we hold to the mystery, it grows more profound.

This is a hard post to write. I pray I do some justice to the topic.

It is easier to run away from that. The brightening of our life can be almost unbearable. Opportunities for escape present themselves and we will inevitably take some of them.

Perhaps we will disavow the weightiness of our life, of our desires and hopes, and flee toward some simple ideal in which we hope to find the light only. This manifests in fantasies of perfect charity, of giving to the poor without attachment to results, and in fantasies of enlightened separation, ensconced in quiet monastery walls.

Perhaps we will cut short the bright work, accept some part of our life illumined as good enough, the best that can be hoped for. We overcome some bad habit and replace it with some good one, we spend our time in ceremony working through the darkness of our lives, receiving the light of heaven, but we enconce it in a theology that fixes its boundaries and attempts to hold it captive.

These are both forms of idolatry, a reduction of the spiritual work to some ephemeral product of it. Idolatry isn’t failure, though, but recuperation. To the extent that we are able, we need to acknowledge this about ourselves and others and be kind. We cannot live always in the bright furnace. But we need to see these strategies as forms of rest rather than destinations to be settled. We need to occupy them with an eye to returning to the ceremonies and prayers that will transfigure us.

That should change the way we relate to our idols. They need not become obstacles but protective enclosures. An idol, whether literal or figurative, can be a vessel that steadies the flame of illumination. The idol keeps the flame alive so that when we are ready, we may bring it back into the heart of our lives, into our furnace, and both be remade. All of the forms of sacred life must ever be remade, no matter how holy or sacred.

The shape of our lives are real but not fixed. Through spiritual work, they are altered and remade, but it is the transformation itself that defines the spiritual work. Our remade lives must themselves be remade.

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5 thoughts on “Idolatry and Mystery

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