Spiritual closeness and distance

Stop and think for a minute. If you didn’t feel absolutely obligated to fulfill whatever religious obligations or responsibility you’ve taken on, and suddenly for whatever reason you no longer have to do it would you stop doing it or would you continue to do it anyway?

This is the sure test of true commitment.

In recent posts we’ve talked about love and fear/awe/reverence of God as two metaphoric “wings” that lighten and elevate everything we do and transform our actions from mundane to transcendent.

“Love” and “fear” are feeling words. Love makes us feel expansive. Fear makes us withdraw. Although fear of God is very different from neurotic fear it has negative associations for people and this burdens the discussion.

Instead I’d like to put aside feeling words and employ words that describe our consciousness of reality. For this purpose we will talk instead in terms of our spiritual “connection to” and “distance from” God.

The truth of my existence is that I am inherently connected to God. I was created in the image of God and a spark of the divine is in me. At the same time I am intrinsically separate and distant. I am not eternal and all-knowing. I am not God.

Something that helps me to understand the meaning of the consciousness of distance is the portion of the Bible that lists those types of behaviors where a person’s intention is not obvious and it is possible to act immorally while thinking no one will know his intentions and he can “get away with it.” Therefore each verse ends repeatedly with: “And you shall fear your God” to say that God sees everything we do. Don’t think that you can do something immoral and God will not know about it. Don’t think you can cheat a blind person and God will not see what you’ve done. Therefore I have to stand up and be accountable and answer for my life and my behavior. If a person claims to not believe in God this quality of needing to answer for one’s life still pertains.

Consciousness of connection and closeness means that when I do a kindness or show compassion I am spiritually close to God and I am revealing God’s presence in the world.

These two kinds of awareness can be considered as distinct qualities. Yet when each stands on its own as a distinct quality in isolation from the other, not only is it missing the other pole, but the quality of that same consciousness changes color when it is felt in isolation as opposed to when they are felt as part of one broad-based comprehensive consciousness.

Consciousness of separateness that is oblivious to the truth of connection causes the person to act only out of obedience. I’ll do as I’m told and only as I’m told. If I don’t have to do it, I won’t. Pure obedience is laden with the sense that this is a choice that is not my own but that was forced upon me. There is no feeling of connection and no trust. As soon as the opportunity comes to throw off the obligation I will drop it.

Like the person who is resigned to life’s challenges without true acceptance, there is a sense of resignation in the fulfillment of obligations. There is no joy in this.

Consciousness of connection that is oblivious to the truth of separateness is similarly problematic. It has a self-serving color to it. There is nothing beyond myself to serve, no cause to live or die for, no value greater than myself.

In contrast, when each of these kinds of consciousness incorporates the other they look and feel very different.

What happens when consciousness of separateness incorporates consciousness of connection? Instead of obedience it becomes a loving commitment to something I believe in and respectfully accept because of my trust in the relationship.

What happens when consciousness of connection incorporates consciousness of separateness? Instead of being self-serving there is awareness that although there is a gulf of spiritual distance between man and God, man is still capable of closeness and connection to God in spite of this. This awareness brings with it a profound sense of gratitude that in spite of this distance I am still connected with God, who is with me in my trouble. It brings a profound sense of humility and awareness that anything I accomplish is by the grace of God and even my very existence is only by the grace of God.

Through this blend of consciousness there is harmony and joy.

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