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Center for Action and Contemplation

The Process of Divinization

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Levels of Development: Week 1

The Process of Divinization
Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Joseph Chilton Pearce’s book, The Biology of Transcendence, points to both culture and the cultural entrapment of Christianity as blockages to potential growth toward transcendence. Each stage of brain development provides a biological window to connect with higher levels. But if the child or teenager is threatened or shamed, these possibilities for higher connection die off and the connections to the more primitive, reflexive, reptilian brain—which is hardwired for defense and survival—are strengthened. People stop developing or they even regress. Unfortunately, our culture’s approach to childrearing and even the Church’s teaching style have focused on shaming, punishing, and threatening, just the opposite of what Jesus modeled. Pearce points out that Jesus and other great spiritual teachers throughout history intended to awaken us to “the illusion of culture and the reality of our transcendent nature.” [1]

Indeed, Christianity has not emphasized our inherent transcendent nature for at least the last five hundred years. We just wanted to flee earth and get to heaven! Christianity allowed itself to be co-opted by cultures for the purpose of social control and order. As Todd Wynward, a longtime friend in New Mexico and a former intern of the CAC, writes in his book Rewilding the Way, “We are the people God’s been waiting for. Why is this so hard for modern Christians to believe and embrace? Because God’s amazing expectations, and our divine potential, have been hijacked by empire-based Christendom and subverted by the framing stories of dominant culture. . . . Your native, indigenous character as a child of God has been distorted. . . .” [2]

It has not always been this way. The early church fathers and mothers were quite clear about God’s goal for humanity. Augustine (354-430) described the mysterion, the mystery, in one phrase: “For even as Christ became a human being, so now human beings could become like Christ.” It is that simple. What Christ put together, we too have the opportunity to put together. In the second century, Irenaeus said that Jesus became what we are in order to make us what he himself is. That’s daring language. We lost the courage to talk that way in later centuries. Christianity became much more juridical and rational, much more transactional than transformational.

The early church understood the mystery of holiness as a true process of theosis, which is the Greek word for divinization (2 Peter 1:4). Gregory of Nazianzen (c. 306-391) said, “Let us seek to be like Christ, because Christ also became like us: to become gods through him since he himself, through us, became a man. He took the worst upon himself to make us a gift of the best.” This teaching lasted probably into the 14th century to some degree, but largely among the mystics, and only among those who prayed from within.

Dame Julian of Norwich (c. 1342-1416) has this deep sense of the organic union between the soul and God. Hers is still an optimistic worldview. In Chapter 54 of Revelations of Divine Love, Julian writes, “So greatly ought we to rejoice that God dwells within us, and more greatly ought we to rejoice that our soul dwells in God. . . . In fact I saw no difference between God and my substance. [Wow!] But as it were we were all one. And still my understanding accepted that our substance is in God.” That is to say, God is God, and our substance is a creature in that God. This is why she’s still considered orthodox. Julian is fascinated with that absolute unity, and yet she maintains the I-Thou relationship of the two. [3] We are one and not two, and yet we are two and not one! Think about that.

Tomorrow we will begin to delve into Spiral Dynamics, a developmental schema integrating spirituality and the sciences of biology, psychology, and sociology. Like Julian of Norwich, it is very optimistic. Rather than blocking the evolution of consciousness as much of Christianity seems to have done in the last few centuries, Spiral Dynamics is acknowledging that as humans adapt to changing conditions, new intelligences are awakened that in turn shape our future. As Wynward puts it, “divinely revolutionized humans are to be conspirators with God’s dream of heaven on earth.” [4] Ken Wilber says that only healthy religion is prepared to operate “as a conveyor belt” moving us all the way to the higher stages of consciousness. Mere education cannot do that.

Gateway to Silence:
I am open to change.

[1] Joseph Chilton Pearce, The Biology of Transcendence: A Blueprint of the Human Spirit (Park Street Press: 2004), 126-127.

[2] Todd Wynward, Rewilding the Way: Break Free to Follow an Untamed God (Herald Press: 2015), 26.

[3] Adapted from Richard Rohr, True Self/False Self (Franciscan Media: 2003), disc 3, CD.

[4] Wynward, Rewilding the Way, 25.

Image Credit: Insula dulcamara (detail), 1938, Paul Klee, Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern, Switzerland
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