In The Beginning

In 1978 I was adrift in a world that made no sense to me. I was 22 years old with no purpose in life because life offered nothing that answered the questions I had inside me which I could barely formulate but which boiled down to a search for meaning. But there was no meaning. There was be born, go to school, get a job, get married, get a family, work and die. That was more or less it. You could supplement it with music, art, entertainment and romance or sex but none of those seemed to me to offer more than escapes from the grim reality of a meaningless existence.

I was ripe for conversion. The cynic would say that I was open to any illusion that would offer me some escapist comfort, and one cannot deny that some people do turn to religion for just this reason, but I was not of that sort. I was not seeking a faith or belief system in which I could feel at home or any kind of outer thing which is what those often are. I was searching for something which properly answered the lack of meaning I experienced in the world, and this had to be something real which truly went beyond appearances. Indeed, reality was what it was all about. There was no reality in the world I knew. It was a pale, lifeless imitation of that though, oddly, it appeared to satisfy most people. Few of my acquaintances seemed to bother with a search for something deeper than what was on offer. Presumably they had all considered whether there might be a God but had all decided against it on the grounds of the apparent feebleness of contemporary religion and the seemingly confident claims of science that it had shown a materialistic view of life to be the only intelligent option. This did not seem to bother them and they just got on with their lives. I couldn't do that. If life really was no more than what my contemporaries assumed it to be then there was no point to it.

But precisely because I felt so strongly that there would be no point to a life lived according to the doctrine of materialism I knew that had to be wrong. You don't feel a desperate need for something that doesn't exist. You just don't. Therefore there had to be something. But what? The Christianity of my upbringing, or at least my understanding of it, with its external God and its tedious (I'm afraid to say) representatives and its conventionalisms that mostly went along with everyday society had nothing to say to me. It was just so flat and uninspiring.  Perhaps it was a case of over-familiarity but I think it was also a case of the religion having largely settled down into an accommodation with this world and, most of all, a failure to understand the true spiritual nature of the soul.

By that I mean that ordinary Christianity seemed to take the human being at face value. We were not spiritual beings that had come to earth. We were just what we seemed. Certainly we needed salvation but we were not already spiritual beings who had forgotten their true home which was elsewhere. This was our home and what we seemed to be was what we were. Christ was outside us. He was not within. There really was not that much difference between a believer and a non-believer in terms of what we were. They only disagreed about a future destination.

Now I realise that this is not what Christianity really teaches once you get to grips with it properly. But it is more or less the way it appeared, even to someone who had more than a passing  acquaintance with its dogmas and doctrines. It was largely the way it presented itself.

The other major problem with contemporary religion was that it ignored or denied all the insights of the imagination. These were either dangerous and to be avoided or else they were simply false. But the imagination was essential to me at that time. It was the only thing I knew of that went beyond the dull facade of this world. It opened the mind up to something beyond outer appearance but I had to accept that this was not real because that was what we are all told then. Imagination is just imagination. It can paint pretty pictures for our entertainment and even be very moving when it creates art but none of that alters the mundane nature of the really real. It doesn't mean anything.

That's what I was led to believe by my upbringing and education. It's apparently what most people assume today. It's nonsense, of course. Imagination, true imagination rather than the simple rearranging of thoughts and images that often goes by that name, is the forerunner of real intuitive knowing. It is the first flickering of direct vision into reality which sees and knows all in one movement. It is really a spiritual faculty rather than a mental one for it does not derive from prior sensual input even though that can give it its form. Although it should not replace religion (when it does you can get into all sorts of trouble), it should certainly supplement it for just as imagination without proper religious structure can lead to illusion and fantasy so religion without imagination is dry and exterior and cannot sustain the spirit.

Although I didn't realise it my concern with the imagination meant I was searching for God.


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