Christ, Spirituality and the West
After nearly 40 years of interest in spiritual matters it's increasingly clear to me that any genuine revival of spirituality in the West must be linked to Christ. The huge range of spiritual approaches that opened up in the 20th century, particularly since the 1960s, has led many to believe that all paths to God are more or less equally valid and it's just a matter of choosing the one that suits you best, whether that be a form of Eastern philosophy, Western esotericism, paganism, occultism, New Age mysticism or whatever it might be. All roads lead to Rome, so to speak. And it's true that most of these systems can help lift a person out of the materialistic morass humanity has fallen into over the last few hundred years, and give him or her a grounding in spiritual understanding and practice. But in all of them something important, even fundamental, is missing, and that is Christ. For the fact is that Christ really is the light of the world. He is the spiritual truth that transcends all others, and any form of spirituality without him will always risk falling short. I speak for the West here. I don't say Christ is irrelevant for the East but it has built up its own way and tradition, and the form of Christianity, as it currently stands, is a Western one. Eastern approaches to God are certainly valid on their own terms even if, as I believe, they do not contain the fullness of truth that those centred on Christ do.
You might ask why a real spiritual renewal should be linked to Christ. Why can one not follow one of the many spiritual paths that do not involve a recognition of Christ as Son of God, and still find a way to the goal? First of all, I would say that depends on what the goal might be. Enlightenment, liberation? These are imported concepts and not part of the Western spiritual tradition which is focused on the sanctification of the soul in union with God, the transcending by the soul of itself in humility and love. But then I would ask a question in return. Why are you failing to recognise the primacy of Christ? What is it in you that rejects this? For a heart that is really open to truth would recognise that Christ is the greatest spiritual light that has yet appeared on this Earth. In his person he brought together and went beyond all other forms of truth. This was symbolised by the attendance of the three Magi at his birth. For, let us remember, they were not Jews, demonstrating the universal nature of Christ. If you don't see this you should look again, perhaps with a prejudice caused by the failings of earthly forms of Christianity wiped from your eyes. If Christ is in your heart then you will recognise him. If he is not then he needs to be because he is the door through which we all must pass on our way to God. Not necessarily in his outer revealed form but through his inner reality, yes.
But to answer the question posed in the previous paragraph more directly. Any spiritual renewal in the West must be focused on Christ because only Christ safeguards us from the excesses of pride and illusion, those twin perils of the spiritual path. By humbly submitting oneself to him, and walking in his light, one is protected from all the falseness that surrounds spirituality, and there is a lot as any experienced spiritual director will tell you. But there is another reason, implied earlier, and wonderfully simple. It is that Christianity in its essence is true. Since Christ arrived in the world all other spiritual approaches are subordinate to him. However effective they might have been in earlier times they are now secondary, having been superseded by him, and the reality is that if you ignore or reject this then you are rejecting something fundamental to spiritual truth. A higher form of it has been presented. If you don't respond to that then you are failing to recognise a basic spiritual fact which means that your powers of intuition are either undeveloped or your ego is suppressing them for reasons of its own. Consequently your spiritual progress will be held back from reaching its full potential.
One of the important aspects of a Christ centred approach to spirituality is that it recognises the personhood of God. In this day and age an impersonal divine life is very attractive to many, chiefly I would say because it does not challenge the ego as much as the recognition that we have a Creator, a Father, to whom we owe not just our being but also our loyalty and love, and giving what we owe is our true fulfillment. To some this is a wonderfully liberating idea but to others it is experienced (by the ego) as oppressive and they might be keen to reject it for the impersonal option. That is their right, but if they do this they are choosing the lower path which, in many cases, will lead to delusion because it lacks the sense of there being something greater than ourselves before which, or before whom, we need to bow our head and acknowledge our weaknesses and failings. Human nature is such that we can only really confess our sins (and hence be forgiven and find redemption) to a personal being. Without full repentance and acknowledgement of all our erring ways it is almost impossible for the self to transcend itself. The renunciation of ego, which is what I am talking about here, can only truly be done in love not knowledge. Love means a personal God. That is what this book is all about.
What I have said here does not mean that any renewal has to be centred on the Christian churches or one of the current outer Christian structures. This is actually something of a problem at the present time because what the world needs now is not so much Christians as followers of Christ, and we could usefully distinguish between the two. Most modern Christians are heavily infected by the things of this world, and their Christianity adapts itself to worldliness. In any case Christianity, in its earthly manifestation, might be said (like all religions) to be past its best before date, due to processes of inner decay and outer change. To put it bluntly, modern Christianity is a very imperfect representation of spiritual truth. Despite its many qualities, it has some pronounced areas of weakness, particularly when it comes to an understanding of consciousness and its transformation. Consequently many of the more spiritually sensitive souls will nowadays choose to be spiritual freelancers. This has its corresponding difficulties in that personal experience might become the focus of their spiritual approach and that can lead to problems unless checked and balanced by a higher understanding. So we need to tread with care and this is why it is so important for anyone on the path, whether as a member of a spiritual community or as what I have called a spiritual freelancer, to have the image of Christ stamped on their heart. That image will act as a light to keep you safely on the spiritual straight and narrow. Without it you are more than likely to stray and, while there are certainly other images, there are none so deeply effective and true.
The principal point I am making here is that even if a modern spiritual seeker cannot accept Christianity as it exists in any of its contemporary forms, and I understand that being in the same position myself, this is no reason to reject Christ or to reduce him to simply an enlightened soul like any other. He remains the Way, the Truth and the Life, and any spiritual revival must take that into account if it is to be properly effective. It may, and probably should, encompass other things but that must be central. Christianity in its ancient and modern forms may be never again be what it was but Christ is eternal. An image that comes to mind here is that of a decaying fruit that contains the seed of its own regrowth. Thus the Christian religion, as it has been, perhaps cannot be revived to its past glory and spiritual creativity but the renewal of Christianity will come from the seeds left by the fruit of its past.
One of the ways modern Christianity has fallen short is that it has shown an insufficient appreciation of spirituality. A strange thing to say you might think, but what I mean is this. Christianity has neglected the immanence of creation. It has lost touch with the reality of a divine presence in nature and in man, and any revival must be far more in tune with the essential mystery, poetry and magic of life than recent Christianity has been. Thus it must be consistent with the understanding that the spirit of God is present in creation, and that he is not just the transcendent Creator but also immanent being. But again he is not just immanent being but our wholly personal Father too, and both these things must be taken into account with neither left out or you will have a limited and incomplete spiritual approach that leaves you outside the full reality of God.
It may be that those who predict that the next age will be dedicated to the Holy Spirit, the spirit of truth within us all, are right. This was the idea of Joachim de Fiore in the Middle Ages who theorised that the ages of the Father and the Son would be followed by one of a more universal spirituality. But each age has to be built on the last, and if it rejects the past it has no foundation and will fall. So whether the next age is that of the Holy Spirit or not the fact remains that this inner spirit can never be known without full acknowledgement of the Father and the Son. The idea of the Holy Spirit without the Father and the Son is an illusion and a snare for the unwise. This is another reason for the necessity of any future spiritual revival to be grounded in Christ.