The Emergent Jesus Way (Part 4): With All Our Mind
Thursday, February 21, 2013
"Love the Lord your God . . . with all your mind." (Mark 12:30, NRSV)
In the previous article, The Emergent Jesus Way (Part 3): With All Our Heart, With All Our Soul, I wrote that to love God with all our heart means that our intentions, motivations, desires, and passions are singularly compelled by Love and uncompromisingly devoted to its purpose of Oneness, and to love God with all our soul is to embody Love as our identity. If we were to liken our faith life to a body, then "all our heart" would be our circulatory system, and "all our soul" would be our personality. As for "all our mind," it is our digestive system.
Loving God With All Our Mind
Our spiritual digestive system -- "all our mind" -- is perhaps the most important of the four ways of loving God because what we feed our mind affects the whole system, either for good or for bad. What we put in our mind can weaken our spiritual heart or strengthen it; poison our soul or invigorate it with spiritual health. And how we exercise our mind can trap us in religious addiction, or liberate us in authentic human faith.
For those of us who identify as Emergents and who are Christians of a new kind, we recognize that a great deal of the food on the table of traditional Christianity is not healthy for us. With the unchanged menu of unsavory doctrines, old mythologies, empty theologies, and stale beliefs, the food is either rotten, poisonous, or lacking in vital spiritual nutrients. And it is no wonder that its continued consumption by so many Christians leaves them full yet malnourished, fed yet spiritually sick and left delirious, in a malaise, and captive to chronic spiritual fatigue. Others are addicted to the old poisons, blinded by the falsehood that the poison is actually good, while exhibiting the sadly familiar symptoms of exclusivity, intolerance, and even hatred. Ultimately, all are in need of fresh food and new exercise, along with time to heal, so as to bring the wellness that is found in revitalizing and rejuvenating faith.
There are two key elements in loving God with all our mind: the exercise of Reason, and the exercise of mental self-discipline. At the center of both is our intellect.
It's important that I emphasize that by "intellect" I do not mean engaging in postmodern Christian intellectualism that has become a philosophical fad popularized by academic theologians within the "progressive" Christian movement. I reject postmodern Christian intellectualism because, quite simply, it is impractical, zero-sum theological psycho-babble immersed in elitism that serves only to bolster the egos of the academic elitists.
What I do mean by "intellect" is the exercise of rational thinking, or Reason. For example, evolved thinking over the centuries has allowed us to rationally recognize that snakes do not talk to people and tempt them to eat fruit (Genesis 3:1-5); that the sun does not orbit the earth (Joshua 10:13); that people cannot survive for three days in the stomach of a large sea creature (Jonah 1:17); and that people do not walk on water (Mark 6:47-49).
To love God with all our mind requires the embrace of Reason. This means that our faith is more than just "believing" old mythologies without critical evaluation. To do so would be to love God with less than our whole mind instead of all of it. Put simply, it means things must make rational sense in the scheme of reality (and I will not needlessly philosophize here on the meaning of "reality;" I'll leave that to the postmodern intellectual elitists). To embrace Reason is to exercise logic in the face of the irrational. And by logic we can recognize mythology for what it is, while also seeing its value for the ethical lessons it may impart.
With the embrace of Reason comes the exercise of mental self-discipline, which is the gateway to spiritual and physical self-discipline. What we keep out of our mind, what we put into our mind, and how we exercise our mind affects how we live, and how we love.
The Buddhist holy book of teachings known as the Dhammapada puts it quite well:
The mind is the forerunner of all actions. All deeds are led by the mind, created by the mind.(Excerpted from the the first chapter of the Dhammapada)
If one speaks or acts with a corrupt mind, suffering follows.
If one speaks or acts with a serene mind, happiness follows.
"He abused me, mistreated me, defeated me, robbed me!"
Harboring such thoughts keeps hatred alive.
Releasing such thoughts banishes hatred for all time.
The one who lives mindfully, with sense under control, moderate in eating, devout, and energetic, cannot be overthrown by temptation to passions, just as the wind cannot shake a rocky mountain.
As rain pours through a poorly kept roof, so does desire penetrate the undeveloped mind.
As rain fails to get through a well kept roof, so does desire fail to penetrate the well-developed mind.
Imagine what the world would be like if everyone engaged in mental self-discipline; if everyone was fully self-aware and exercised their whole mind in sacred participation in Life.
It requires self-awareness. I am reminded of Psalm 46:10: "Be still, and know that I am God."
For many people the mind is a busy, cluttered place. And in my own experience I’ve found that when the mind is cluttered, life is cluttered. And when life is cluttered, adversity (or brokenness) of some sort eventually follows.
And almost always it is the busy mind that creates the distracted life, not the other way around.
I have a friend who, every time I see her, always says, "I need one more hour in every day!" (It's her equivalent of the old saying, "There aren't enough hours in a day!") She says this because her life is very, very busy. And for sure her mind must be equally busy. But constant busy-ness knows no stillness. It's like living in a storm with heavy wind and rains pouring out from dark clouds with never-ending fury.
To "be still" requires, logically, that we stop moving so much, both in mind and in body. It means we must first un-clutter our inner clutter (and at times even our outer clutter!). Important things get lost when there’s too much clutter in a house. And that creates anxiety. Too much clutter creates a lot of extra, unnecessary dust. Cramped. Stuffy. Confining. It conjures an image of being trapped amidst a hazard of obstacles. Enslaved. Not free. The mind can be just like this: filled with the clutter of countless thoughts and worries (I recently saw a nearby churchyard sign that read: "Worry is interest paid on trouble before it is due." So true!)
[Jesus said] "That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life--whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn't life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?" Matthew 6:25-27, (New Living Translation)
Getting rid of our inner clutter means we have to prioritize. This means identifying what is truly important in our lives, and in Life. We must be diligent landlords of the property of our own minds. We will either permit unimportant matters to clutter our mind and spirit, or we will not. We will either permit anxiety to reside within us, or we will not. Unnecessary mental clutter and anxiety are like bad tenants who never pay rent and then destroy the house.
My point is (and Jesus' point was, above) we have a choice. Is it an easy process? No, often it isn’t. But it is an elemental truth of the Gospel that we are fully capable of mental self-discipline. Yet some people habitually resist acknowledging the value of "cleaning house," and the need to take the steps to do it. Typically it is because they feel it's too difficult. Or that things are just too far gone that it's not worth trying. Or that they’ll be unsuccessful. Or that it's unrealistic. Or that it's not in their "nature." And so on. Any excuse not to even try, because they've become addicted to habits of un-stillness (and the reason they hang on to those destructive habits is because of enslavement to fear).
But it is in stillness -- the achievement of inner Oneness -- that we know and love God. In fact, without stillness it is impossible to fully know and love God with all our mind. Once we’ve taken the steps -- yes, even the hard steps -- to unclutter our minds, then we will be able to be truly present -- unto ourselves, and even unto others -- in the blessing of unhindered clarity. We will have balance. We will have Oneness. (When it comes to methods of engaging in stillness, I personally practice what I call meditative prayer. I discuss it very briefly in a past article titled My Experience of God and How I Pray. In a future post I will share more in-depth thoughts and insights on meditative prayer as a means of practicing stillness.)
Engaging in stillness -- which effects self-emptying, or kenosis -- requires radical self-honesty and intention. Stillness is key to creating a mind that is whole, by which we can become awakened. And in being awakened, we can exercise our minds with the pure elements of the Love that brings Oneness. This is how we love God with all our mind.
In the next article in this series, I will discuss how we love God with all our strength.