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Trees Stylesheet

Soul's Soil

"A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up. Some fell on rock, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown." When he said this, he called out, "Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear."
- (Luke 8:5-8)

Origen's allegorical method reminds me a lot of Fowler's stages of faith, Beck's spiral dynamics or any other developmental theory. Moving from flesh to soul to spirit is precisely what Ken Wilber talks about when he says that our consciousness develops from the eye of the flesh, to the eye of the soul, and on to the eye of the spirit. The way in which we appropriate and act upon what we hear in scripture is undoubtedly a product of our conscious development and spiritual growth.

I thought it would be good to use the biblical story of the Sower to explain how Origen links his method to our development. In meditation I tried to enter the text with my consciousness anchored in the various stages. This was a very natural thing to do, especially in the first stage where the seed was trampled on and eaten by birds. I was right in that first stage this morning.

I considered skipping this parable since I've read it so many times. Then it dawned on me that I was like unconscious dodos who run roughshod over precious seed scattered at their feet. Gerard Manley Hopkins speaks about all of life being washed in the glory of God, as if every particle of reality were a portion of God's Word. Here I am so oblivious to this fact that I can't see the Word in front of my face. More than that, there's something that doesn't even want me to recognize the Word; perhaps there are some nasty birds out there stealing the seed away.

Origen would probably agree that this first stage of approaching the text is one of complete unconsciousness. Later Teresa of Avila likened it to a first room of a castle inhabited by slippery reptiles where there is very little differentiation between one thing and another. It is a form of unconsciousness much like the Living Dead, a muffled, muted apprehension of things. Reality floats by while we only recognize our sensate existence and fleeting egocentric thoughts. Like a bull in a china shop, heavy hooves scatter the seed around and what seed is not clumsily destroyed is swept away by birds of prey.

Imagine then that I would come to prayer like that. Prayer is a time where whether through the scripture or through the unfolding of reality I look for a Word from God. Do I go there so enmeshed in myself that all I can hear is myself? If so then what Jesus says is right: hearing they do not hear and seeing they do not see. I can't expect to hear a Word unless I wake up from this state. But as with every other type of soil, this soil too has a solution tucked into its description. Just like the old miners cry: "thars gold in them there hills!" we need to hear "the word of God is constantly speaking." Even the rumour of Word might be enough to wake us up. The unconscious are awakened by hope in a promise. Origen would likely recall Plato's cave where humans are chained to a wall where they are unable to perceive that the reality they are seeing is only a dull shadow of the fiery reality from which all things come. The message of hope is to turn from the shadow to the lively fire.

Jolted from our unconsciousness, it would be easy to enter the rock-like stage where we are hyper-vigilant to the truth. We are absolutely convinced that there is a spiritual world that can give us good footing. With distended eyeballs, we search the text in reality for every message that might be uttered from beyond. But the Word is too much for us, too much to take in. So we focus on the words themselves and we do not allow them to flow into the various sectors of our lives. We memorize them, we repeat them and, in fact, we turn them into mesmerizing idols before which we sit, paralyzed like rocks.

This was the stage I identified with when Bev asked us to do a guided meditation on the soil of our lives. I wanted to believe that my life was made of moist, fecund soil but instead the image that came to me was that of clumps of hardened earth. Compressed, dried up earth sounds a lot like the beginnings of rock-like soil, hardened and impermeable. The only reason there was any fruit at all in my life was because of some tenuous, white slivers of willowy root.

For those encased in rock the solution comes by means of moisture transferred through roots. What would it mean that our roots strengthen? I would imagine that our roots are strengthened when instead of focusing on the rock or the product of our contemplation we focus on the process. The process needs to be deep and it means to be specific and suited to our situation. In short, it means that it must be discerned. What do I need to hear? The refreshing life of the Spirit can only come when I set my roots deeply into an attitude of receptivity and submission to what God has for me. I need to hear the Word for this day and for this situation, not a universal, inalterable word but a flexible one capable of wrapping itself around my entire life. From roots like this the water of the Spirit can flow through spiritual bloodstreams.

A third condition of our soul's soil involves truncation or artificial dwarfing of our spiritual life due to hemmed-in circumstances. We get snagged on the thorny prongs that stick out from the things that we consider important, practical things like career, image, money-management and social acceptance. The more of these that are placed in competition with hearing a Word, the smaller and more gnarled we will become. Such a spiritual constraint can only be cured by pruning and prioritizing what is most important to us. Origen might suggest we enter his school of asceticism in order to learn what should be left out in order for us to grow. What is truly important?

It isn't hard to see that moving from unconscious to conscious awareness parallels waking up physically. When we wake up morally, we're waking up to the idea that there are priorities that further our goals and temptations that stifle our moral lives. This explains that while we can know exactly what to do we often don't do it because some other lesser good gets in the road. We are smaller for it.

The good soil requires tending. Notice in the parable that there is a close connection but not a complete identification of the soil with the hearers of the Word. I take part in that truth because it says that I'm not identified with my flesh or my rationality but rather with a transcendent Spirit that guides me. Buddhists call this transcended Spirit the Witnessing Self. For those in the Christian tradition this could equally be called the Christ Self based on our union with him. Since I'm neither my body nor my mind but rather have a life in Christ I am capable and empowered of making choices toward consciousness. I can choose through an attitude of loyalty to this Higher Self to promote those things that wake me up, make me prioritize, and open me to a higher consciousness.

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