Mental Illness, Part 4
We have done the people of God a great disservice by preaching the gospel to them but not giving them the tools whereby they can obey that gospel. Fr. Richard Rohr
Figure 5 illustrates a positioning of religion and spirituality in perceived realities. Area A signifies one person’s perceived reality. Area D represents realities that are outside that person’s ability to perceive, but that could become known through education and experience. Area E represents that which is beyond our ability to perceive as real because of the limitations of our 3-dimensional, time-and-space existence. We cannot predict, control, or understand area E, which contains the entirety of areas A and D. Assuming God exists beyond time, space, and 3-dimensional limitations (area E), then our souls also originate outside of time-and-space, at least as we understand it. The physical bodies housing our inner, eternal, area E selves are capable of perceiving only small portions (A) of a much greater reality (E). We know our eyes perceive only a fraction of the infinite range of visual frequencies. Science has developed visual aids (microscopes, telescopes, infrared imaging systems) that allow us to expand our vision into certain areas that are otherwise inaccessible to us, so science can expand our vision into area D.
The realities of area E are beyond the reach of science and are the realm of God. Because nothing in area E can be scientifically proven, its reality can only be imperfectly theorized and indirectly illuminated through faith. Area E is the realm of what we call archetypes, legends, and myths, which we treat as fantastical stories that are inconsistent with the seemingly factual events of our 3-dimensional experience. Which is not to say these stories are not true or real, only that we cannot understand them with our current perception tools. We must receive the stories as metaphors or analogies. Jesus often noted we have eyes but do not see. We need different methods of perception to glimpse the realities Jesus perceived as he attained Oneness with God. And this is what Richard Rohr refers to in the epigraph, that we religious folks give people the gospel (the good news of our Oneness with God) without giving them the tools to perceive, obey, or live it.
Many writings in scripture and other sacred texts originate in area E, but some religious leaders teach them as factual realities in area A. Examples include the virgin birth of Jesus, the story of Noah’s ark, Jonah surviving being swallowed by a whale, and the raising of Jesus’s crucified body. Some say if we do not accept these writings as literally and 3-dimentionally true, we are heretics and have no hope in this world or beyond. Many religious teachings are unacceptable to increasing numbers of people because they try to sell illogical area E realities as area A facts. Although religion has always attempted to teach area E realities through the use of metaphor and analogy, only recently has it attempted to convince folks of the literal, area A reality of the teachings. We can only rationalize such a leap from E into A by dismissing our everyday experiences. This was perhaps easier in past generations when church membership was a societal expectation. We actually pervert and limit the profound truths contained in area E stories when we teach them as area A realities.
Where spirituality differs from religion, in my view, is that spirituality is rooted in areas A and D, from which it works to build bridges into area E. It does not ask us to make non-rational leaps from A to E. Spirituality is neither at odds with nor limited by religion, reason, or science. Spiritual practices aim to focus our awareness into the present moment, where areas A, D, and E unite, and where Oneness with God is experienced. Contemplative practices like silent prayer, sacred reading, body prayers, chanting, and reflective meditation serve as bridges to realities where time is no longer sequential, space is not incomprehensively vast, and reality is not confined to three dimensions.
The preaching and teaching of God’s expansive, loving, and all-inclusive nature is increasingly being replaced in many churches by inflexible dogma, purity standards, judgement, and exclusion – all of which appeal to those whose area A is small. The independent, non-denominational churches, which draw the largest numbers of people today, are also the ones that formulate their teachings and doctrines from the smallest pool of religious tradition, experience, and scriptural understanding. In fact, many rely on the theology of a single, charismatic pastor. This movement is consistent with my thesis that we, individually and communally, are experiencing a shrinking of and separation in what we accept as good, true, and tolerable. Which is exactly what we see in our politics. It is also what we witness in mental illness.
This is the 20th in a series of Life Notes titled Guns, Mental Illness, and Jesus. The opinions expressed here are mine and are not intended to imply the agreement or support of other individuals or organizations. If you wish to engage with my thoughts, or if you wish to explore contemplative spiritual direction, please contact me directly at email@example.com.
 Fr. Richard Rohr, Daily Meditations, September 13, 2022, http://www.cac.org.