Saturday, January 6, 2007


"What would it be like if you lived each day, each breath, as a work of art in progress? Imagine that you are a masterpiece unfolding, every second of every day, a work of art taking form with every breath."
Thomas Crum


The most damaging assumption in traditional religion and modern psychology, with few exceptions, is that we are either born in Original Sin or that we are psychologically sick and dysfunctional egoists. The focus of these views is that we need to be saved or healed. Further, both of these systems imply that the chief goal of existence is to achieve a state of salvation or psycho-spiritual wholeness.

Conservatives and Progressives both operate under a view which teaches there is something fundamentally wrong with the human race. Conservatives generally state this more directly with their doctrine of Original Sin. They tell us right from the start that we are born to rebel against God and bound for eternal punishment unless we repent and 'get saved'.

We Progressives, the new term for Liberals, are more subtle. We reject Original Sin, but then teach a very similar idea by saying that our ego keeps us away from God or our Good. The human ego becomes the ignorant intruder that Edges God Out, or comprises our internal Evil Genius Organization (acronyms for E.G.O.). While more subtle, this position still leaves us separated from our 'highest good' (God) and in search of some elusive mental wholeness and union. The implication is that there is something flawed or wrong with us.

We rarely call this sin, but instead replace immoral transgressions with negative emotions like fear, anxiety, doubt and resentment. While not as psychologically damning as Original Sin, it still tends to place humans under a dark cloud of mental and psychological inadequacy.

Now, while I can see how some arrive at these conclusions and am sympathetic with their assessments of the human condition, I think they are ultimately mistaken. Consider the possibility that we are perfectly and wholly incomplete and always will be. Consider the possibility that sin (missing the mark), ego and negativity are perfectly necessary for Soul-Making. What if nothing is wrong or missing in this Universe just as it is?


If all of Existence is an ingoing Process or work of art, there is no possibility of completion. Completion is a human term describing the point in a process where we stop working on a particular project. The poet and artist, William Blake, was once shown some sketches of Raphael's paintings and told that he would now be shown the "finished product". Blake shouted at the curator of the museum, "You fool! An artist never thinks any work is finished!"

Objects in the natural world mature and their forms melt away. Blossoming flowers, fat cloud formations, ripe blackberries and mature human bodies achieve a kind of 'completed' maturity, and then dissolve. But the little bits make their way into something else. The dissolved elements at the molecular and sub-atomic levels then reform and become something else. All objects become forms, then dissolve, and reform, dissolve again and on and on and on. Nothing is ever "completed".


If the human soul is transcendent and eternal, then the completion, wholeness or healing of 'a soul' can never be achieved. The soul is never finished. How could it be? When you arrive at perfect balance, there is nowhere else to go. The soul is not really sick and in need of healing or curing. Soul may feel dis-ease, but these pathological states are just as crucial, wonder-filled and necessary as health and peace. In fact, these dark, chronically incomplete states of mind may be where the greatest work of Soul-making takes place, just as the dark soil that rots the seed is critical for creating the new plant.


Objects of static completion are actually quite boring. They are placed in a museum, turned into a frozen doctrinal statement, shelved in a library, etched on a map, hung in a gallery, or eaten and excreted. Many who feel their souls are healed or saved and complete are simply stale, miserable and stuck. Their worlds become small. I have seen, and been, a soul framed and hung in a church museum. I was once told that I was saved because I had placed my faith in Jesus. I had a sort of false sense of completion, but was quite confused by the fact that my spiritual teachers and I were still very much imperfect. Whenever my deep and abiding imperfections would surface, my religious teachers would tell me that I was righteous and complete before God legally in Christ, but that my character was still evolving into a better person. It was a little like being told you had won the lottery but didn't get the money until you died. I spent my days loathing my imperfections, confessing my sins endlessly, agonizing over my rebellious nature and exhausted by my wicked condition.

When I left the evangelical movement, depressed and suicidal because of my incurable sinfulness, I located myself in more liberal churches for relief. But they were telling me to surrender my ego. There was some relief, but I found myself right back in the old masochistic spiritual spiral of battling an ego that wouldn't go away. No matter how hard I worked, no matter how fervently I did my spiritual practices and surrendered, I kept 'Edging God Out'. These folks sweetly told me not to worry and that none of us was perfect, but I experienced frustration and exhaustion under the implicit assumption that I was eventually going to arrive somewhere called "wholeness".

After a few years in these more liberated groups, I observed that I had traded in the old age Devil for my new age Ego. I was studying with gurus, ministers and therapists in order to overcome and heal my ego and dysfunctional history. I was frantically looking for my lost inner children and exorcising bad emotions instead of evil demons. I no longer needed forgiveness for my moral sins, but I was chronically under duress from my sins of emotional negativity and doubtful thinking. I was told I was perfect, but that my ego was holding me back!
Occasionally I ran into people who believed their years of therapy or meditation techniques had qualified them to be mentally whole and ‘cured’, like a salted ham. But inevitably these folks always slipped back into a state of mental agitation, but often denied it in order to keep up the appearance of wholeness. Some eventually slipped into fits of deep despair and depression, or even suicidal thoughts when they realized all of the therapy, meditation and positive thinking ‘didn’t take.’


Perhaps it was never meant ‘to take.’ If I can shed the notion that I ought to be ‘finished’ in this soul-making experience, I am free to observe and enjoy my creative chaos and the fascinating insanity of my endless expansion.

My favorite Farside cartoon is of a guy in a white robe with a halo over his head, seated on a cloud and playing a harp. He peers blankly from the cartoon box with this caption, “I wish I had brought a novel.” The humor is in the notion that life could be truly life with nothing left to evolve toward.

Imagine a mind that simply runs in a straight line with no valleys or peaks. In the emergency room, when the heart monitor registers a flat line, the patient is declared dead. Soul, like divinity, expands with infinite levels of creativity, eternally morphing into endless possibilities. There is no place I have to be, no goal I must achieve, no ‘perfect’ state of mind. I am not in frantic pursuit of the ideal job, the one true lover, or the enlightened mind. I do not need to wait for the second coming or agonize over world peace. Soul-making is more important than morality or mortality. Time is not running out, there is nowhere to go.


The perfect and necessary nature of mind is creative agitation. Just as the Hubble telescope has sent us pictures of an expanding Cosmos filled with whirling asteroids, flashing comets and hatching solar systems, so soul constantly whirls, hurls and hatches new fantasies. Psyche may rest periodically, but then it rushes back into the melee of chaotic and often confusing creativity.
We all know that we are fascinated by the odd, eccentric and insane. The clown, the vulgar comedian, the madman, the peculiar uncle, the guy at work that picks his nose, the woman on the street wearing the silver-sequined dress, the musical idiot-savant, the midget, the alcoholic, the serial killer, the desperate housewife, reality TV characters that devour leopard testicles, and on and on. We are terrified by and admiring of their soulful expressions. They are us, from a safe distance. Voltaire said, "Men will always be mad, and those who think they can cure them are the maddest of all."

Soul-making is a living kaleidoscope, always turning the psychological tube of broken, colorful shards – constantly in motion, creating new designs by the incessant twisting. Some designs are peaceful with muted edges, others dark and jagged. All are normal, necessary and endlessly creating your fascinating soul-scape. Something like mental health or salvation arrives when we realize that there will never be and was never meant to be 'salvation' or 'wholeness'. As I mentioned, the material and energetic universe is in an endless cycle of forming, decomposing and reforming. Soul is this Universe. Soul is dynamic, never frozen, never completed.


So then, away with the limiting and troubling assumption of mental wholeness. Set aside the beguiling and painful assumption that the goal of this existence is health, success, happy relationships and an absence of pain and negativity. To be made in the image and likeness of God means to be in the Process of constant redefinition and recomposition. Redefinition comes through insanity and darkness as much as sanity and light. Every single mythology begins with dark chaos: Egyptian Nut, Greek Erebos, Hebrew Darkness, Taoist Dark Womb...out of the chaos comes light and order.

It is fine to pursue and attain peace and light, but don’t neglect your other soul mentors. Embrace the imagination when it agitates, goes a little nuts, exaggerates, turns a cold into pneumonia and a mole into cancer. Follow the fantasy mind down the trail of painful thoughts – jealousy, envy, wrath, lust, arrogance, self obsession, etc. Carl Jung wrote, “Nobody, as long as he moves about among the chaotic currents of life, is without trouble.” Jesus said, "In the world, you shall have tribulation..." Every aspect of the Universe, even dark trouble, is in a conspir(it)acy for our soulful expansion. We must have others who irritate us, challenge us, criticize us and disagree. Oscar Wilde said, "The brotherhood of man is no mere poet's dream; it is a most depressing and humiliating reality."


If we must be in church, focus on saving our souls from the preachers that would load us down with a message of sinful incompletion or inadequate ego consciousness. The Bible is a book of Soul-making, not salvation from Original Sin or Personal Ego. It was necessary for Jesus to spend forty days in the desert with Satan as his only companion. Jesus exited the difficult desert ready for his vocation. Satan made Jesus’ soul bigger. The Buddha and the Greek myth of Psyche reveals both key characters entering three trials involving death and Hades before they were enlightened or raised to Mount Olympus.

In Luke 22:31-32, Jesus said to Peter, "Simon, listen to me! Satan has demanded the right to test each one of you, as a farmer does when he separates wheat from the husks. But Simon, I have prayed that your faith will be strong. And when you have come back to me (grown – expanded), you can help the others." Jesus, like Job, understood that Satan was not an enemy of God as much as an assistant teacher at the University of Soul-making.


This world is not a mistake! This Universe is not fallen and corrupt because of Adam's sin or our egos. Isn't the ultimate act of egoism the idea that we can somehow put an Almighty God off course by our choices? Everything in this Cosmos is exactly as it ought to be. The Process moves forward each second as God, chaos and darkness always move into order, and then dissolve ad infinitum. It is all God Becoming. There is really no past, present or future ultimately - just the Process of Infinite Creativity.

If we must go to therapy, go and cure the silly notion that we need to be cured. Most therapists I have known are as insane as we, their clients, are. They often appear quite together in the office, ensconced in their theories of mental healing or while consulting the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual – but meet them at the bar, in the bedroom or in the inner chamber of their thoughts and you will see that their psyches are in a state of chronic and creative agitation.
Read the biographies of the great psychiatrists like Freud and Jung; they were delightfully pathological lunatics. Freud was addicted to cocaine and obsessed with sex. Jung admired Hitler and believed in UFOs. Both men had extra-marital affairs. No wonder we find them so fascinating. They are us. They were brilliant. They were a little crazy. They were seeking. Sometimes they found, most often they didn't. They had large, ever expanding souls.
As Thomas Crum, a co-founder of Windstar Foundation, has so accurately written, "What would it be like if you lived each day, each breath, as a work of art in progress? Imagine that you are a masterpiece unfolding, every second of every day, a work of art taking form with every breath."

What would it be like if we saw everything as a perfect piece of the Soul-making Process...and stopped trying so hard to arrive at the non-existent goal of wholeness?

Copyright Michael Bogar, MDiv, ThM

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