Friday, October 12, 2012

Preparing for the End, and the Beginning

 The Book of Revelation, also known as The Apocalypse of John completes the biblical story of spiritual development. Let's remember that the author named John was not a literalist, but a symbolist. A symbolist is one who expects the reader to see through the surface of a story to the inner personal significance. In The Gospel of John, Jesus speaks to a religious professional named Nicodemus who interprets Jesus' comment literally: "You must be born again." The perplexed Nicodemus then asks, "How can a man enter into his mother's womb and be born again?" Jesus replies, "How can you possibly teach others about spiritual things when you cannot understand spiritual symbolism?" (my paraphrase). This little exchange is a key to reading John's writings. They are to be read symbolically.

The Book of Revelation is for those spiritually advanced souls who have sufficiently experienced enough of life to see that there must be more to it than pleasure and pain, success and failure, marriage and divorce, education and ignorance, etc. All of these experiences are normal and necessary for spiritual development, but they are meant to lead us to deeper and deeper experiences leading to a more complete personality--a personality that blends the human and the divine into a new being.

The Book of Revelation portrays shocking images of the advanced soul in a state of personality annihilation, the peeling away of worn out goals and lost dreams. Physical aging forces one to look in the mirror, viewing bodies and past lives as they evaporate like a morning mist. The horrific and beatific images in the Revelation are meant to cause us to reflect as we prepare for the end of this phase of existence. That preparation requires us to obliterate the old and anticipate the new--the "new heavens and new earth". But both must be done together. Most people would rather dismiss the book or turn it into something literal rather than do the hard work of reflection that brings renewal. The Sufi poet, Rumi, put it like this:

This human soul is like a hotel.

Every morning there is a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a nastiness,

some momentary awareness comes

as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain all of them!

Even if a mob of mourners arrives

who violently sweep the rooms

and destroy all of the furniture,

still, treat each guest honorably.

He or she may be clearing you out

for some new delight.

The depressed thought, the shame, the malice,

meet them all at the door warmly,

and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,

because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.


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