The dystopia of Brave New World is a world in which sin, i.e., action against unity, spiritual or divine, has lost all meaning. Community, Identity, Stability is the motto of Aldous Huxley’s dystopian World State, and everyone within it consumes daily grams of soma to make any hint of depression dissipate. No problem that every baby within it is born in a laboratory. After all, the most popular form of culture is the “Feelie”, a movie that floods the senses of sight, hearing, and touch. “But I don’t want comfort,” says the Savage in Huxley’s novel. “I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.” In this world “everyone belongs to everyone else”, and so poetry and real danger, freedom and goodness, have become the insubstantial stuff of a bygone world of a long-ago dream. Why bother over such things, now that old devil pain has been done away with? But, sin or no sin, Aldous Huxley has Mustapha Mond say to the Savage: “God isn’t compatible with machinery and scientific medicine and universal happiness. You must make your choice. Our civilization has chosen machinery and medicine and happiness.”
We must make our choice between God and our civilization. Yes, Huxley actually puts that in the novel. And, from his spiritual testament The Perennial Philosophy (Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1945, p. 43), we find these words:
The saint is one who knows that every moment of our human life is a moment of crisis; for at every moment we are called upon to make an all-important decision – to choose between the way that leads to death and spiritual darkness and the way that leads towards light and life; between interests exclusively temporal and the eternal order; between our personal will, or the will of some projection of our personality, and the will of God. In order to fit himself to deal with the emergencies of his way of life, the saint undertakes appropriate training of mind and body, just as the soldier does. But whereas the objectives of military training are limited and very simple, namely, to make men courageous, cool-headed, and co-operatively efficient in the business of killing other men, with whom, personally, they have no quarrel, the objectives of spiritual training are much less narrowly specialized. Here the aim is primarily to bring human beings to a state in which, because there are no longer any God-eclipsing obstacles between themselves and Reality, they are able to be aware continuously of the divine Ground of their own and all other beings; secondarily, as a means to this end, to meet all, even the most trivial circumstances of daily living without malice, greed, self-assertion or voluntary ignorance, but consistently with love and understanding. Because its objectives are not limited, because, for the lover of God, every moment is a moment of crises, spiritual training is incomparably more difficult and searching than military training. There are many good soldiers, few saints.
In our consideration of the healing of the paralyzed man in the last two posts, we have witnessed the karmic consequences of following the personal will (“or the will of some projection of our personality”) in pursuit of one’s pleasure in preference to seeking the will of God through consultation with one’s guardian angel. We have seen also how the healing of the karmic consequences of having followed this wide way that “leadeth to destruction” can be activated through the re-establishment of contact with one’s angel. Following on from John 5:1-9 as presented in the post of January 10 (“A Much Deeper Disorder”), here is the remainder of the gospel’s account of that healing (John 5:9b-29):
Now that day was a sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who had been cured, ‘It is the sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.’ But he answered them, ‘The man who made me well said to me, “Take up your mat and walk.”’ They asked him, ‘Who is the man who said to you, “Take it up and walk”?’ Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had disappeared in the crowd that was there. Later Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, ‘See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you.’ The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. Therefore the Jews started persecuting Jesus, because he was doing such things on the sabbath. But Jesus answered them, ‘My Father is still working, and I also am working.’ For this reason the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because he was not only breaking the sabbath, but was also calling God his own Father, thereby making himself equal to God.
Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. The Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing; and he will show him greater works than these, so that you will be astonished. Indeed, just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whomsoever he wishes. The Father judges no one but has given all judgment to the Son, so that all may honour the Son just as they honour the Father. Anyone who does not honour the Son does not honour the Father who sent him. Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life.
“Very truly, I tell you, the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself; and he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not be astonished at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and will come out—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.”
In Christ and Sophia: Anthroposophic Meditations (SteinerBooks, 2006, pp. 250-1), here is what Valentin Tomberg has to say regarding the above:
After the healing, Jesus Christ said in the Temple . . . to the one who had been healed, “Sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee” (John 5:14). With these words, Jesus Christ made it clear that the malady had arisen from moral causes in the past and, moreover, that the one who is healed is free to choose whether to bring about the same causes again. This reference to the connection between sickness and moral freedom shows clearly that, in the one who was healed, there was no question of either a weak character or an unhealthy soul life; that is, it was not a fault in the ether or astral bodies, but a misuse of moral freedom, which was exercised out of the “I”, not the human organism.
The “I” is the member of the human being that continues on from incarnation to incarnation. The result of each incarnation continues to live in the “I”, forming what is often called a “string of beads” in Indian symbolism, of which the individual “beads” are the “I” being of various incarnations, while the “string” represents the continuity of consciousness from incarnation to incarnation. Thus the “I” being of former lives lives on and represents the “inner” past that is inseparable from an individual. This miracle of healing indicates a power that affected not only the present but also the past “I” being – the “I” that passed through death with the responsibility for the previous life course. “I” consciousness of the past, which preserves its activity from the previous incarnation and in which many human beings live and act, is called consciousness of the “dead” in the Gospels, and those who live under the “I” impulse of the past are called the “dead”. Thus, healing the paralyzed man involved more than merely the present “I”; the “dead”, in particular, heard the “voice of the Son” and experienced a conversion in his past consciousness. “For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will” (John 5:21). These words of Jesus Christ have direct connection with the healing and refer to it. And words that follow express it even more clearly: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live” (John 5:25). True, only a few of the dead had heard this voice – a fact expressed, for example, in these words: “Let the dead bury their dead” (Luke 9:60). This is the fundamental challenge to which we must respond if we wish to gain spiritual hearing. It is a summons to conquer ourselves again and again and, shutting out all personal impulses, repeatedly listen in silence to the voice of conscience. The sounds that the spiritual world uses to speak are moral and spiritual voices, not fixed “vibrations” for the purpose of being caught by a sensory organ. Those voices can be heard only after the soul has adapted to the voice of conscience; those who are prepared to follow the dictates of conscience without hesitations are thus prepared to hear the voices of cosmic conscience.
Conversion of our past consciousness: this is the liberation from paralysis, the passing from death to life, the healing toward an empowered future. Having “heard the voice of the Son”, we are quickened, we are summoned, we are empowered, “to conquer ourselves again and again” as, “shutting out all personal impulses, repeatedly [to] listen in silence to the voice of conscience”.
Precisely this liberation from paralysis, this empowerment “to conquer ourselves again and again” is what motivated the desert fathers and mothers of the fourth century, “following the dictates of conscience”, to abandon the cities in order to live stripped of comfort under the hard sun in lonely places of rock and sand.
It was with the legalization of the Cross in the Roman Empire in the early fourth century, and with the subsequent flood of new Christians into the churches, that the call to the desert was heard in the heart of Saint Anthony the Great (c.250 – 356), whose feast day it was two days ago. And it was his flight to the desert that inspired thousands more to do likewise.
Saint Anthony said:
Just as the body leaving the maternal womb imperfect cannot live, so too the soul that leaves the body, having not reached the contemplation of God, cannot be saved or united with God.
Saint Anthony also said:
The more moderate life a person leads, the calmer he becomes, because he does not fret about many things – about servants and accumulation of material things. If we do get attached to these [earthly things], as a consequence we expose ourselves to tribulations that lead us to grumbling against God. In this way, the desire for these many things fills us with confusion, and we wander in the darkness of a sinful life, not even knowing ourselves.
Now, as it happens, today is the Feast of Saint Macarius the Elder (c.300 – 391), another Coptic monk and hermit – and student of Antony the Great – who said:
This is the mark of Christianity – however much a man toils, and however many righteous deeds he performs, to feel that he has done nothing, and in fasting to say, “This is not fasting,” and in praying, “This is not prayer,” and in perseverance at prayer, “I have shown no perseverance; I am only just beginning to practice and to take pains”; and even if he is righteous before God, he should say, “I am not righteous, not I; I do not take pains, but only make a beginning every day.
And who also said:
Souls that love truth and God, that long with much hope and faith to put on Christ completely, do not need so much to be put in remembrance by others, nor do they endure, even for a while, to be deprived of the heavenly desire and of passionate affection to the Lord; but being wholly and entirely nailed to the cross of Christ, they perceive in themselves day by day a sense of spiritual advance towards the spiritual Bridegroom.
The significance of these Desert Fathers in connection to the healing of the paralyzed man and – through that connection to us – should be clear enough. If it is not, Thomas Merton spells it out very well in the introduction to his book The Wisdom of the Desert (Shambhala, 2004, pp. 26-7):
We cannot do exactly what they did. But we must be as thorough and as ruthless in our determination to break all spiritual chains, and cast off the domination of alien impulses, to find our true selves, to discover and develop our inalienable spiritual liberty and use it to build, on earth, the Kingdom of God. This is not the place in which to speculate what our great and mysterious vocation might involve. That is still unknown. Let it suffice for me to say that we need to learn from these men of the fourth century how to ignore prejudice, defy compulsion and strike out fearlessly into the unknown.
Pax et bonum,