Look closely. It's a courtyard at Cowell College. Behind the fountain, on the wall, you'll see her: the Goddess, a mural created by former students. I don't know if she's still there, but for now let's call her back, listen to her anew. See her shapely white body, gazing out at us. Her words ring out still: the Cosmic Lady was right, she says. No, not Right, just right... Correct, in other words. They were my teachers then, these two ladies--you know, the Goddess and the Cosmic One. And they were right. It takes a little imagination.
Right about what, you ask? Right about soul-making, that's what. Or, as the Cosmic One used to put it, Earth is a School. A school like Cowell College, I like to think. The first class in the Core Curriculum? Soul-Making 101.
This is a course the earliest Christians would have condoned. Not so the current ones. These days there's no school, just a Sermon, or Message. After that you go down the aisle to “accept Jesus" as your "personal savior." Your soul gets saved and what then? No more guidance; you're on our own. It's up to each of us to figure things out, what we're supposed to do next—and most of us do nothing beyond resting on the promise of eternal life. Read the Bible, yes. Grow a little, maybe, but mostly Just believe. Have faith, wait for the next world, where our stupidity will hopefully be cured. We'll then know how to live, even if it is too late. But for the rest of this present life, it's recess time. School's out... Especially schools like Cowell College. Go home, join a church, vote Republican, wait for the Rapture.
Well, what's wrong with that, you say… Isn't faith believing what the Church teaches, what the Bible tells us? No way, Jose, according to Douglas Lockhart in his epic work Jesus the Heretic (highly recommended reading!) Faith is trust--in the face of cosmic ambiguity and uncertainty… Not just accepting a story as having literally happened in a certain way. We cannot understand the Mystery or explain it, but we can learn to trust it. And then to start working on ourselves, “acquiring a soul.” For as Bette Davis put it so poignantly in All About Eve (not especially recommended…) “fasten your seat belts; we're in for a bumpy ride...”
The journey that has to be made by each and every one of us is not at all easy—in fact it is very, very difficult. But it has to be made—consciously made. We either wake up and get on with it, or stay asleep and dream our lives away. In the context of this Lockhart quote, 'repentance' has nothing to do with 'sin' or 'guilt,' it has to do with awakening. And the job we're assigned is simply to learn how to live, on a daily basis, how to cope with it all, how to get on top of it, get free from our ego-bondage. No need here to think in terms of some lofty concept of Enlightenment or Gnosis; just learning to get by with ease and efficiency, day by day: the difficult and dangerous prospect of ego-dismantling and reassembly. Did I really have to react that way to her remark? Do I really have to feel jealous of him? Must I be obsessed with the National Football League, the Academy Awards Ceremony to be televised tonight? Do I really have to hate Bill O'Reilly? Obama? Is abortion really all that important, in the scheme of things? Do I have to be right all the time?
This is Lockhart's soul-making—the process of acquiring a “soul,” our lifelong assignment, as it was for a large segment of the earliest Jesus Movement, before it became an official world religion for the masses of simple ones. Before the religion about Jesus took flower, the religion of Jesus prevailed for these folk. Jesus was an example for these Gnostics: Jesus perceived as archetypal process and wholeness. He was the archetype of their growing up, of their achieving maturity, of their seeing through things. What he was not was a once-for-all human sacrifice that they could rely upon to shield them from their own stupidity.
It now seems the first Gnostic Christians had gotten hold of some astute psychological insights, and were on the way to gaining some actual control over their emotions, their wayward egos, The tiny minority of heretics who were to become the future Catholic Church eventually won the allegiance of most by offering a short cut to instant and painless immortality. It was easier to just believe… Because you see, it is hard, even extremely difficult, to go through the School of Life and acquire a Soul. It is very hard, a lifelong project in fact, to get to know yourself, to master yourself, as Jesus did, so that you can really change your life and become free. It is much easier to just “believe,” go on your way, guided by a grocery list of second-hand dogmas to subscribe to, wait for heaven when you die. Meanwhile, it's the same old hell you're living in, each new day. If you're a “Christian” and your life is miserable, you're seeing a psychiatrist to get rid of your angst, well then, might you not be missing something somewhere?
And it's the same old hell for all the rest of us, also—the “same old literal nightmare, if Western consciousness is never to mature and stabilize... The daylight psychosis of a civilization in deep crisis will intensify. We are heading inexorably toward global disaster on more than one front (ecological as well as psychological!) and the whole spiritual 'climate' of the Christian West is abetting instead of stemming the coming breakdown. Breakdown is virtually inevitable as we progressively harm the planet and lose our nerve in the face of literal and anarchic forces bred out of our own ineptitude… We will not admit to being empty… The psychosis of alienation, separation, loneliness and rational breakdown is all around us and in us, but we continue to mouth Christian or secular platitudes… The Church's answer is, as usual, profound: Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so...”
This is not scaremongering, nor can it be dismissed as partisan spin. It is simply to amplify the Cosmic Lady's cryptic warning, as she used to mouth it down on the Mall:
The landlord is telling us that the rent is due.