Sunday, July 25, 2010

Hunger and Thirst for Union with God: Part 3

The Role of the Ego in Our Search for Union with God

The most difficult spiritual struggle for me is the effort to center myself on God and on the love of God versus the ravenous hunger in my human ego to make itself the center of my universe. I am aware of a very real danger; if God gives me a taste of the joy of God's presence and love, my ego could go completely out of control. I am likely to start searching to experience God's love as an ego fix; trying to use God as an object for my own ego satisfaction and my own feelings of superiority and specialness.

Of course, God will not let God's gifts to be used that way. In God's goodness, God allows my spirit to be plunged into what the mystics call "the dark night of the soul", until I am ready to experience God's love for me in such a way that that experience contributes to the "greater glory of God". I understand well Rami's Sufi prayer: "Give me the pain of your love, o Lord, and not the joy. Give the joy to others, but give me the pain!"

The pain of God's love is what in Part 1 I described as the longing for God's love from a sense of deprivation. That pain purifies me and makes ready to experience the positive joy of God's presence within me. So in moments of dark night I make an act of trust that, through emptiness and privation, God is purifying me and preparing me to share in God's joy.

How do I go about loosening the grip of my ego on my spiritual life? The word ego has two very different meanings in psychotherapy and in spirituality. In psychotherapy, the ego refers to the ability of the "I" or self, to transpose the chaos of raw experience, id drives and the like, onto a meaningful and conscious plane. Building the psychological ego inplies promoting one's consciousness, fostering ego development, channeling energy from the id and the superego into the ego and, thus, taking responsibility for one's self and one's unconscious. To state this in spiritual terms: I can be co-creator of my very being in cooperation with the divine spirit. In this sense of the word ego, my first task is to build a strong ego before I begin the spiritual process of letting go of it.

The word ego has exactly the opposite meaning in most spiritual traditions. In western Christian tradition the word ego is used to indicate the prideful self that will not acknowledge any dependence on others or on the divine. In eastern spiritual tradition the ego usually refers to the illusion of a separate self from the absolute that stands in the way of enlightenment. Having a strong and healthy ego in the freudian psychological sense of the term is, I believe, essential to having a healthy and mature spiritual life. We must first possess an independent ego before we can freely let go of it in a healthy spiritual process. Otherwise letting go of our ego would mean regressing into a symbiosis with the chaos of primal drives.

How do I go about loosening the grip of my ego on my life in the second spiritual sense? The first thing I have to learn to be aware of is that this process is completely out of my human control and power. Trying to lessen the power of my ego is the equivalent of trying to lift myself by my own bootstraps. Only God can lessen the grip of my ego on my life by touching my heart with God's loving presence.

One tiny touch of God's loving presence and I am outside myself in ecstasy and my ego is swallowed up in the glory and goodness of God. The only power my ego has in all of this is that out of my freedom I can invite God in. "Ask and you shall receive! Knock and the door will be open!" I can ask God to come and purify me and make me worthy to experience God's love. Here I have to follow the path of twelve step spirituality, acknowledging my own powerlessness, and reach out with complete trust to be empowered by God: "Let go! Let God!"

The philosopher Maurice Blondel speaks of this experience as falling into the category of those actions that are simultaneously "necessary" for our human fulfillment and "impossible" by human means alone. Intimate union with God is absolutely necessary for human happiness and absolutely impossible by human means alone. Therefore, if that union happens, it is because of God's power, presence and action. Our only appropriate response is gratitude for God's merciful love.

The only other power I have - and that power is also dependent on God's grace - is to live a life of compassion, always seeking to lose myself in my desire to be present in love to those who need my help. I am aware that the ultimate and decisive liberation from my ego-centeredness can only occur by means of the transition through death onto eternity.

With God's grace I have reached the point now where I can invite God in and mean it. Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus, Come! I intend to continue my spiritual struggle to center my life in God. Whatever time and energy I have left I will use to the best of my ability to bring the message of God's love to gays, lesbians, transsexual and transgendered people. My hope is someday to be united with a great crowd of my gay brothers and sisters in God's presence, where we will eternally celebrate God's love.

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