A continuation of our series of postings on the early Christian writings, the mystical Odes of Solomon, written in Apostolic times (to be available as a paperback and ebook later this year).
As the impulse of anger against evil, so is the impulse of joy over what is loved, and brings in of its fruits without restraint.
My joy is the Lord and my impulse is toward him, this path of mine is beautiful.
For I have a helper–the Lord; he has generously shown himself to me in his simplicity, because his kindness has diminished his dreadfulness.
He became like me in order that I might receive him; in form he was considered like me so that I might put him on.
And I trembled not when I saw him, because he was gracious to me.
Like my nature he became that I might learn him, and like my form that I might not turn back from him.
The Father of knowledge, is the Word of knowledge.
He Who created wisdom, is wiser than his works.
And he Who created me when yet I was not, knew what I should do when I came into being.
Wherefore he pitied me in his abundant grace, and granted me to ask from him and to receive from his sacrifice.
For he it is Who is incorruptible, the perfection of the worlds and their Father.
He has allowed him to appear to them that are his own, in order that they may recognize him that made them, and not suppose that they came of themselves.
or knowledge he hath appointed as its way; he hath widened it and extended it and brought it to complete perfection.
And has set over it the traces of his light, and I walked therein from the beginning even to the end.
For by him it was wrought, and he rested in the Son.
And for its salvation he will take hold of everything; and the Most High shall be known in his Saints.
To announce to those that have songs of the coming of the Lord, that they may go forth to meet him and may sing to him, with joy and with the harp of many tones.
The Seers shall go before him, and they shall be seen before him.
And they shall praise the Lord for his love, because he is near and seeth.
And hatred shall be taken from the earth, and along with jealousy it shall be drowned.
For ignorance hath been destroyed upon it, because the knowledge of the Lord hath arrived upon it.
Let the singers sing the grace of the Lord Most High, and let them bring their songs.
And their heart shall be like the day, and like the excellent beauty of the Lord their pleasant song.
And let there be nothing without life, nor without knowledge nor dumb.
For (the Lord) hath given a mouth to his creation, to open the voice of the mouth towards him, and to praise him.
Confess ye his power, and show forth his grace. Alleluia.
Ode of Solomon 7
There was an old vaudeville routine where someone would be telling news to another. At one point, the hearer would say: “That’s good,” and the narrator would say: “No, that’s bad,” and continue on to explain. Later the hearer would comment “That’s bad,” and the narrator would contradict and say, “No, that’s good.” And so it would go on: “That’s good,” “No, that’s bad,” That’s bad,” “No, that’s good,” until the end which was always “bad.”
In junior high school I heard a joke version that began: “Fortunately, a man was flying in an airplane; unfortunately, the engine quit; fortunately, he had a parachute; unfortunately, the parachute did not open;” and it, too, went on to end most unfortunately.
This is really the way of most religion. No matter how positive the initial statements may be, fear and condemnation get injected somewhere along the line, ultimately resulting in a conviction of incapacity and unworthiness.
A few years ago on the internet I found a website that expounded the innate perfection of all sentient beings, affirming that liberation was the natural goal of all humanity. Then it went on to fulminate and fume against anyone who dared to disbelieve their One and Only True Master, describing the eternal darkness and suffering that would be the lot of unbelievers. That was awful, but worse was to come: the horrendous fate of disciples who dared to read anything but the Master’s writings or to even walk into a building owned by another spiritual organization. There was a lot of talk about how the Master mystically implanted some kind of enlightenment device (I am not joking or satirizing) in the astral bodies of all disciples, and how these devices would become deformed if the disciple committed the crimes just mentioned, or even began to question the Master’s words. As a result they, too, would wander eternally in darkness and pain, but it would be much worse than that of the unbelievers.
I have found this malignant schizophrenia in virtually every spiritual group I have met or made the mistake of joining. Things are all smiles and sunshine at the first, eventually developing into clouds, rain, thunder, lightning, and terror. Bad You! Bad You! Another version of: Bad Dog! Bad Dog!
In Pilgrim’s Regress, C. S. Lewis satirizes this by having someone tell a tenant how much–oh, how much–the landlord loves his tenants. So much so, that the landlord had prepared a pit of fire for any tenant that insulted his love by breaking the rules. So, the messenger concluded, we must all love the landlord very much and trust in his love so he will not torture us in the fire pit–something he very much did not want to do. Is it any wonder that so many “true believers” are crazy in a part of their mind?
Here is an example. After my first trip to India I stayed for a while in the home of a devoted yogi. One day she answered the doorbell and I heard the following.
Grace: “Hello, how are you?”
Unseen man: “Oh, I’m still thrilled with Christ!”
The Unseen, not permitted to come in the house, then invited Grace to come to some kind of church party at someone’s home. Grace managed to graciously decline and get the door closed. Then she turned to me and said: “I won’t ever go anywhere with him again! That man is a minister who wanted to convert me. Once I went with him to a party, and while we were there he told me: ‘You know, tonight on the way home I could stop the car and poke your eyes out and make you accept Jesus as your Savior.’ So I called my daughter to come get me and take me home. But he keeps calling and coming over. He claims he saw Jesus in a vision once–but only his feet.” I did not want to ask her how he recognized Jesus by his feet. I knew that something as logical as “by the stigmata” would not be forthcoming.
The alternative: Original Christianity
But it does not have to be that way. In fact, we should refuse to ever let it be that way with us. Moreover it was not so originally with the followers of Jesus, as is revealed in this ode.
- As the impulse of anger against evil, so is the impulse of joy over what is loved, and brings in of its fruits without restraint. My joy is the Lord and my impulse is toward him, this path of mine is beautiful. For I have a helper–the Lord; he has generously shown himself to me in his simplicity, because his kindness has diminished his dreadfulness.
In Indian spiritual writings we are told that human response can be divided into two streams: attraction and aversion, raga and dwesha. Raga is attachment/affinity for something, implying a desire for it. Raga may range from simple liking or preference to intense desire and attraction. Dwesha is aversion/avoidance for something, implying a dislike for it. Dwesha may range from simple non-preference to intense repulsion, antipathy and even hatred. Raga-dwesha is the continual cycle of desire/aversion, like/dislike that can be emotional (instinctual) or intellectual.
In the purified mind raga-dwesha is still present, but as a manifestation of viveka: discrimination based on spiritual insight (jnana). Therefore negativity evokes an active aversion as the force known as vikshepa: a pushing away, an ejection of the negativity. “Anger” is not a very good translation, actually. “Rejection” or “elimination” would be better. Even the Greek word in the New Testament translated “anger” is orge, which means to have an intense feeling or reaction. It implies a strong rejection, rather like that of a healthy immune system in response to toxicity.
So Saint Paul wrote: “Be ye angry [orgidzo], and sin not” (Ephesians 4:26). That is, feel strongly about something but do not let it lead to egoic passion. Interestingly, orge and orgidzo also mean to intensely desire something, to reach out for it with strong attraction. As psychology has discovered, desire and aversion are really the same thing moving in opposite directions.
The author of the ode, then, is telling us that there is a deep-rooted impulse-response to objects, that in the purified heart there is repulsion for evil and attraction for good: the Supreme Good being God.
Here the poet is also telling us that joy (delight) arises in the pure heart when it contemplates that which is loved. Joy is the response, not a grudging sense of duty or a feeling of incapacity and incompetence: the common response to externalized religion. This is how we know whether or not we love God. It is not just dedication (loyalty), reverence, awe or admiration that we should and will feel, but joy: ananda.
Our response to God
And this joy is a generous response. It both gives and receives, therefore it “brings in of its fruits without restraint.” There is simply no need here for consoling, coaxing and “inspiring” the devotee. Needing no external influence, with joy he embraces that which leads to the Divine Vision. For this reason Jesus said that
“the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field” (Matthew 13:44).
There is no idea of sacrifice here even though all else is sold in order to buy that field wherein the treasure is hid. This is the perfect picture of a yogi. Regarding Jesus himself, whom we look upon as having sacrificed his life, Saint Paul assures us that Jesus “for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame” (Hebrews 12:2). His perspective was joy, for he was the embodiment of love.
If we desire to have the same delight, Krishna further says:
“Having come to this impermanent and unhappy world, devote yourself to me. With mind fixed on me, devoted, worshipping, bow down to me. Thus steadfast, with me as your supreme aim, you shall come to me.… the immortal, immutable, abode of everlasting dharma and of absolute bliss” (Bhagavad Gita 9:33-34; 14:27).
To exchange unreality, darkness and death for Reality, Light and Immortality! That is truly joy.
To abundantly and “without restraint” gather in “the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance” (Galatians 5:22-23): that is joy.
Next week: How and Why God Draws Us to Himself
- Key Concepts in Yoga: Raga and Dwesha
- How and Why You Should Transcend Raga and Dwesha (Attraction and Aversion)
- The Unholy Trinity of Yoga