Blog #15: Limits of the Mind

After singing about the powers of the mind in our last Blog, I would like to take a step back now and stress the fact that we can not find ultimate truth with the mind alone. The bottom line is that the final step towards Higher Power is made not with the head but with the heart.
For a generation that is accustomed to glorifying the powers of the intellect, this is a bitter pill to swallow. Indeed, some have gone so far as to say that science is the new religion. But the fact remains that until we can go beyond the intellect we will be exiled in a mental prison of our own making.
This is not to say that philosophy and theology and psychology (I have academic degrees in all three) do not have their place on the spiritual journey. Certainly they do. But the powers of the mind can only take us so far. Ultimately we must go beyond reason and step into mystery.
The intellect is useful for setting the stage and doing the preparatory work for the journey. It gives us an important framework and foundation to make some sense out of the impulse to transcendence. In fact, be afraid, be very afraid, of any religion that does not encourage its followers to think. In the end, such a religion is a house of cards that will fall when an individual begins to think freely. There should be no contradiction between science and faith. Science is the handmaid of a living faith.
Augustine was a great example of a thinker who stepped beyond the mind, but never went against the mind. The first stage of Augustine’s spiritual journey had nothing to do with theology or even Scripture. He searched relentlessly for some philosophical framework that he could build upon to go further and deeper. He found such an underpinning in the philosophy of Neo- Platonism. What this philosophy said is the topic of another column to follow, but I mention it only to make the point that before Augustine had a spiritual and mystical conversion, he had a prior “conversion” to a system of thought that made some sense to him.
Thomas Merton is another spiritual journeyor who went through a conversion process similar to Augustine. He took the first step to spiritual transcendence by coming to understand a context, based on reason, that would provide a launching pad for his mystical thinking. He found such a basis in reading Gilson’s The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy.
Someone who has given me a personal context for a life of faith and experience of Higher Power is Dr. Carl Jung. I first came across his works as mediated by two Jungian scholars: Morton Kelsey and John Sanford, both of whom happened to be Episcopal priests, in addition to being Jungian therapists. I can still recall the elation that I felt when I discovered the work of Jung. Finally, here was a person who helped me make sense out of the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. He gave me a framework to show that Christianity, properly understood, was the greatest system of mental health ever devised.
Of course, Jungian thought, or any other mental system, is not enough. One can never get all the way to wholeness only by using the powers of the mind. In the end, one must take a “leap of faith” (Soren Kierkegaard). But this is a stepping beyond reason, not against reason. As a young man, I had vowed to not pit faith against reason. I could not choose between the two. I needed a synthesis, just as Augustine and Merton had found theirs. In Jung, I had found a scientific system that would work for me. But the journey was not “complete” (I put this phrase in quotes because the journey is never complete). The next step was the one that required me to “die to self” and discover myself as a child of the universe and a child of- wonder of wonders- the very Source of all that is. More, much more about this process as we journey together.
Next posting: Universal Lessons
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