It may well be twenty or so years ago that I bought a copy of Lost Christianity, a Journey of Rediscovery to the Centre of Christian Experience by Jacob Needleman.
At the time I was a Quaker, a member of the Society of Friends, but often restless and always as I think I still am, searching … looking for something ‘more’. Perhaps I now think something that I could glimpse in the pages of this book where the author explores concepts like the soul, prayer, meditation and spirituality. Ideas ironically not always readily or easily discussed in religious circles.
Of course what he uncovered in his readings and appreciation of ancient Christian writings was that a contemplative tradition existed in the early church and it is a tradition that continues on – though not as part of the mainstream – in the lives of certain people. I see the book was first published in 1980 and then in the UK in 1993 so I was really pleased to come across Jacob Needleman’s website last week and watch a couple of interviews that he had given – one in 2014.
In that interview he discussed the questions of the heart that science cannot answer. He called these the ultimate questions, questions that everyone asks at some point in their lives and questions that are not; as he put it part of the psyche that is honoured by our society. These are questions about the existence of God; what happens after death; how to live; who am I; why is there evil; what’s it all about’ what it means to be human and our reason for existence.
Living with these questions, is, as indeed quite a few of us know, a deeply real part of ourselves. Needleman thinks that this, what he sees as the transcendent part of each person is more important than the biological, and the social because it is the real nature of reality.
As a philosopher and researcher of theologies he welcomes a deep confrontation with these questions of the heart and thinks that reflecting on them rather than denying them brings us hope of being a full human being, because such reflections, even if we don’t get to the answers, bring wisdom and meaning.
Like Carl Jung, who as well as being an analytical psychologist was also a philosopher and like Thomas Merton, a monk/philosopher/poet Needleman speaks of levels of knowing. The activation of the part of the human mind that is normally inaudible he sees as opening us up to great joy and of course inevitably greater sorrow… this he sees as ‘higher’ though we might say instead it is about being truly present and able to see things as they are…
Living with the questions and with more moments when we are present is the start of enlightenment and can act as a guide in our daily lives. This is about knowing things as they really are whereas most of the time we only know as we project our thoughts on to something or somebody else.
To the living walls,
Who are you?
Are you? Whose
Silence are you?’
From Thomas Merton’s poem In Silence