In both his person and in his sayings, Jesus reflects a living relationship to the soul. In his person, it is shown through his amazing compassion for people. He was capable of lasting, deep personal relationships, which is a mark of someone whose eros side is well developed, and therefore in touch with their soul.
With no soul-connection to oneself, one’s life will come to nothing, John Sanford says. Thus, Jesus can say, “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” Matthew 16:26, KJV/Luke 9:25/Mark 8:36
It is in the contemporary translations that one finds that “soul” has been translated as “life.” But the soul is a psychic reality that makes one alive from within. The mere holding onto physical life when the time has come to relinquish it, is of no value, Sanford says. It is the connection to the soul that is of vital importance, for without that connection our outward life comes to nothing.
“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; fear him rather who can destroy both body and soul in hell.” Matthew 10:28
Clearly the death of our physical body is nothing compared to the destruction of our souls.
“Since a connection with the soul is a connection to the principle of eros,” Sanford says, “the place of eros in relationship to the kingdom must be further explored.”
Because eros springs from nature and carries a feminine sign, it is also close to human passion and instincts. This calls into question the place of our bodily nature in the kingdom of God.
There are three reasons that conventional Christianity has been largely identified with a negative view of the instinctual human being and of natural human feelings, he says.
The first reason is the unnatural split between paganism and Christianity: Christianity is good versus Paganism is bad. And, that there is no connection between the two. But, there should be no such split between the pagan myths and images and the Christian ones.
“All myths have their origin in the striving of the psyche to express in mythological form the deepest human spiritual and psychological truths and strivings,” Sanford says.
There are definite parallels between pagan myths and the Christian story, which shows that a rift between the two is unnatural. Yet, if Christianity grew out of paganism, it also goes beyond it. Why? Because Christianity is not left in the form of a myth but is part of the history of a specific person at a specific time. Also, Christ has a vital relationship not only to the Mother, but also to the heavenly Father, which is an element missing in the dying and rising gods before him. This aspect gives his mission a distinctly spiritual and conscious character. Death on the cross is not involuntary but voluntarily chosen, consciously decided on for a spiritual reason.
His resurrection is a one-time event because he partakes of the nature of the heavenly Father whereas the resurrections of the other gods were cyclical. Christ’s resurrection is lineal not cyclical. This makes Christianity unique, and yet it includes the feminine, natural element within it.
But, the church has long since split off this natural element, and in doing so, Sanford says, has lost the wholeness inherent in the Incarnation, where, in Christ, nature and spirit became one.
The second reason is because there has long been a great tension between the physical and spiritual.
“The instinctual side and the moral side–the bodily person and the intellectual person–are in opposition to each other,” he says.
Christianity allowed the spiritual, moral, conscious side to develop as never before, but because instinctuality easily overwhelms the spiritual, moral, conscious side, the two sides often seem enemies.
Because ancient people were still too close to their instincts, it was psychologically necessary for them to deny instinct in order that the precariously won world of the spirit might become stronger. This denial may have been a psychologically necessary step at one point, but it is no longer necessary in our current age where we now must strive for synthesis.
The third reason for the split is the ancient struggle in the church between incarnational Christianity and Gnosticism.
“A complicated religious scheme of salvation with innumerable variations,” Sanford says, “Gnosticism was a danger to Christianity precisely because in so many respects it resembled it.”
The Fathers of the Church were well aware of this danger, particularly Gnosticism’s identification of matter with evil and the rejection of the physical side of human beings as belonging to the world of the devil.
“But, having won the battle theologically against the Gnostics, the Church lost it psychologically by continuing to preach an ethic that, in effect, labeled the body as evil after all,” he says.
The ethic of asceticism, which denies body in favor of spirit (and identifies passion with sin), is essentially Gnosticism. So Christians, who favor this attitude toward sin and the natural side of human beings, are, in fact, Gnostics.
But, in Jesus there is neither asceticism or Gnosticism, no devaluation of the body, no separation from nature. In fact, he was accused of being a “wine drinker and a glutton.” The sins Jesus attacked were not the sins of the flesh but rather the sins of the spirit–hypocrisy, deceit, self-righteousness, allying oneself with Satan, which are far more dangerous to the soul than the excesses of the body (not that Jesus was encouraging excess as he always cautioned moderation).
“If Jesus was not married,” he says, “it was not because he was averse to sexuality or to women but because he was conscious of a unique mission he was to perform that precluded marriage.”
His marriage was from within, the union of masculine and feminine within himself. Despite the culture at the time, Jesus allied himself closely with women as well as men.
We are a totality of body, soul and spirit. If any one side is denied, it imperils the full expression of another. So, Sanford says, if people deny that they have aggressive feelings, they will also deny their sexual feelings, and if the sexual feelings cannot be consciously acknowledged, it becomes impossible to fulfill eros. And, if eros is stifled, spirituality becomes stifled and rigid, hard, judgmental and uncreative. Because humans are organic, if any one part of our being suffers, the total human organism suffers. If the total person is to live, be free, to come into expression, all sides must be consciously recognized and joyfully received as given by God, with no one side predominating at the expense of another.
This unification and transformation will take us to a higher level of being, which sheds light on this saying of Jesus about our sexual life:
“You have learnt how it was said: You must not commit adultery. But I say this to you: if a man looks at a woman lustfully, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5:27-28
This verse is always taken as a condemnation by Jesus of sexual desire as he equates a man’s desire for a woman with adultery. But, because Jesus regards the sins of the spirit as more deadly than the sins of the flesh, a condemnation of sexual urges is not characteristic of him.
“Sexual urges and fantasies are part of a perfectly natural and inevitable process,” Sanford says. “Jesus remark is not about sexuality but about the Law.”
While Jesus is not recommending adultery, he is saying that matters of love and sexuality need a higher law than ecclesiastical legislation. And, that higher law is consciousness. Sanford says there are four areas in which our sexual and erotic feelings need to be made conscious.
First, a proper balance must be struck between repressing our sexuality and living it out promiscuously; second, we must become conscious of the difference between the man or woman who is the desired person in our sexual or fantasy life and the inner images that we may have projected onto that person (we must see them as the real humans they are); third, we must become conscious of our motives when we desire sexual experience with someone (Is it to dominate? To avoid relating? To satisfy only ourselves? Or, is it to truly share and love?); and fourth, we must approach our fantasies consciously as they are highly symbolic and relate to our individuation process (they can help us know what is missing in our conscious development and ground us in the reality of the deeper life of the soul).
The more conscious we are of the underlying meaning of our sexuality the less compulsive it is and the ore our erotic life is enriched, he says.
The ethic of the kingdom is an ethic of consciousness. To achieve the kingdom, nothing that belongs to us must be denied conscious recognition and acceptance as a genuine part of our totality. As long as we are seeking consciousness, we keep our soul. The movement becomes toward synthesis, toward a union of the personality in depth.
Because parts of ourselves have long been overlooked, we must draw them to the surface. “What once was lost, will now be found” and this is an event of supreme importance.
Next Week: The Lost Coin