Christian prophetic mysticism and shamanism: on Drew Jacob’s quest to meet the gods

Photo Credit: Lost in France by JinterwasDrew Jacob, a self-described priest of many gods, recently told his friends that he will be walking across two continents to meet the gods. They reacted a little skeptically, asking him, “What do you mean, you’re going to meet the gods?”

In “What Do You Mean, Meet the Gods?” on the Rogue Priest blog, he says:

The sacred stories paint a picture of the world that is rich with myth and miracle, as if every action on earth carries the echo of a divine voice. Reading the Odyssey or the Táin, you get the sense that at any moment you could stumble into one of the gods, face-to-face, in the flesh.

Even more promising is the story of Gilgamesh: a tireless and lengthy journey into parts unknown in search of something that may not exist. In Gilgamesh’s case it was a cure for death; for me it’s meeting the gods. Only after years of relentless wandering did Gilgamesh find a way to cross into the gods’ world, to approach their sanctuary and find what he sought.

I like the Gilgamesh model. It refuses to believe that prayer or shamanism or metaphor are the very best access to the divine that we can ever have. It exhibits faith, not in the gods themselves, but in the spirit of heroic determination to accomplish any task, however impossible it may seem.

I don’t know if I will ever meet the gods. I don’t know if they exist beyond the fringe of the human psyche. I don’t know if they hover behind the apparent world, unseen but intimately involved in all we do.

But if they are there I’m coming to meet them. There is no force on earth that can stop me. You’ve been forewarned, gods, and if you need to challenge me along the way, then bring it. Bring it.

Read the whole post.

Drew Jacob’s reflections inspire me to take a moment to discuss the relationship between monotheism and polytheism. A quest or a pilgrimage in the service of a priestly vocation is one that commands respect. And in my worldview, there is room for all of that — the gods, the forces of magic, the rites of sacrifice and purification, and reverence for Nature. All of that and more.

The ways in which an Integral Christian worldview harmonize with a shamanic vocation are legion. Here are three themes of importance:

1. The divinized Earth, the sacred cosmos

There is no place in the universe in which all that is divine does not dwell. In the Hebrew Bible and Christian Bible, of course there is a division between Creator and Creation, and for thousands of years there have been a variety of ways of understanding the relationship between the two.

Christianity teaches that God is self-sacrificial Love, and this Love manifests in history by his taking on the form of a human being in order to heal the split between Creator and Creator and usher in a new world in which this division is overthrown, the Kingdom of Heaven. And so with the principle of Incarnation — God becoming a flesh and blood person — there is an understanding that history is the way Creator and Creation are ultimately unified into a divinized world.

I experience a relationship with the Godhead as an evolving unfolding of greater degrees of harmony, unification, and integration in every dimension of life. But our experience of life is also one of apparent brokenness and suffering and mortality, a quest to be reunited with Spirit that will not be fulfilled until the end of all things.

In nature-based spiritualities, there is often a sacredness that transcends distinctions between the immanent and transcendent. Nature-centered views usually honor both the spirit world and the material world. In the figure of the shaman, the mediator between the spirit’s domain and mundane world, is a figure representing the union between the worlds. The vocation to shaman is not unlike the vocation to Christ-like consciousness in this respect.

2. The prophet Christian consciousness

I’ve recently begun to explain my understanding of a prophetic Christian consciousness, and want to highlight that the indwelling of Spirit is not merely an abstract dogma or personal belief, but for the prophetic mystic it is an experience of encountering the Trinity as the emergence of a Trinitarian inner life.

Drew writes that he does not know if the gods are inside his brain or in a space beyond the human psyche. I would invite anyone puzzling over such a quandry to inquire whether the language of belief, “I will meet the gods,” is a statement about the brain or cosmology or something that includes and transcends both of those places.

We can change our worldview by changing our language, right down to our pronouns and verb tenses. “I will meet the gods” is different than “We are meeting the gods,” even though both may be uttered by the same person to refer to a forthcoming pilgrimage.

Christianity teaches that Logos is Christ, which is divinity (as John 1:1 puts it, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,”) but it is not necessary to practice Christianity to understand that the Divine is immediately accessible through words. One only needs to believe that God is everywhere and in all things, so certainly God must be in our language.

As I know God, God speaks through me as “I AM.” (Exodous 3:14) To the extent that I am not merely “self” but Divine, every word from my mouth and every word I write occurs as an outpouring of the holy.

With that in mind, my impulse to be impeccable in thought and speech (to use a phrase similar to Don Miguel Ruiz) is central to my spiritual practice. When I inevitably find myself speaking something in conflict with what I believe God would say, this is a moment of awareness to redirect and refocus my mindfulness of language from the ego and back to God’s voice.

As I know Jesus Christ, Christ speaks to me as “You are.” When I find myself speaking not as God, I hear the voice of Christ engaging me to return to mindfulness of my Supreme identity.

If I think, “I really hate bugs,” then Christ might say, “Do you really hate?” And if I think, “I am lonely,” then Christ might say, “You are not alone. I am with you always, My Beloved.”

And if I ask Christ who I am, He might say, “You are I AM, Yahweh, God Almighty … only to the extent that you are also fully in harmony with Me. It is Our Love, and Our Friendship, which is your path to transformation from a Fallen state (“i am”) to a Risen state (“I AM.”) And you can find Me not only in you, but in all beings.”

As I know the Holy Spirit, Spirit speaks through me as “We are.” When I return from a Risen state to a Fallen state of consciousness, I forget that I am a “We.” The conventions of our language make it difficult to engage in everyday discourse using the first-person plural pronoun.

If you are alone and someone asks how you are doing, the answer “We are fine,” is rather odd. And yet within consciousness there are these three Voices of the Divine accessible to all.

The language to intercourse with the Godhead is accessible to all, but few people outside of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic traditions have much motivation to understand a calling to prophetic mysticism … and without expecting to find God in language, the Logos, Christ, Revelation … there is little incentive to encounter God so intimately in language.

In sum, we are the Trinity, every one of us … except our speech is Fallen, our ability to pray in the Divine Tongue is largely lost, and thus we have forgotten so much of our inner sacredness. The prophets of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam knew all about this. But too often they thought they were special, and others projected their own ability to communicate with the Divine upon them, failing to understand that the source of holiness which speaks through the prophets can just as easily speak through them.

3. One god or many?

From my view, the parallels between Christian prophetic mysticism and shamanism become increasingly blurry, for both approaches look for the Divine to communicate with us.  So often have Christian contemplatives sought union with God in silence and wordless rituals that much of the power of prophetic mysticism has been lost.

The Logos has fallen out of favor, replaced with Eastern-inspired silent meditations. And yet within a resurgent Christian mysticism of sound symbols, there are new ways to begin exploring the relationship between all faiths … if the explorations are understood with an Integral embrace.

Polytheistic religions have proclaimed the existence of many gods. I’m not sure how many of today’s neo-pagans literally believe in the existence of those gods, or if they really think of them as psychological archetypes, symbols, or metaphors of humanistic truths. Drew has embraced a mystic’s path: the radical openness to discovery of the unknown, a quest to meet the gods.

Let me say that I would not be surprised if he meets the gods he wishes to meet. The gods speak not only in words, but in whispers of wind through trees, movements of the stars in the heavens, and treks to ancient sacred temples.

Polytheism as a belief system is certainly different from monotheism. But the experience of polytheistic sacred consciousness is not necessarily so different from the experience of a Christian prophetic mystic consciousness.  Just as our psychic world contains a multiplicity of subpersonalities, each of which can be accessed through a practice of relationship, the pagan worldview contains gods which can be encountered through invocation.

Drew may not find it useful to talk to God, Christ, and Spirit if those aren’t the gods with which he has relationships. But his gods too could be as real as mine, I am sure, to the extent that he cultivates the relationship with his gods with the seriousness with which he invests his most precious relationships to human beings and the natural world.

Gilgamesh communicated with the gods who sent him on his quest for eternal life, but his quest did not work out so well despite his spirit of heroic determination. I wonder how the story might have ended differently if King Gilgamesh had journeyed to the place of indwelling timelessness within himself, the “I-AM-ness,” the “You-AREness,” and “We-AREness” present at every moment.

Out of the hospital

I am now fresh out of the hospital for a staph infection (and other assorted challenges and unpleasantries … “I really got my money’s worth” said my doctor on my multi-day, multi-diagnosis ER visit and hospital stay). If I missed you at A Different Light… my heartfelt apologies. If I missed you on Until or Integral Christian or wherever… I have been out of commission and look forward to being in touch soon. If you’ve been in Seattle lately, or sent me an email, etc., ditto with love.

I will, God permitting, be making a NPR Interview for the Seattle market tomorrow. Listen to Dave Beck’s show tomorrow afternoon, KUOW 94.9 (Public Radio) on Soulfully Gay. And I’ll be seeing a few of you this Saturday at 7:30 PM at Elliott Bay Books. Looking forward to it

Letter from a reader of Soufully Gay

Peter Savastano has given me permission to excerpt a bit from an email he sent me today:

You and I have a lot in common. I have studied astrology for over 25 years (Tropical, Sidereal, and Hindu). I have also studied the writings of Ken Wilber for at least 12 years, on-and-off, and I have been a student of Zen meditation since 1980 (I am 56).

Like you, I was raised Roman Catholic and I even tried my hand at monastic life back in the early 70s, first as a Trappist and then as a Little Brother of the Gospel (based on the vision of Charles de Foucauld (no, not Michel Foucault, though I adore MF). I also lived at the Catholic Worker in NYC for a brief respite between monastic orders (yes, struggling with coming out as a gay person isn’t a straight path, as I know you know, so I often had to leave the monastery in order to attempt to deal with my sexuality in a more conducive setting).

I too have tried to hang on to my Christian (Catholic) roots in whatever way I can, but often only by a thread. One of the ways I managed to do that over the years, minimal as it is, is by being involved with the Quakers, though the Quakers never seem to quite hit the g-spot of my heart in the way I long for their view to do so.

These days I am avidly reading the writings of Rudolf Steiner (Have you tried your hand at him?). His spiritual vision really speaks to me (perspectival as it as, but then again what view isn’t?). I have also been drawn from time to time to esoteric forms of Christianity. Essentially I have had to learn, as it seems you have too, to make my way in the world of Spirit trusting solely in my inner guide or the inner Christ, or Buddha, or whatever I seem to call it presently. I also have a great interest and attraction to shamanic healing and I have taken quite a few workshops on shamanic techniques.

Yes, I am a hodge-podge of spiritual searchings, longings, practices, the way of most gay men, I have come to believe and accept, since no tradition will seem to have us without some concession of our beings to their authority structures and rigid dogmas and doctrines.

I am currently making my way through KW’s “Integral Spirituality.” Gosh, I admit this is a very long winded way of introducing myself to you. Please forgive me for going on and on.


At any rate, my purpose for writing is to thank you for “Soulfully Gay” and for “Until” and “Integral Christian.” Your book was a true boon to me at a time of great suffering and inner darkness. I only recently finished it but didn’t want to let too long go by before I wrote to express my gratitude and appreciation to you…

What good religion journalism looks like

Note: The following blog post also appears on 🙂


Thursday, April 12’s post by Scripps Howard columnist and religion professor Terry Mattingly “Is GetReligion a ‘Christian’ blog?” has inspired readers and fans of the GetReligion blog to ask pointed questions about the nature and quality of the media’s coverage of religion and theology. My own brief comment (see item #10) advised the bloggers (Mattingly, LeBlanc, Hemingway, etc.) to look not only to the type of religious faith professed by the blog’s authors, but also at their relative level of consciousness.

In my view, the blog team’s commitments to Christianity are also rivaled in importance by their common adherence to conservative theological impulses arising from the mythic-membership or essentialist worldspace. [For readers confused by my colorizing of this blog post, see “What do the colors mean?”] In other words, the GetReligion team could easily add, say, an orthodox Jew or moderate American Muslim to the mix of blogging heads, but the result would not really be a significant expansion of their own vantage point. On the other hand, my own integral Christian perspective really probably wouldn’t gel too well with Mattingly’s or Hemingway’s styles.

In a follow-up comment on GetReligion on April 13, Terry Mattingly responds that I “should do more media criticism on [my] own blog. Honest.” I will take his suggestion under advisement! (However, my own blog is a rather idiosynchratic and experimental blend of usually personal posts. It’s probably not the best place for serious media criticism, I’m afraid.) Although unlike Mattingly I may not teach future practitioners of journalism their craft, I nevertheless could and probably should comment more about the successes and failures of the media in covering religion than I do.

Looking for Ghosts in the Story

But before returning to my view of the media and religion, let’s look a little closer at the fascinating GetReligion blog project. In February 1, 2004’s “What we do, why we do it,” the blogging team gets spooked out on ghosts.

One minute they are there. The next they are gone. There are ghosts in there, hiding in the ink and the pixels. Something is missing in the basic facts or perhaps most of the key facts are there, yet some are twisted. Perhaps there are sins of omission, rather than commission.

A lot of these ghosts are, well, holy ghosts. They are facts and stories and faces linked to the power of religious faith. Now you see them. Now you don’t. In fact, a whole lot of the time you don’t get to see them. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

And so the GetReligion team scans as many newsworthy items in the mainstream media as they can find, picks out the best and worst religion coverage, and shares their opinions on what the journalist did well or poorly. The various blog team members come from around the US or Canada, but they share a common outlook: they are all relatively conservative religionists whose radar screens are especially spooked by any effort by the so-called mainstream media to misrepresent evangelical or traditionalist Christianity. And so they use the tools and lingo of traditional, objectivity-seeking journalism to question bias, demand balanced coverage for Christians, and advocate for greater representation of “doctrinally informed” religion reporters in the newsroom.

Want to know why it’s unfair for the media to poke fun at conservative Mormon Mitt Romney’s holy underwear? Want to learn why it’s unfair for the media to portray gay couples raising children as “normal” parents instead of giving equal time to the view that they are narcissistic freaks who are raising a generation of confused youth? Want to learn why the media isn’t getting the tone of coverage right on totalitarian legal efforts to outlaw all abortion in Latin American countries? Look no further than GetReligion, where you are sure to find given expression the beliefs that “bias” always exists, it usually tilts to the left, and it very often shows up in unseemly places (especially the New York Times).

In Thursday April 12’s typical post “And [Pope] Benedict hates teddy bears, too” GetReligion blogger Mollie Hemingway calls a religion reporter an angry hack for snide remarks and superficial analysis of Pope Benedict’s upcoming trip to Brazil. She concludes, “I hope it felt good for [Joseph] Contreras to spew this piece, because it sure doesn’t serve any other purpose. I certainly don’t think Pope Benedict is above reproach, but this piece is just infantile.” She may or may not be right, but she’s boldly willing to call other reporters on their shit when she smells it stinking. I admire that. And I hope it felt good for her to spew that opinion on her blog.

From an AQAL-informed vantage point, I see most mainstream religion coverage in this country coming from somewhere between a mythic-membership and a postmodern pluralist vantage point (i.e., in the Integral Institute’s terminology of altitude [see “What is Altitude?”], amber to green). A few skilled writers also show the potential for existentially rich, multifaceted and holistic viewpoints and nuanced, evolutionary constructions of the various models of journalism (i.e., teal to turquoise).

However, most of the more advanced teal and turquoise writers are not covering religion news as beat reporters; they are writing as advocates, editorialists, and bloggers. As an aside, Salon’s Glenn Greenwald writes Unclaimed Territory from a yellow-to-teal perspective and is a daily read for me. He’s one of the most sensitive and intriguing blogger/commenters out there talking about the media’s shortcomings as he does recently in “Do national journalists agree with Gary Kamiya?”.

Some Ghosts Have Ghosts

Is there room for taking a more AQAL-informed approach to the mainstream religion beat? Of course! I feel the most urgent need for an integrally-informed religion journalism is for journalists to use (at least implicitly) multiple quadrants in forming their analysis and in identifying the comprehensiveness of their reportage. (See Ken Wilber’s A Theory of Everything or (free) “Introduction to Integral Theory and Practice” for a quick overview of the quadrants.) A Four Quadrant look at religion news would insist that individual subjective and social, cultural, and individual objective perspectives are all included. If there’s no room to include each of them in any given story, then the journalist should try to make explicit what is being left out.

From this perspective, most religion news today seems obsessed with the objective social angleQ/LR (what mainstream Christian or Jewish denominations are doing what, and whether they will divide in order to accomodate for disagreements within their communions, etc.). Such coverage usually seeks fairness and balance by quoting individual experts to give their “professional”Q/UR opinions regarding the social events happening in their midst. Reporters may interview, say, a religion professor who will offer that (a) US christian denominations are constantly multiplying and dividing and there is a historical precedent for mainstream denominations to schism when confronted with a controversial social issueQ/UR, but personally (b) she sure wishes everyone could just alongQ/UL. But then the reporter will ignore the “fluffy” opinions and just print the hard “professional” opinions.

There’s nothing wrong with focusing on the social angles on religion, of course. But this approach does have its shortcomings. GetReligion recognizes that unlike other types of news stories, religious stories are often influenced by doctrinal disputes–disputes with long and complex histories going back centuries. Would it kill journalists to occasionally treat religion news with the respect of acknowledging that religionists may be motivated by doctrine and faith/skepticismQ/LL, UL as well as by politics and objectivity/biasQ/LR, UR? When GetReligion makes this case, as they so often do, they are becoming unwitting advocates of a more integrally informed journalism. Include the Lower-Right Quadrant, they might say (if they were fans of AQAL theory), but please also look at the Lower-Left Quadrant and take it just as seriously.

Unfortunately, GetReligion falls short of a truly AQAL-based look at journalism, primarily because it neglects the roles of two of the four quadrants, types, states, lines, and (especially) stages. In terms of the STEAM acronym, they don’t look deeply or self-consciously at the Stages, Types, Experiences, or Modes (and their analysis of Angles falls short, too).

On types, for instance, GetReligion always speaks about good v. bad journalism and rarely seems to get that different personality types have an important role to play by shining through the supposed objectivity of the prose. Evidence of a particular type on display isn’t poor journalism; it adds color and nuance and relevance, thereby enhancing journalism. There is no appreciation for the contribution of both feminist (communal) and masculinist (agentic) types to journalism, for instance. Instead, there is is usually only GetReligion’s plea for “objectivity” and abandoning petty prejudices and agendas. In other words, their agenda is of the masculine type, not feminine (whether it’s being mouthed by a woman or a man). A more feminine approach is generally more comfortable in acknowledging the actual relationships between the reporter, the subject, and the audience.

On states, to take another example, GetReligion bloggers often insist that good journalists must do a certain sort of precise craft, generally impersonal and carefully-written, stodgy or breezy depending on the circumstances. But I say: Why not let journalists write in various modes of traditional prose, or light and lively personal reflections, using words and multimedia, with occasional forays into giving expression to alternative states of consciousness?

Give me Maureen Dowd. Then, once or twice a year, give me Maureen Dowd drunk or stoned (or strapped into a straightjacket). Let me see if I can tell the difference, and then float her actual state of consciousness into the column notes somewhere. Some alternative media outlets already do a fine job of this, and I’d like to see more of it. Perhaps the folks at GetReligion would also be okay with this, but I’ve never heard them mention it let alone recommend it as a technique for enhancing the media’s coverage of religion. I would love to see journalism that consciously gives expression to a variety of different states, including forays into prerational and transrational consciousness.

But GetReligion’s most significant shortcoming is its failure to acknowledge the existence of multiple stages of consciousness along various key developmental modes (e.g., the worldviews line or the spiritual line). Many of the problems they attribute to differences between “mainstream” v. “alternative” journalists, or between “good journalists” v. “bad journalists”, or “objectivity” versus “bias” are very good and usually healthy expressions of a mythic-membership journalist’s reading of how folks at other levels of consciousness are doing things. As such, it’s fairly predictable and can often be used to identify the mythic-membership or mythico-essentialist point of view on any problem involving religion and the media. However, it’s NOT truly being an advocate of objectivity. Real objectivity in journalism would be more like taking an integral approach.

Toward a More Integral Journalism

Make no mistake, GetReligion is NOT truly an advocate and friend of objectivity. Real concern for objectivity among journalists is expressed by self-consciously making itself aware of its particular location and contexts of expression AND, to the best of its ability, being aware of its own Kosmic Koordinates. With awareness of both cosmic and Kosmic coordinates, such journalists would formulate principles and theories for doing good, effective, integrally-informed communication. See the scholarly work done by contributors to the Integral Institute and other integrally-informed groups such as ARINA ‘s Integral Review for more substantive critiques of contemporary communcation theories. Integrative theories would generally insist that the proper role of the newsroom is to offer stories that strive for fairness, inclusivity, comprehensiveness, sensitivity, accuracy, and trustworthiness … NOT merely a mythico-essentialist style of psuedo-objectivity.

Yes, reporters should generally present two or more sides to every issue in their news pieces. But they must not pick out what they hear as the two loudest voices in the dialogue, usually one a classic republican and a classic liberal, or a modern conservative and the other a modern socialist/liberal, allow those voices to speak at high volume, and then say that they’ve done their job. Instead, journalists should acknowledge their own situatedness in various contexts and personal commitments (just as the GetReligion bloggers often wisely do), but then strive to gain a broader, more expansive viewpoint that sensitively embraces the whole field. They should try to include as many quadrants and levels in the discussion as they can (with some attention to states, lines, and types insofar as it’s possible).

Good religion journalism won’t just stick to the big page-one stories, and then offer the top two conflicting sides of the issue equal time. As GetReligion rightfully insists, good journalism should penetrate the sociological conflicts of institution/politicsQ/LR to the cultural sources in theology/philosophyQ/LL. However, why stop there?

To survive and thrive, newsrooms must strive for diversity of gender, race, class, and point-of-view (including religionists of different stripes) so as to maximize the fertile fields of universal types that are allowed to be given expression. Whether there are more postmodern Wiccans or high-church Christian Orthodox in the newsroom isn’t nearly as important as whether there are personalities that take seriously both Descending and Ascending currents (i.e., types) of religion, because journalists who don’t “get types” or “get altitude” will often write in a way that always ridicules the contrasting perspective.

This is a somewhat technical way of making the common sense point that whites and blacks, men and women, gays and straights, etc., will often reflect their own tastes and styles in different and valuable ways (and even within those groups there are differences). Embracing diversity in the newsroom should enrich the stew of universal types (e.g., masculine v. feminine styles) of writing that are offered to the news audience. The result is good for everyone, especially newspapers, in building stories that accurately present the types of thinking done by readers of various types of persuasion.

But let’s not stop with increasing diversity to get more universal types flowing more freely into a wider context. Let’s also aspire to a journalism that is sensitive to the evolutionary dynamics at work in all human contexts. Objectivity must not be seen as the exclusive domain of the GetReligion-style journalism, lest we become confused about the ability for any human beings to truly “leap over” their own range of opinions, cultures, preferences, and modes of being into some sort of otherworldly (and delusional) “objective” truth. The alternative is not to abandon Truth. I advocate an integrally-informed style of journalism that seeks to coordinate and arrange the multifarious voices of the newsroom into an effective whole, suitable for its diverse audiences, and with demonstrated mastery of the evolving understanding of professional standards of excellence.

Of course, we must give the mythic-membership and rationalist/essentialist journalists a valued place at the table! Plus, let men and women, blacks and whites, yellows and browns, children and adults, rabbis and atheists, old age and new age, humorists and scientists, abled and disabled, overdeveloped and underdeveloped, shine their lights! In religion coverage, let the infirm, new age, totalitarians, mythic believers, essentialists, conservatives, greens/liberals, existentialist/naturalist, integralists, visionary, soulful, and mystical types speak.

The resulting chorus need not be a noisy cacophany; it could be a beautiful harmony attuned to a new and refreshingly familiar melody. At the very least, it will be more interesting than listening to the GetReligion echo chamber of “see the infantile ,liberal, antireligious bias!” and “please, please cover traditionalist dogma more accurately!” passed off again and again, interminably, as the summit of media criticism.