Two generations ago, the landmark theologian in our tradition (Nazarene), H. Orton Wiley, wrote that the penal substitution theory of the atonement was inconsistent with Wesleyan (Nazarene) theological commitments, and therefore could not be our atonement theory. Franciscan priest and thinker Richard Rohr is also concerned that penal substitution has led western Christianity down very negative pathways. He writes,
“For the sake of simplicity and brevity here, let me say that the common Christian reading of the Bible is that Jesus “died for our sins”— either to pay a debt to the devil (common in the first millennium) or to pay a debt to God the Father [proposed by Anselm of Canterbury [1033– 1109] and has often been called “the most unfortunately successful piece of theology ever written”. Scotus agreed with neither of these readings. He was not guided by the Temple language of debt, atonement, blood sacrifice, or necessary satisfaction, but by the cosmic hymns of Colossians and Ephesians. If Scotus’s understanding of the “how” and meaning of redemption [his “atonement theory”] had been taught, we would have had a much more positive understanding of Jesus, and even more of God the Father. Christian people have paid a huge price for what theologians after Anselm called “substitutionary atonement theory”: the idea that, before God could love his creation, God needed and demanded Jesus to be a blood sacrifice to atone for a sin-drenched humanity. Please think about the impossible, shackled, and even petty God that such a theory implies and presents. Christ is not the first idea in the mind of God, as Scotus taught, but a mere problem solver after the sad fact of our radical unworthiness….
We have had enough trouble helping people to love, trust, and like God to begin with, without creating even further obstacles. Except for striking fear in the hearts of those we sought to convert, substitutionary atonement theories did not help our evangelization of the world. It made Christianity seem mercantile and mythological to many sincere people. The Eternal God was presented as driving a very hard bargain, as though he were just like many people we don’t like. As if God could need payment, and even a very violent transaction, to be able to love and forgive his own children— a message that those with an angry, distant, absent, or abusive father were already far too programmed to believe….
Scotus, however, insisted on the absolute and perfect freedom of God to love and forgive as God chooses, which is the core meaning of grace. Such a God could not be bound by some supposedly offended justice. For Scotus, the incarnation of God and the redemption of the world could not be a mere reaction to human sinfulness, but in fact the exact, free, and proactive work of God from the very beginning. We were “chosen in Christ before the world was made,” as Paul says in Ephesians (1: 4). Sin or problems could not be the motive for divine incarnation, but only perfect love! The Christ Mystery was the very blueprint of reality from the very start (John 1: 1)….
It is no wonder that Christianity did not produce more mystics and saints over the centuries. Unconsciously, and often consciously, many people did not trust or even like this Father God, much less want to be in union with him. He had to be paid in blood to love us and to care for his own creation, which seems rather petty and punitive, and we ended up with both an incoherent message and universe. Paul told us that “love takes no offense” (1 Corinthians 13: 5), but apparently God was the big exception to this rule. Jesus tells us to love unconditionally, but God apparently does not. This just will not work for the soul or mature spirituality. Basically when you lose the understanding of God’s perfect and absolute freedom and eagerness to love, which Scotus insisted on, humanity is relegated to the world of counting! Everything has to be measured, accounted for, doled out, earned, and paid back. That is the effect on the psyche of any notion of heroic sacrifice or necessary atonement. 9 It is also why Jesus said Temple religion had to go, including all of its attempts at the “buying and selling” of divine favor (John 2: 13– 22). In that scenario, God has to be placated and defused; and reparation has to be paid to a moody, angry, and very distant deity. This is no longer the message Jesus came to bring.
This wrongheaded worldview has tragically influenced much of our entire spirituality for the last millennium, and is still implied in most of the Catholic Eucharistic prayers. It gave lay Catholics and most clergy an impossible and utterly false notion of grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness— which are, in fact, at the heart of our message. The best short summary I can give of how Scotus tried to change the equation is this: Jesus did not come to change the mind of God about humanity (it did not need changing)! Jesus came to change the mind of humanity about God. Christ was Plan A for Scotus, the hologram of the whole, the Alpha— and therefore also the Omega— Point of cosmic history.”
Rohr, Richard (2014-07-27). Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (pp. 183-187). Franciscan Media. Kindle Edition.
Ah loneliness. There may be a multitude of varying signs or symptoms that anyone could have during awakening – and no two would ever be the same – but one symptom that I see universally throughout my clients is loneliness. Ironically, we are united in that. I went through it too, and for the most part, I spent my awakening cursing that loneliness, reflecting on the complexity of my experience and wondering how anyone could ever possibly understand what I was going through. I thought somehow I was flawed. I thought that I was entirely alone, and I had no idea that so many others were going through the exact same thing. It wasn’t until long after the intensity of my awakening had calmed that I began to see how this loneliness had served me. I began to recognize that the loneliness that I had experienced actually had a purpose, and it had benefited me in numerous ways (however, that doesn’t mean you have to suffer it, but more on that later).
Lets take a look at the spiritual purpose of loneliness during awakening, and how I’ve found it is actually assisting us further along the path to enlightenment:
Loneliness shifts our relationships
In a weird way, loneliness starts it all. In fact, it is this sense of loneliness, and feeling that no one else could possibly understand that adjusts our social circles and life conditions. It is that pervading sense of loneliness and not fitting in that calls for us to examine our relationships with friends, lovers, or work mates and recognize who no longer resonates with us. This empowers us to move away from negative influences and toxic relationship patterns to make room for supportive, loving, compassionate people in our lives. It creates the space for the universe to fill the vacuum with someone much more compatible and in alignment with who we truly are. It brings our relationships into the 5D reality. If those kind of folks haven’t turned up in your life just yet, don’t lose hope, as you clear your vibration and become more aligned, they’ll start showing up.
Loneliness brings our focus inward
Generally, we’ve spent most of our lives looking outward. Initially we may have lived from ego with focus on more physical things – how we look, how much money we have, social status etc. but these things all fade eventually (or uncontrollably crumble as is sometimes the case during spiritual awakening). We’ve also been raised to look outward for guidance on which path to take, or to consistently look to others for our decision making. That all changes when we experience loneliness. All of the crutches we have clung to throughout our lives get whipped away from us – be it the big house, your job, or the people in your life who you’ve become emotionally dependent on. It might sound cruel, but it really has a wonderful purpose. When we can no longer rely on sources outside of ourselves, and when there really is nowhere else to turn, we finally turn inward. And that, my friends, is where the real transformation begins. That is what takes us from meek and mild mannered to fully independent, standing in our power, fully expressing our gifts and fulfilling our greatest passion and purpose. That can’t happen unless you search inward enough to find yourself and unearth all the amazing strengths you have within you (don’t worry, if those virtues haven’t shown up yet, they will!)
Loneliness awakens the truth of our divinity
How ironic that this all consuming sense of loneliness is actually the very thing that awakens us most. You see, when you finally release all of these ‘crutches’ that you used to lean on, you finally go inward, and when you go inward, you begin to remember the truth of who you really are. That in itself can unearth a different sense of loneliness – a loneliness of the soul. This is where we begin to realize that earth is not our true home. We get a sense that home is somewhere else. Sometimes we get a feeling, or we may just be lucky enough to experience remembrance of where home is, and who we were with. We begin to miss ‘home’ purely because our souls have awakened enough to come to consciousness on THIS physical level. This awareness has our soul questioning, ‘why did I come here’ and ‘how can I get home’. We might even get a sense of a mission or life purpose that we just don’t want anymore. This longing makes us more aware that we are not of this world at all, and it can bring up some real soul level pain or grief – and it really does hurt. I know I spent many hours in tears, sensing my soul family and longing to go home, but it is that very awareness that should enlighten you to the fact that your soul is awake now. You are accessing other, much deeper parts of YOU. In order to be fully awakened you need to fully know you, and you cannot fully know you without becoming aware of all of those wonderful divine parts that make up the whole. Rest assured that the pain will dissipate and eventually be replaced by a strong sense of purpose, wisdom and empowerment here on earth.
Loneliness reconnects us to spirit
This is my favourite. Like I mentioned before, after you’re left feeling lonely, misunderstood, and unable to connect with the people around you, you start to go inward, and when you go inward you find connections on an entirely different plane. It is this very loneliness that withdraws you from the physical world and forces you to awaken your intuition and reconnect to spirit. Sometimes when life is too comfortable we are reluctant to change. If we have plenty of resources in the physical world, we tend not to feel the NEED to connect so much to the spiritual world. But when it begins to feel that no one here in the physical world can help us, we start searching for help on other planes. This happens automatically and is often the time when we begin noticing meaningful synchronicities, getting signs and messages, feeling presences, connecting to spirit guides or simply that feeling of oneness.
Loneliness releases limiting belief systems and past life issues
Lastly, it helps us to release limiting 3D belief systems (which is exactly what we need to let go of in order to experience 5D reality). Naturally, being present on earth throughout the ages, the energy has been extremely dense. We have been traumatized through lifetimes where we came to conclusions like ‘I’ll be cast out for my gifts’, ‘I’ll be killed for being a healer,’ or ‘I need to be alone in order to embrace my gifts’. These are common belief systems that are a result of lifetimes when using our psychic gifts or healing abilities really was truly dangerous. We learned that we would be rejected (or killed) for showing them, sharing them, or helping others with them. Its natural that we should come to those conclusions, and they absolutely were relevant – back then. But they are no longer our reality, and they often perpetuate issues like being afraid to be a healer, being unable to access our gifts, or isolating ourselves in order to keep ourselves safe.
The good news is that these limiting belief systems are being released. Simply by being aware of these feelings or thoughts we are in the process of acknowledging, realizing and releasing them once and for all. Eventually they will be replaced with our 5D truths – that our abilities truly are a gift, and that it is safe to share them for the benefit of those around us.
Is loneliness necessary in order to awaken?
Ok, so now we know the purpose of loneliness as part of ascension. We can all see the specific ways that it benefits us and catalyzes vital changes that transform us internally. However, now comes the secret truth that most people don’t realize until they are out the other end of awakening fully…
Its not actually necessary.
Yep. Seriously. Loneliness may catalyze many powerful changes as we move along the awakening path, but you’ll be relieved to know that it really isn’t necessary to feel that way, at all.
Let me explain why. Remember when we discussed how loneliness helps us to release limiting belief systems that stop us from experiencing our true divinity? Well the good news is, that loneliness is just a perception. In itself, it is a belief system, and it is one that we all inherently carry (otherwise we’d breeze through awakening feeling connected and united – but of course, then there wouldn’t be any need for awakening anyway). The reason we are experiencing loneliness (or any other awful feeling) is because somewhere deep down in our souls, we believe in it. And we believe in it because we’ve experienced it in past lives. It is the accumulation of all of the times we’ve been rejected, cast out or ridiculed, and it is the fact that we are still carrying those past life wounds that keep it in our vibration now. We feel lonely because we felt lonely back then, and we are still carrying that loneliness with us now, everywhere we go, and in everything we do.
You’re right on track!
Fortunately, the very fact that you are experiencing loneliness at all means you are healing it. It means that old issues are rising to the surface to be felt. It means that you are tapping into your past lives. It means, (although it hurts) that you are healing your soul. It means that you are right on track in your awakening journey, no matter how lonely or challenging it may be. It means you’re doing just fine…
"The Almond Trees in Blossom"
Endlessly I gaze at you in wonder, blessed ones, at your composure,
at how in eternal delight you bear your vanishing beauty.
Ah, if only we knew how to blossom:
our heart would pass beyond every small danger,
and would find peace in the greatest danger of all.
——————————————————-— Rainer Maria Rilke
At a public gathering in my town’s plaza, two women pass me. The elder, who seems about 85 to 90, walks slowly, unsteadily, on sensible shoes. One of her slender, thin-skinned legs, bruised and dotted with age spots, is partially covered in knee-high panty hose, while the other is bare, the stocking fallen and gathered around her ankle. Her sparse white hair, somewhat disheveled, is loosely gathered at the back of her neck. Her frail arm stretches out, with her bony hand firmly grasping the arm of the other woman, who I assume is her daughter. The younger woman takes in the scene around her, while making herself wholly available to the older woman, putting aside any agenda she might have for herself. The mother relies utterly on her daughter’s strength, kindness and slowed pace. A tender closeness between them is palpable in the willingness of the daughter and the dependency of the mother as she clings to her daughter’s arm in much the same way the daughter must have clung to hers when she was too young to walk on her own.
Only a week before, my 7-year-old daughter, Sophia, brought up the topic of aging while we were walking. “Mama,” she observed, “old people are kind of like babies.” I asked her why. “Because they need help like babies. They cannot do things on their own. Sometimes they need help walking, some need helping eating, and some have to lie in bed and be changed like babies. It’s so sweet.” I asked her what she thought that would be like, and she replied, “I think it would be nice — like having servants.”
Most people experience being dependent as a humiliation rather than a treat, like my daughter does. Sophia’s innocent and positive view stands in marked contrast to the response of many people I know to the prospect of getting older and becoming dependent: “Shoot me first!” they exclaim. It’s as if the idea of becoming dependent on other human beings is so abhorrent that one would rather die a violent death than consider it.
How we value our independence, our strength and capability! How we prize our ability to do things for ourselves on our own, thank you very much. How we fear the fact that aging requires us to let down our walls, our protections, our pride, our privacy, and ask for and accept assistance. It lays wide open and bare the simple fact that we are not perfect islands unto ourselves, but fallible, sweet, interdependent beings in need. Aging asks us to open, to trust, to let go. It asks us to let others into our most private worlds and see us in our naked humanity.
Aging is life’s way of saying, “Last chance to realize what this is all about!” If one hasn’t been lucky enough to be humbled, softened and opened to one’s place in the interconnectedness of all things by parenthood, midlife crisis, illness, a failed relationship or two, or some other of life ’s challenges, aging certainly offers the opportunity in spades. Aging asks us to radically redefine who we take ourselves to be, after a lifetime perhaps of defining ourselves by what we can do. It invites us either to start defining ourselves by what we cannot do or to drop the defining altogether and allow ourselves to explore what it means to exist outside of definition, within the whole rather than separate from it.
Why should I write about aging? While I have not yet hit the deeper parts of aging that others around me have, despite my 44 years of experience in getting older, I have tasted enough to be intrigued by the rub of loss of youth that is just beginning for me. I felt like I was just about to find my groove until I gave birth to my daughter at the age of 36. Over the next few years it slowly dawned on me — as the soft saggy skin from my pregnant belly hung during yoga class, as I dropped into bed at the end of a working-mother day, as I glimpsed the chicken skin and wrinkles in the sunlit rearview mirror, as my child grew up and I grew tired — that gravity was calling me. Age spots like my grandmother’s started to appear on my face. The skin on my shoulders is turning from soft to dry and rough from the years of sun exposure. Now, I hold small print away from my eyes and have just purchased my first pair of “old lady” glasses, marking my entry into the realm of the aged. I started to hear inside my head something I ’d never anticipated: “You are too old to do that . . . to wear that . . . to say that . . .” When I ride my bike to work, I feel more like the Toto-hating Miss Gulch than I do a soaring bird or fit athlete.
I can feel the field of limitless possibility that is youth slipping away. The baseball players and movie stars on TV are starting to look like babies; the newscasters were born after my baby brother. The world is being taken over by the next generation, and I am not part of it. I am slipping out of it. I will not be world famous, I will probably not be much more of anything than what I am now. I am as beautiful as I will ever be, as strong as I will ever be, as capable as I will ever be. And I am fading into the past, while my daughter rises to greet the world. The world is going on without me — it does not need me to function, and I will likely disappear without having made much of a mark on it at all.
Oh, the small person in me does not like this. She was unconsciously betting on some future glory that would prove her excellence and importance. She doesn’t want to be one of the many unknown faces, one of the multitudes that live and die with little trace. She wants to be bigger than life, someone to take note of, making history. She wants superlatives: biggest, best, strongest, most beautiful. Life is a continual assault and insult to this one because unless we are lucky or delusional, we do not get to be the best at much of anything, or at least not for long. And aging is the final and most definitive insult. If we held out until now — either by large amounts of external success, achievement and prowess, or by ignoring the obvious fact that we as persons are insignificant grains of sand among the many — age and death will certainly rectify that. At some point there is no ignoring this, and the final settling with reality begins.
Do I need cheering up? An exercise program? A list of the pros of aging? Examples of women playing basketball, running marathons, looking smashing in their 70s? A lecture on rejoicing in my cronehood? Not at all. I want to face the gritty details of being in an aging body and touch that reality with tenderness. I have not found it useful to wave the flag of the bright side when darkness looms; darkness doesn’t go away by patting it on the head and telling it to go to its room, and the brightness of cheer is not the deep light for which I live. Aging is loss. Anything that I hold dearly that passes will invite my loosened grip. Aging is about getting weaker, saggier and wrinklier, losing faculties, and eventually dying and one ’s body rotting. I want to embrace this darkness; I want to hear the voice of loss, weakness and dying. I want to hear what it has to say and be reborn as a light that is not birthed of reassurance, but of synchronizing myself with what is real and surrendering to it. I want to be it all and know it all and kiss it all.
Aging is not a stranger, it is simply a more dramatic version of the same old friend whose face returns to us all throughout life in little and big ways — loss, death and resurrection. Rainer Maria Rilke advised: “Be ahead of all parting.” The more one has kept pace with the invitations that life offers along the way to grieve, open, be humbled and let go, the less settling of accounts must occur in order to meet the greatest invitation of all: to lose one ’s strength, prowess, capability and, finally, life. And to open and soften one’s heart in the face of it. Old age lays bare our vulnerability, our longing, our fear of each other, of ourselves. We cannot run, we cannot delude ourselves; we have to sit still and wrestle with and come to terms with the great mystery that this life is.
One invitation of being infirm is to be tender with ourselves. Not impatient, rejecting and judgmental, but tender. Aging invites us to learn self-acceptance and, with that, acceptance of all the parts of life as holy and worthy of our love. We are not worthy of love only for what we do and contribute, but worthy of love and tenderness because we are. Another invitation is to be humbled: we return to beginners, to not knowing. There is nothing we can use as a crutch to prop ourselves up and say, “See? I am worthy because I…” And we find ourselves worthy, as Sophia says, “Just because.”
We lose it all. If life let us keep it, we would not soften. We soften into the arms of life, into the arms of our caretakers. We let them love us. We let them have us. We let ourselves return to what we belong to, though we walled ourselves off from ever knowing that all along it owned us, this life, this clock ticking, this symphony of birth, death, living, dying, crying and loving.
We let it go, we open our hands, we let the bird fly away, we find the heart that lives through us, we find that we do belong, that we always did, that we are part of it, that it is OK. We are not special. We are not gods. We did not win a gold medal, write a famous novel; we will not go down in history. And it’s enough to have lived, to have done the best we could do, to have loved the best we could love, to be part of it all. Aging invites us to open to the truth that we are one, we belong to each other, we are here to be loved and to love.
Sophia and I play a game, where we take turns closing our eyes and leading each other around the neighborhood, up hills, through vacant lots, up onto the curb, down off the curb. She observed once during the game, “Mama, I trust you more than you trust me.” May I surrender and grow in this trust as I grow in years.
(c) Copyright 2006, Jeannie Zandi, all rights reserved.
Originally published in The Eldorado Sun, August, 2006.