Uncomfortable Dreaming

Serves me right - after my glib gab here yesterday about dreams, la vida es sueno, etc. - that last night I would wake up at 3 a.m. after a dark & troubling dream that stirred my conscience.  Jealousy, violence, remorse... strange symbolism of the heart.

"The heart is desperately corrupt"... says the prophet Jeremiah.

Lay awake thinking about the dream for a long time.

My comments in yesterday's post about holism in literature, philosophy, theology - and about the Union, and the common good, sought through the civic faith of Gorski's "American covenant" - were undercut a little by my own dream last night.  I lay there pondering things about which perhaps the Puritans and Roger Williams also meditated late at night.

The separation of Church & State, or Williams' (& others') distinction between the "two tables" of the Mosaic law (the sacred and the civil codes) perhaps grows logically out of a real, a factual, distinction, between a person's spiritual life - the life of the soul - and the collective social life we organize and share.  Between religion & government; between spirit & flesh.  Perhaps there is this deep and actual dividing line - in the midst of all the seamlessness of vision, the oneness of nature, and the unity of the common good toward which we strive together.

For me the problematics and contradictions of this situation are almost irresolvable and impossible to figure out.  Because, as the animale compagnevole, we obviously do not live our lives alone; we are born into relations with others; our very selves develop in these deep relationships.  Yet many (including Roger Williams, for example) would argue that true religion is about the individual soul's relationship with God.

Perhaps one solution is to suggest that the solitude of our relation to God is also the pivot of our personal liberty, and the foundation of our moral responsibility (freedom and responsibility being the very spine of personal selfhood).

We can understand, in this context, how the absolute transcendence of the Hebrew God stands as the basis, the historical origin, of moral freedom and human equality.  Not that moral freedom and equality did not previously exist in various kinship bands and human cultures beforehand; but the Hebraic covenant so to speak articulated this reality in stone, in the midst of empires and states devoted to sacred kings and unlimited, divine royal power.

But let me return to last night's dream.  The heart is desperately corrupt, the prophet cries.  Between the mind's dutiful bookkeeping and the heart's passions lies a wide dark gulf.  I woke from my disturbing dream with this thought : true religion is the soul's remorseful conscience, seeking the intercession of the Spirit, the mercy of God, because there is no other help.  John the Baptist at the river's edge, for example, demanding only personal simplicity and true repentance.  The universal "high priest" is essentially a healer of souls.

This spiritual dimension is personal.  It is an otherness, distinct from the public, civic, political sphere.  The two dimensions are obviously intertwined in each of our lives, and in all our cultures, societies, nations - yet they are distinct.  The two tables of the Law.  "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's".  Roger Williams, among others, believed in "natural law" - that human beings are naturally endowed with the conscience to determine right and wrong, and the ability to organize themselves in societies dedicated (however imperfectly) to liberty and justice.  The fact that people of all faiths and cultures are so endowed, whatever their denomination or confession,  is the prime basis for religious liberty and political tolerance.

I don't know if I've been able to express myself very clearly or well here this morning.  What struck me as I lay there thinking over the dream was a sense of contrast between our public and politically-charged debates about cultural and religious issues, our disputes over differing group demands, rights, and powers, one the one hand - and the inward spiritual dimension of "true religion" on the other.  Conscience, belief, reasoning, searching hearts, inwardness, and personal acts of repentance, humility and charity : these are religion.  "Do justice, and walk humbly with your God".  It's not about political maneuvering, bickering, and social power.  Those things are part of the civic world, the secular table of the Law.

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