Friday, February 19, 2016

The Clouds Between You and God

The Clouds Between You and God
Here in Utah Valley during January and February, we spend a lot of our days under overcast skies. The toxicity of the air aside, we don't get a lot of sun or blue skies during this time of year. But I think I can use the weather as a way to symbolically explain a thought I've been having.

Swedish mystic Emanuel Swedenborg wrote that everything in sacred scripture has a symbolic inner meaning. Talking about the rainbow that appeared after Noah's flood, he writes these interesting remarks on the symbolism of clouds:
"A cloud [symbolizes] the dim light in which a spiritual person lives [the second level of heaven, as opposed to the highest 'heavenly' or 'celestial' level]....The darkness in such people—which is being called a cloud—is falsity, which is the same thing as their intellectual selfhood. When the Lord infuses this selfhood with innocence, charity, and mercy, the cloud is no longer seen as something false but as the outward appearance of truth, together with truth that is true, which comes from the Lord."
In the two main levels of heaven, the higher, celestial heaven corresponds to love, whereas the lower, spiritual heaven corresponds to truth. But the above quote indicates that the spiritual principle acts as a veil for the the celestial principle. Like clouds passing between you and the sun, thoughts, mental chatter, and the intellectual--all the domain of the spiritual principle--obscure the light of love that emanates from within everything. Or perhaps more accurately, it lets in light, but only a cold, dismal light like on our February days in Utah Valley.
There are "clouds" between you and God whenever you let the intellect get in the way of your relationship to Him. When temple-goers are bound not to reveal sacred symbols, I think that this is the reason: to utter or describe them is to stain the love manifest therein with thought, to dim the warm light that emanates from them. The relationship between humanity and God should be pure, manifest presence--undimmed by critical analysis or any kind of judgment.
Judgments are the "clouds" par excellence. When we realize that to love one's neighbor is to love God, it becomes clear that judging another person precludes our ability to witness that person's inner divine "spark." When I judge you, I only ever see what that judgment lets me see of you; I only see you through clouds. But when I get rid of those clouds and "judge not," I witness you as a manifestation of your inner divinity--of pure being in itself (link)--undimmed by anything that would obscure that clarity of perception.
This also has bearing on how the atonement works, or more specifically on how one "uses" the atonement. Celebrated Mormon philosopher Blake Ostler writes on this topic in his book Fire on the Horizon:
"Atonement is God's very mode of being in relationship with us. He is always giving Himself to us unconditionally. He waits upon us to open the doors to our hearts and let Him in...He accepts us as guiltless before Him the moment we are willing to turn to Him--the very moment we are willing to repent. Repentance is just turning to God with an open heart, with a willingness to do whatever it takes to repair the damage to the relationship caused by our decision to hide. By Christ's Atonement, the moment we give ourselves to Him we are justified--we are free of guilt. This is what justification means. He accepts us in unconditional love. When we give ourselves to Him whole heartedly, the sin that was in us is given away and released."
The atonement is simply God's willingness to love and accept us despite our sins and shortcomings. Sin occurs whenever we turn away from the ever-present influx of God's love and hide behind the clouds of our own judgments about ourselves, one's neighbor, God, and the world. But if I turn toward God and pierce through the cloudy veil of judgment, God's grace begins to work on me instantly, and I am accepted by Him without a second thought. I am only judged by God when I judge myself (or else judge myself by judging others--all judgments only show me a reflection of myself). When I accept the world just as it is given to me, I immediately give up sin, since, as Mormon philosopher Adam S. Miller writes, preferring your stories to [God's] life is sin."
To repent is to dissipate the clouds that populate the space between you and God or between you and your neighbor. It is to stare God straight in the face through the now-translucent world, where--like the prodigal son--you realize to your astonished joy that He accepts you just as you are. For the only thing He asks is that we turn toward Him. This means accepting life as it comes in on you from all corners--joy, pain, and all--as the grace of God. And once you have thus cleared the clouds between you and God, you are already saved.

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