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Jesus said to her, “Go call your husband and come back.”  The woman answered and said to him, “I do not have a husband.”  Jesus answered her, “You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’  For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband.  What you have said is true.”  The woman said to him, “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet.”

” … the hour is coming, and it is now, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him.  God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth.”

Jn 4:16-19, 23,24

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” … worship in the Spirit and truth …” ” … the Father seeks such people …”

These words are from the marvelous and instructive exchange between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, a passage worth reading and re-reading and contemplating each time.

How could Jesus know about the details of this woman’s life?  How could he so confidently engage her?  Be so daring as to cross the cultural boundaries which would not have a man speak to a woman in public, or have a Jew speak to a Samaritan?

What does it mean to worship in the Spirit and truth?  How might we explain all this to ourselves?

Reading this made me think of mystics and of emotional intelligence.

I think we see each in Jesus in this conversation.  Indeed, one could reasonably think that worshiping in Spirit and truth speaks to both mystery and emotional intelligence.

In Further Along the Road Less Traveled, Psychiatrist M. Scott Peck, M.D. defines mystics this way:

“They are people who have seen a kind of cohesion beneath the surface of things.  Throughout the ages, mystics have seen connections between men and women, between humans and other creatures, between people walking the earth and those who aren’t even here.  Seeing that kind of interconnectedness beneath the surface of things in terms of unity and community.  They also have always spoken in terms of paradox.”

In his 1983 book Frames of Mind, scholar and psychologist Howard Gardner discusses emotional intelligence as including personal intelligence – interpersonal and “intrapsychic” intelligence of the sort that leads to brilliant insights and an inner contentment that results when a person’s life is reflective of their true feelings.

Of those with emotional intelligence of this sort we find: natural leaders, those who keep and nurture long-term friendships, can resolve conflicts and have a gift for complex social analysis.

Those with emotional intelligence simply understand people and themselves quite easily and quite thoroughly.

Do you live to see the connections below the surface of things?  Are your feelings known to you and connected with your intellect?  Do you live at an emotional depth?  Have you explored yourself with honesty and candor, and come to a level self-understanding that gives you utter contentment, a life without simmering anger?  To worship in the Spirit and truth requires this.


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Then the Lord God said, “See!  The man has become like one of us, knowing what is good and what is bad!” … The Lord God banished him from the garden of Eden … and he stationed the cherubim and the fiery revolving sword to guard the way to the tree of life.

Gen 3:22, 23, 24

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This, of course, is an excerpt from the beginning of our religious narrative. Banishment from Eden, from a place of intimacy and ever-lasting life, an exile into the world where we will know death and difficulty.

But what more does this story mean?  Well, it shows us the birth of human consciousness.  By eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, man and woman became like God, saw what was good and what was evil.  We became, in the violation of this fore-warned prohibition, self-conscious and our very first act of self-consciousness was to hide, to hide from God, indeed – hide who we were by masking our nakedness.

What can this story and our immediate reaction tell us?  Ah, something very, very important: that people hide – that they hide from growth and for reality, the world as it is – and life as it is.

Hiding from growth?  Yes, it is quite common.

Growing in the world means suffering from uncertainty of the mystery that is human existence, and from the pain that is mortal existence.  The former (mystery) requires depth of thinking and facing the implicit and ever-present unknown.  As to pain, men and women try everything imaginable to avoid it.

M. Scott Peck, M.D., the esteemed psychotherapist, tells us that “a great deal of human psychopathology, including the abuse of drugs, arises out of an attempt to get back to Eden.”

His view, as it mine, is this: most people resist growing and that resistance causes all sorts of individual problems that are readily off-loaded to others – to spouses, children, co-workers, neighbors and, indeed, even to communities and the culture at-large.

Lest anyone think that this is not so, avoiding growth is quite present even in “safe havens” like religious communities.  We are as humans, sadly, disposed to avoid the hard work of growing, and the pain and work it requires.

Many who avoid growth take on a rather pathetic and childish aura of innocence. Others prefer to try the god-like task of total “control” of all people, circumstances and events around them.  For many others ideology replaces religious narrative as a way to bypass the pain and uncertainty that comes with growth.

As you can reason if you think about it: no growth requires no faith, and growth requires faith.

As Peck says of those who avoid growth – people “find what looks like a safe place, burrow into sand, and stay there rather than go forward through the painful desert” with all its challenges and hardships.

Human existence and a healthy life, as our narrative tells us, requires our prolonged commitment to psycho-spiritual growth.

Think about it: banished from Eden is bad enough; discarding faith, as we are in the present age, is even more damaging – for without faith and religious narrative applied to life, there is virtually no chance for psycho-spiritual growth and either individual or collective well-being.

Growth.  Faith.  Religious narrative.  Each are required if living well is your goal. Hiding simply brings sickness and destruction.


By the far the most important form of attention we can give … is listening … True listening is love in action.

M. Scott Peck, M.D.

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Some time ago I had a conversation with a man, a recovering alcoholic, who was less than a year into his sobriety.  He had been an accomplished executive in Europe and was, then, unemployed.

In the course of our conversation, he lamented that his travel had seriously injured his marriage.  I asked him if his wife ever complained of his absence or showed signs of disapproval as to his travel.  “No,” he said.  He offered that his wife was a beautiful, reserved and sedate woman.

I asked him why he assumed that his travel hurt his marriage, injured his wife if she had never said that she objected to it.  He looked puzzled, and sat without response.  I then said to him: “Be careful about assuming things of others – better to attend to them as they present themselves, tell their story.”  And I went on to say that receiving another is critical to a relationship, that receiving another is the essence of a relationship and when that is breached we are, in effect, denying the other and their autonomy.”  His response: “Gee, I never thought of that.”

Truth is he had given no thought to the possibility that this “hard-charging, high-powered” executive might have been an over-powering presence to a quiet person.  Receiving others as they are is so important.  Listening is receiving.

Listening is love in action, an intimate deed – something sacred.  When you take another’s word in, you take them in and you receive not just them but the God who made them.

Listen.  To love – listen.

The person with the sacred mentality … does not feel herself to be the center of the universe.  She considers the Center to be elsewhere and other … she is unlikely to feel lost or insignificant precisely because she draws her significance and meaning from her relationship, her connection, with the center, that Other.

M. Scott Peck, M.D.

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To get a look at the lived nature of secularism in the contemporary culture visit Montgomery Mall in affluent Bethesda as I recently did.  Yikes!

What did I see and experience?  A mammoth mall with “high-end” stores, an orgy of those in search of unnecessary things and passing fancies, a temple for wandering souls.

The affluent mall for the flush-with-cash and credit card collectors is a monument to consumption, a cold cavern – a far cry from the village square.

It is not a peaceful place, rather relentless noisy place, packed with legions of women, young and old, – all loud-talkers who broadcast to all the world in their highest volume at supersonic streams of breathless chatter just about anything that comes to mind – the personal, the mundane, the self-proclaiming, the useless, the trivial, the trendy, the unimportant.  There is, in this, that confirmation that meaningful personal conversation is not conveyed in high octaves, stratospheric pitch and pace.

In such a place you experience a population in constant motion – from legs, to arms, to mouth: a dizzying self-absorption that forecloses any communication, personal contact or intimacy.

The affluent mall is, shall we say, a far distance from humanity and reverence.  It is an odd shrine to secular humanism, the exclusionary variety that exiles both humans and the Divine.

The irony, of course, is how this place measures ultimate success at this time: Christmas. Yet, for all involved in the Mall experience this is Christ-as-transaction, for ’tis the season of the sale.

Christ in consumptive chaos.  Some culture, this secularism.

Christ, contrary to the clamor of the affluent mall, was born in a silence that spoke to the ages.

The gifts presented to the Holy Child were presented to celebrate a deed long-awaited and sought.  A child and gifts given in reverence.  No loud talk.  No mindless chatter. Animals and shepherds assembled in quiet.  A birth in plain sight – under the open night skies, guided by a star.  No sales.  No “high-end” merchandise.  No merchandise at all. Rather, The Perfect Gift … perfection in human form.  Hope eternal – the gift never out of fashion, always in need.

Christmas.  Reverence or not?  Reflection or chatter?  Goods or God?

Where have we come?  How trapped are we?  How easily subverted, captured, impaired?  Do we miss the movie entirely without any notion there is a movie, and we are in it?

I stay here in Bethesda in a friend’s vacant house, stripped of all furniture and adornments – clean and vacant.  A silent place.  I sleep on an air mattress on the floor in a warm, plain sleeping bag.  In this simplicity I am closer to the birth of Christ.  At the mall amid its denizens, I am further from that ancient, long-awaited birth.

Secularism is insidious.  Be careful.  It changes you, reduces you, draws you from yourself, and from God.

Give me the empty house and the sleeping bag.  I’ll be the shepherd resting in quieting silence.

The deals you do not make are most often the best you’ll ever make.


“… listen for the Lord speaks:  Sons have I raised and reared but they have disowned me!

Ah, sinful nation, people laden with wickedness, evil race, corrupt children!

They have forsaken the Lord, spurned the Holy One of Israel, apostatized.”

Is 1:2,4

“My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”

Jn 10:27

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A dear friend, a courageous and faithful man told me that he becomes so distressed at the corrupt, coarse and injurious ways of this world that he sometimes vomits.

Estrangement is a natural reaction to evil and inhumanity.  One might say it is a common phenomenon of contemporary secular existence.

Estrangement has its roots in Medieval Latin and Old French.  We know it to describe being put at a psychological distance.  In its origin it was meant to describe the disrupting of love, friendship, loyalty – the bond and good relations with another.  It describes a condition whereby a harmonious relationship is replaced with hostility or indifference.

Estrangement infers a loss of intimacy, connection with another.

To understand how my friend literally gets sick think of estrangement.  We live in a culture that creates a distance from one another.

One of the fundamental ways this happens is through the distance between secular consciousness and sacred consciousness.

As psychotherapist M. Scott Peck points out: those with secular consciousness see themselves as “the center of the universe.”  (Hence, the ego and selfishness become prevalent.)

This consciousness is often the mindset of the “educated” class.  Yet, as educated individuals they realize that they are in a world of 6-7 billion people. This puts their view at odds with reality.  How can you be “the center of the universe” when many others – who seemingly are like you – exist?  The normal default setting for those with this view is to create distance and “distinctions” which make them feel “special,” exceptional.

Those with a scared consciousness see themselves as on a journey.  They are pilgrims and the center for them is God, that which is both here and beyond. Unlike the secularist, they do not have to create an “exceptionalism”.   Unlike the secularists, they do not have to confront the proposition that they may not be “the center of the universe”.  Unlike the secularists, those of sacred consciousness are at home here because their meaning is derived not from their importance but from their relationship with God.

That said, the estrangement occurs not just because there are to competing and contradictory mindsets but because each produces a different language and way of experiencing the world.  And, wherein is the estrangement.  There is no human contact between the two groups; there is no intimacy with those one encounters and there is often actions which seem coarse, inconsiderate and worse.

All the more reason, to think seriously about how the culture might influence your happiness and welfare.

God bless.


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