Anyone with intelligence, I said, would remember that the eyes may be confused in two ways and from two causes, coming from light into darkness as well as from darkness into light
In the final year of my Hon. B.A. I lived near a Greek restaurant called The Shish-Kabob Hut that was a favorite spot for students and faculty.
One night I was dining at The Hut with an acquaintance, Sarah (not her real name). Suddenly Sarah got a faraway look in her eyes and laughed at some joke that I wasn’t party to. Feeling a bit uncomfortable, I nevertheless smiled faintly.
A few minutes later, Sarah said she had a psychic connection with her boyfriend in South America. She explained that she’d been laughing because she’d just made some kind of long distance call on an invisible ‘psi phone.’
It sounded pretty far fetched and, for a moment, I wondered if she was all there, psychologically speaking. But I gave her the benefit of the doubt and, in retrospect, it’s probably best that I did.
A year later while studying in India, unconventional phenomena like this became almost commonplace. In the surrounding area of the town where I was taking my M.A., several people openly discussed and seemed to live lives compatible with the idea of psi.
But it wasn’t all good.
One strange fellow claimed to be an important wizard and tried to persuade me to be his apprentice. He said he was going to rule the world with his psychic powers and I was could be his helper. All he needed was a Western stooge to pave the way for his grand takeover.
However, most of the unusual incidents in India that seemed to involve the paranormal weren’t quite so ridiculous.
One day, for instance, a man at a yogurt counter plunked my precise order (before I ordered it) on the counter the moment I walked through the shop door. As I paid he gave a knowing smile, as if to say “I knew what you wanted.”
I couldn’t imagine how he’d anticipated my order. Did he read my thoughts or was it merely coincidence? Did God beam him with the knowledge of what I wanted? Would God care about such tiny, seemingly insignificant details?
And then there was the Indian professor who, for all intents and purposes, appeared to know what I’d been doing without even asking. A fellow student and I would often sense a strong presence radiating from this person—a kind of disorienting numinosity that I knew wouldn’t cut the mustard back in the fast-paced, rationalized and high tech world of Canadian society. It was just too spacey.
Even a world renowned Indian scholar, Sisir Kumar Ghose,¹ was quite forthcoming when discussing psi. I interviewed this gracious, near-blind intellectual at the twilight of his life. In the course of our interview he implied that consciousness could transfer among not only human beings but also among animals, as if psi transcended the boundaries of species.²
The unusual was becoming usual and the usual unusual.
Jung said that parapsychology is “hedged about with prejudice” and that most people are afraid to disclose any extraordinary experiences they may have encountered.
Strange days were afoot and I was intrigued. After all, this wasn’t just an isolated incident at a local Greek restaurant. In India the unusual was becoming usual and the usual unusual.
After frying through my last Indian summer (I was supposed to leave before the heat but my exit papers were delayed), I flew back to Canada and began a doctorate. With all this real, lived experience behind me, I hoped to develop some kind of meaningful theory about possible connections between psychology and parapsychology.
I wrote my Ph.D on C. G. Jung’s idea of synchronicity. During this time at least two Canadian professors of religion spoke freely about psi, parapsychology and mysticism. Others, however, were reluctant to discuss psi and got nervous or evasive when I pressed them on the topic.
The Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung saw a similar situation in his own day. Jung said that parapsychology is “hedged about with prejudice”³ and that most people are afraid to disclose any extraordinary experiences they might have had.
The answer is probably simple. Most people fear the repercussions, as Jesus wisely cautioned in Matthew 7:6.
Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces (NIV).
My interests evolved during my Ph.D. and the spirituality of Catholicism, if not its political aspect, began to feel like the everlasting home I’d been seeking for so long. So I eventually converted to Catholicism, which lead to a new awareness about the idea of intercession, although the concept is found in many other religions.
Among most religions, intercession is a prayer directed to a deity for the benefit of another person or group.
Within Catholicism, intercessory prayer may also be directed toward the salvation of souls still in purgatory. And a saint, living or risen, may act as an intermediary between God and souls (both living and in purgatory).
Essentially, Catholic intercessory prayer takes two main forms: Vocal and mental prayer.
Vocal prayers are petitions spoken in private or public, whereas mental prayer is an inner prayer. The words of mental prayer may be inwardly pronounced but not vocalized. Mental prayer also includes meditation and higher forms of contemplation where the mind is set directly on God or some aspect of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Meditation is a type of mental prayer, providing it’s ultimately focused on God and not on worldly or satanic influences. The terms meditation and contemplation are often used interchangeably but generally meditation is seen as a slightly lower form of mental prayer than contemplation.
In Catholicism both types of prayer, vocal and mental, are addressed to God, the angels or saints. It’s believed that angels and saints (living and dead) mediate spiritual powers between God and mankind (living and in purgatory), hence the term intercession. And prayer directed toward anything else is negatively described as paganism, superstition or idolatry.4
Many Protestant, Fundamentalist and non-Christian religions view the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox belief in mediating saints as seriously misguided.
Critics say one should pray only to God and asking the deceased for help is wrong, no matter how holy their earthly lives may have been.
Meanwhile Gnostics, Pagans, Jungians and many New Age enthusiasts tend to see organized Christianity as half-baked or entirely hypocritical. By the same token, traditional Catholics usually denounce Gnostics, Pagans and New Agers, in toto, as a “poison” that threatens the Church.5
More liberal Catholics, however, try to integrate ideas found in other religions—this especially so within the world of Catholic publishing. Needless to say, the Catholic laity disagrees on many issues. And countless other religions each take a unique view on how to be right with God and, in so doing, overcome evil.
The Freedom to Choose
Religious controversy is nothing new. The earliest Christians squabbled over key points and theologians during the Middle Ages locked horns over issues which today seem downright silly. Books were banned and many people were excommunicated, arrested, tortured and killed by decree of the Church.
This hideous barbarism came about mostly because one powerful group didn’t like another group’ s beliefs about God, evil and salvation, although some maintain that greed was also an important factor.
Although things have obviously changed in the 21st century, we’re compelled to ask if the global situation is really all that different today. Civilized countries may not be quite as officially barbaric but there’s still a dynamic of economic and cultural power that tends to marginalize those who don’t fit in so easily.
In the world of parapsychology, official churches may recognize some limited forms of the supernatural but generally are skeptical when an individual claims to have unconventional experiences. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Some people might be way off, mentally ill, and so on. But it can be a problem for those who are genuinely spiritual but have a hard time fitting in to existing ecclesiastical structures.
Amid all the uncertainty surrounding the topic of parapsychology, it seems safe to say that our universe remains a mystery and traditional understandings of ideas like matter, energy, space and time are in need of cultural revision.
Visionaries were once ridiculed for maintaining that the Earth isn’t flat, but round. And we could be making the same kind of mistakes today when it comes to appreciating the importance of parapsychology.
A paradigm shift might be in the offing. But it will only take place when spirituality is openly discussed and subjected to critical debate and scientific scrutiny.
Some would rather shy away or slink into the shadows instead of talking about the inner life. Maybe these people are afraid, or maybe they’re hiding something. But unlike robots6 locked into their programming, human beings are always free to choose.7
¹ Ghose contributed to the Encyclopedia Britannica with an entry on mysticism. Before Wikipedia, this was a huge honor.
² The Cambridge scientist Rupert Sheldrake has empirically demonstrated that dogs seem to know when their owners are coming home.
³ C. G. Jung, The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche in The Collected Works of C. G. Jung, ed. William McGuire et al., trans. R. F. C. Hull, Bollingen Series XX. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1954-79, Vol. 8, p. 419.
4 See http://www.culturewars.com/2004/DaVinci.html and The Da Vinci Hoax pp. 45-72. It should be noted that Gnostics, Pagans and New Age groups have their own complexities and disagreements, not unlike any human group. For an excellent survey, see Graham Harvey, Contemporary Paganism: Listening People, Speaking Earth.
5 Graham Harvey, Contemporary Paganism, p. vii.
6 The word “robot” was coined by the Czech, Josef Čapek, brother and one-time collaborator of playwright Karel Čapek. “Robot” first appears in Karel’s R.U.R (Rossum’s Universal Robots), a somber statement about humanity at its worst. Čapek also wrote an article, Why I am not a Communist, where he says “The climate of communism is ghastly and inhuman.”
7 (a) Some recent software now includes self-learning and the appearance of choice, so the picture is far from simple. (b) For a contemporary epic about moral ambiguity within the mankind vs. machine motif, see the re-imagined TV series Battlestar Galactica.
Copyright © Michael Clark. All rights reserved.
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