Mike’s note: This is part of a guest series by Alexander John Shaia, sharing his insights gleaned from a lifetime of studying (and living) personal transformation, closely based on his explosive book Heart and Mind. Want to meet him in person? Join Alexander, Mona Haydar, Jasmin Morrell, Bushi Yamato Damashii, myself and others at Wisdom Camp this July 12th! Details and registration here. In the meantime, enjoy this reflection!
Our world is changing. It is slowly moving away from many years—at least a thousand—of being primarily focused on rationalism and science. Science has given us extraordinary progress in many areas, including our brains. However, room is now being made once again for the other parts of life and other ways of thinking—for music and art, for emotion and spirit. Nonrational ways of receiving information and for integrating that information into life are beginning to be acknowledged, even in academic and scientific venues. This is an immense shift that affects every aspect of all cultures, including religion. So, quite naturally everyone feels varying degrees of discomfort, anxiety, and at times very intense conflict. These symptoms deeply affect Christianity and Christians as well.
My heart and my head ache as I listen to what often feel like endless arguments that are couched in the language of “let me tell you about the true Jesus.” I understand the frustrations and grief that fill this long moment of moving between eras. Yet it seems to me that such a moment asks us to explore new ways of describing our eternal truths—integrative ways that reflect both heart and mind. This is, after all, the glorious entirety of awareness to which the last two millennia have brought us. When we join the advancements of our rational minds with the deepening experience of our hearts, we have the gift of an enlarged human consciousness and perspectives that are vastly more expansive and deepened. And if we are able to apply such expansive perspectives to the gospels, I believe we gain a new comprehension that replenishes us in the same way that hushed awe fills us when we see images of our indescribably vast cosmos.
To reach toward this kind of enlivening experience, it is first indispensable to expand our method of decision-making. When we move into the present millennium, integrating the rational and non-rational ways of thinking into our business and our lives, it helps us to achieve greater balance. The limited, more reductionist way of thought that has predominated in so many thought systems for the last several centuries—a belief that truth will become known if we just break everything down into separate elements and study them and arrive at little truths and then extrapolate to the whole—simply does not serve us adequately today. This way of thinking successfully constructs automobiles and airplanes, but isn’t effective for learning about God or people, or any complex problem for that matter. Deep and heart-filled work is complicated. We need our whole selves for that work—emotion, intuition, body and soul, together with our rationality. We also must search for far more than bits of data. The needs of our lives and our planet require that we seek out universal and integrative patterns—ones that have proven consistent in many areas—and that we do so in an interdisciplinary fashion without clinging to traditional boundaries.
This was precisely the kind of search I was led to make for much of my early life, and though the answer I received on that cold November night in New Mexico was not one I could ever have imagined, I can see now that it proceeded directly from the nature of the quest. I further believe that the pattern I eventually named the Journey of Quadratos is also true to this same way of thinking and problem-solving, this necessary “rejoining” of heart and mind. And as I have continued to work with it and see its results, I also believe that it holds the potential to move the gospel beyond the quarrels and internecine divisions—particularly about language and meaning—that have become focused so strenuously upon it. Quadratos can provide a framework that accommodates, integrates and welcomes a wide and lively diversity within Christianity.
Today I speak about this new perspective as often as I am able. It has already begun to create change in parts of the United States, Canada, the U.K., Europe, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. It has also begun to create change among everyday Christians, communities, spiritual directors and even in clergy formation across diverse denominations.
I am excited and hopeful about it as a perspective to be tried, chewed over, discussed and further researched by scholars of varying disciplines; so that together we may discover if this is really the substantial gift of Spirit to our time that I suspect it to be.
Unlocking The Four-Gospel Journey
One of the things that laid the ground for my epiphany—the “aha!” moment when everything “clicked” into place—was my many years of study in theology, psychology, anthropology and science. These studies had prepared my heart and mind well. Yet questions remained. How had the various elements come together through history to create what I was able to see today as a complete journey? Since that life-changing moment, mine has been a patient period of exploration and study, working backwards through time to as accurately as possible, discover and name the core elements and to correctly situate them in Christian thought.
There are five principal elements—keys—that together led to the formation of the gospel sequence and a full understanding of them unlock its perspective for the aspiring Jesus-follower. They are:
I The great name, Jesus the Christ.
II The evangelist Paul, and the particular way in which he was an eyewitness.
III The historical dilemmas of four early Christian communities.
IV Early Christians’ self-identification and practice as Followers of The Way.
V The choice of these particular four gospels and their sequencing into a Three-Year Sunday Reading Cycle.
This week on Mike’s blog, we’ll look at each of these as we progress through this ancient puzzle that these keys unlock. I welcome your questions and comments below!
Alexander John Shaia, PhD, is a thoughtful and poetic man, living the ancient rhythms of his Lebanese and Aramaic heritage. With deep conviction, he invites us into a practice of spirituality (and Christianity) for the twenty-first century—one that crosses traditional boundaries, encourages vital thinking and inhabits a genuine community of the heart. As a spiritual director, educator, anthropologist, psychologist, ritualist and Sandplay therapist, Alexander is a holistic, cross-discipline visionary and passionate professional speaker. He founded The Journey of Quadratos, as well as the Blue Door Retreat in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Now he travels internationally, speaking, leading seminars and conducting retreats on Quadratos, the Four-Gospel Journey and Gateway to Oneness (The 72 Hours of Easter). Each autumn Alexander guides an intimate band of pilgrims on the Camino, the West’s most ancient path of transformation. He’s just released the updated edition of Heart and Mind: The Four-Gospel Journey for Radical Transformation, which this post is based on. See Quadratos.com for more about his work and offerings.