A Series on Jesus Christ – Part 17: Freedom From Religion, Beethoven As Mentor

From Meditation and Coffee Time with Pat on Monday, January 13, 2014

So much is going on for Pat and me these days. I want to capture and share pieces of it, but there is so much. I’m several days behind, but these will just have to be skipped. Even in sharing our coffee-time discourse from just this morning a lot gets left out, but let me give it a try.

Saturday Pat and I had a great morning sharing. We then went to a very unusual but inspiring funeral of a nineteen-year-old woman, Jessica Elam, who, for 12 years – since the age of 7, had been battling terminal cancer. The service was at Christ Church in Mason – a large Christian Church not unlike the mega-church Crossroads where Pat and I had recently attended the spectacular Christmas show Awaited. The funeral, with hundreds in attendance, included singers, guitars, drums, keyboard, young people everywhere, beautiful sharing of Jessica’s impact on peoples’ lives, sharing by one of her doctors, and a dynamic Bible-preacher Pastor Tom Moll. The service used the theme and format of Jessica’s wedding – Jessica, the bride of Christ, complete with her being laid out in a wedding dress and having friends as bridesmaids, who would later share their testimonies about Jessica.

Yes, during the service there was a lot about “Jesus dying for our sins so we could go to heaven,” especially in the music. I had no trouble letting these messages flow over me rather than allowing myself to get stuck in my resistance to Christian fundamentalism. The central message was the Light of Christ in Jessica — and that stuck! Clearly Jessica had faith in Jesus Christ and had shared it with everyone she met. What inspired me was the closing prayer by Pastor Tom in which he focused in on the Light of Christ that had burned brightly within Jessica and had emanated out to all who were in contact with her throughout her long painful life. She had been mature in her faith well beyond her years, having inspired all around her with the Light of Christ within her heart. The service closed with the light being taken from the wedding candle and passed to everyone in attendance, each holding a candle that could be lit from this Jessica/Christ candle. In the end, everyone had a lit candle – quite moving and symbolic of Christ living in each one of us.

All I could say to this service was, “Yes, thank you Jessica and thank you all who created this service celebrating the Light of Christ that Jessica embodied. There was no emphasis on everyone being poor miserable sinners who would go to hell if they did not accept Christ as their personal savior. Sure, this was implied at times and came through in the songs, but it was easy for me to look past all of this and see the Truth of Christ as the Light that burns in our hearts. The message of the service seemed so consistent with my sense of the purpose of our lives, namely that our work on this earth is to let the Christ Light that is our Divine Essence shine forth clearly as we do our work of purification and allowing our transformation, by grace.  I was quite surprised how free I felt after this beautiful funeral service.

The rest of Saturday and Sunday were relaxed. We thoroughly enjoyed the movie Her, a simple dinner afterwards, and our ritual of Sunday at the National Exemplar with the New York Times.

This morning (Monday) I began my meditation as usual with the guiding words of Adyashanti and his Breath As Life and Death – a 30-minute meditation, which is now becoming very familiar to me. A phrase that stood out was that our last act on this earth will be breathing out, an exhale as our final letting go of all that we have clung to in this life. We shall be letting go into the infinite. An added thought arose in me this morning: “Yes, we shall come to that point where we breathe out our last breath, but then our next breath will be on the other side, breathing in new life from the infinity of the Spirit world.

Other thoughts came up after my meditation but before Pat arrived. These throughts were primarily related to the book I am reading about Beethoven.  But let me back up. Why in the first place am I reading a book about Beethoven written in 1927 and titled Beethoven – His Spiritual Development? And why is it so important to my spiritual life just now? At first I could say I acquired it quite by accident, and it the particulars it seemed very much coincidental. Yet pure coincidence would not be entirely correct. Some how I manifested this and Spirit met me by leading me to this particular book.

Beethoven has always held a special place in my psyche. During my high school days I was led to check out a few Beethoven symphonies and play them on the family’s new 33-speed long-play record player. This was the first time I had heard Beethoven symphonies, and I was mesmerized by this music. I did not know why, but the music moved me deeply. And his music has been in and out of my life ever since.

Then a few months ago I noticed that Audible (the Amazon branch where I get my audio books) was offering a few of The Teaching Company lecture programs at amazingly attractive prices. And I saw that these included several courses by Professor Robert Greenberg on Beethoven. I bought two – Beethoven’s Sonatas (32 sonatas, 18 hours of teaching) and Symphonies of Beethoven (9 symphonies, 24 hours of teaching). Over the past month or two I completed listening to the sonatas and am 25% through the symphonies — all while I drive around and when I do my exercise at the gym.

These teachings are amazing. I am beginning to understand what draws me so to Beethoven. He was a troubled man on many fronts – relationship with his dad, struggling with authority, going deaf beginning in his mid-twenties, depressed, unable to connect with women he loved, and the like. He was arrogant, very very independent, and intense, totally focused on his art – composing music. Through all his struggles he triumphed, and in many ways he was a hero. Through it all he grew spiritually. AND he was able to express his feelings, from low to high, in his music.

Greenberg suggested a biography for the course: Beethoven by Maynard Solomon. In the end I got this book, but in searching on Amazon, at first just remembering that the author’s name began with an “S,” I was attracted to a book by Sullivan. I bought it before confirming it was the correct book, but I seemed sure it was. The title intrigued me: Beethoven – His Spiritual Journey. When I got the book I was glad I made the mistake – I can relate so well to the Beethoven presented in Sullivan’s biography. Here is a link to a long quote from the end of the book – I trust it will give the essence of why I so relate (open link).

As I read this excerpt I could feel the chains fall away from my spiritual journey and freedom emerge. I could feel myself free to be me, free to experience life as it arises.  When I am depressed, feel depressed. I don’t have to cover up depression with some kind of psychological defense – denial, numbing, getting a glass of wine, etc. And when I feel inspired, feel fully inspired and alive. This is so obvious for fulfilled living, why am I just now “getting” it?  It just shows how imprisoned I have been. Beethoven broke out of his many prisons, but not away from the pain he experienced while in them. He put his entire journey in his music – for him music was, above all, self revealing of the composer.

I noted that Beethoven could be my spiritual mentor. The following sentences from the above Sullivan quote stand out for me: “In this sketch of Beethoven’s spiritual development we have regarded him chiefly as an explorer. What we may call his emotional nature was sensitive, discriminating, and profound, and his circumstances brought him an intimate acquaintance with the chief characteristics of life. His realization of the character of life was not hindered by insensitiveness, as was Wagner’s, nor by religion, as was Bach’s. There was nothing in this man [Beethoven], either natural or acquired, to blunt his perceptions. And he was not merely sensitive; he was not merely a reflecting mirror. His experiences took root and grew. An inner life of quite extraordinary intensity was in process of development till the very end.”

In particular this sentence struck me: His realization of the character of life was not hindered by religion, as was Bach’s. In other words Beethoven could feel everything in life. And Sullivan puts this into contrast with Bach whose sensitivities (perceptions and feelings), Sullivan says, were hindered by his religion. What I assume Sullivan means is that the emotional world of Bach, Bach being the devoted Lutheran that he was, was hindered or perhaps distorted by seeing all of life through the eyes of his Lutheran worldview. My own sense of this is that church dogma can inoculate a person against true religious experiences. One so indoctrinated cannot take life experiences as they come but has to interpret life experiences through the lens of dogma – or run the risk of being called a heretic.

Beethoven, on the other hand, hit life head on and without filters of any kind other than his own experiences. He was able to express his spiritual life in music AND, Sullivan points out, was able to grow spiritually – transforming totally at least three times in his life. These words from Sullivan apply: “Comparatively few men, even amongst artists, manifest a true spiritual growth. Their attitude towards life is relatively fixed; it may be exemplified with more richness and subtlety as they mature, but it does not develop. Such a transition as we find from Beethoven’s “second” to his “third” period, where nothing is abandoned and yet where everything is changed, is extremely rare. [I see this as Ken Wilber’s description of growth in consciousness: “Transcend and Include.”] Beethoven, therefore, although he preached no philosophy, is of philosophical importance because he adds one to the very few cases that exist of a genuine spiritual development.”

All of this leads me to a notion of true religion being Freedom From Religion. This freedom and the role of true religion in taking us toward this freedom is the core idea in Pathwork Lecture 88 Religion: True and False (open lecture). The other points Sullivan makes is that Beethoven had the attitude of an explorer and that “An inner life of quite extraordinary intensity was in process of development till the very end.” Here Pat and I are hovering around the age of 70 and it is as if our spiritual life is just beginning – and is intensifying daily!

Finally, I dare to make the comparison of Beethoven to Jesus. Blasphemy you say! Well perhaps, but consider that Jesus did not intend to set up a religion. He was not a “Christian.” He was a human being – God incarnate in human form. And pointed us to this reality for ourselves. What would Jesus Christ say about all the “forms” of Christianity in the world today? And each has a unique window through which it interprets and often clouds and distorts life experiences. Jesus Christ stood for none of this structure!

And Jesus Christ concluded his ministry on the cross with, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” These are recorded as the last words of Jesus in both Mark’s and Matthew’s gospels. And this is followed in these gospels by Jesus “crying with a loud voice” and then dying. What Sullivan records for Beethoven’s death is: “There had been a violent storm, and suddenly there was a lightning flash and a great crash of thunder. It seems to have aroused the dying man from his unconsciousness. He raised his clenched fist, opened his eyes and looked upwards for several seconds with a ‘very serious, threatening expression.’ As the hand dropped he fell back dead.” Yes, blasphemy to the dogma of the church to make this comparison of Beethoven and Jesus Christ, but I am somehow relieved in being invited to feel whatever I feel in what life ponies up – just like Beethoven and Jesus. Yes, I am free to rage against God!

Coffee Time

To begin our coffee time I shared all of this with Pat. I read much of the Sullivan quote. I read The Heiligenstadt Testament that follows the Sullivan quote. Pat: Just amazing. Your resonance with all of this material, all of these experiences. Gary: I feel such a sense of freedom – a real letting go of having to experience life in one certain way, complying to a particular world view or Christian doctrine or Pathwork teaching. Pat: How wonderful.

Gary: It’s being OK with the limitations of my human existence. Letting go of perfectionism – in sexuality, in my relationship with the church, in sickness, and in death – accepting of limitations of my incarnation. As I said, I shall breathe out my last breath – my final letting go – AND my next breath will be from the other side, from the Spiritual side, from infinity! Pat: You must study and write – this is your way! Gary: How encouraging. Yes, this is my “art” that inspires me and that I must emanate into the world! Pat: Thanks for bringing all this to our awareness this morning. What can we title this morning’s session? “Beauty and Brilliance of Beethoven!” Gary: Sullivan would say not beauty of Beethoven but greatness of Beethoven.

Pat: Reminds me of “The unfettered mind.” Wallace says that instead of The Seven-Point Mind Training title of his book it would more properly be titled, “The Seven-Point Mind/Heart Training.” Now how can we best serve freedom – for ourselves and for all sentient beings?  Beethoven and Sullivan (who interpreted Beethoven for you) are your Mentor Beings, to use a Buddhist term! … You and I are so different. Gary: And complementary. But both of us have intense inner journeys, for which our friends laughingly tease us.

Pat: How important it is to hold the vision for the other, especially because our ways are so different – dispensing with limited human expectations and resting in the possibilities of the Greater. Then there is the reciprocal nature of that – both/and – I for you and you for me. As I’m able to open that vision beyond the limited vision on your behalf it opens the vision on my behalf as well – this is not a separate thing.

Pat (continued): This spiritual inspiration hops down from Beethoven to Sullivan to you. Gary: There was also the work of Bach (Beethoven’s early mentor) and Professor Robert Greenberg whose passion created The Great Courses teachings on Beethoven. Pat: This is all about an awakened heart! This is truly mind blowing!

Gary: Notice too that Beethoven related to Handel and Handel’s oratory Messiah – referring to the name Wonderful in the chorus “Unto Us a Child Is Born,” all from Isaiah 9:6. Pat: Wow! Goodness! What can one person do but be in amazement! We are sitting in the heart space, appreciating consciousness that is here – the depth of understanding that comes at this depth of consciousness that we share in our coffee time – and we want to live out from here!

Pat (continued): Beethoven KNEW the gift of alignment – that which was being birthed in him. He KNEW full well. For us, it is seeing the light within ourselves and then opening to that Light. Gary: We come back to Pastor Tom Moll and Jessica’s funeral. Pat: All of this, a testament to that inner Light, the Christ Light emanating into the world!

Shared in love, Gary