A CONVERSATION WITH REV. PAUL R. SMITH (AUDIO)
It’s a few days before Christmas and I thought it was time to check in with Pastor Paul who is at the beginning of a new phase in his life. After leading the flock of his Southern Baptist church in Kansas City for the last fifty years, he’s sleeping in on Sunday mornings (retired pastors are encouraged to give their replacement some breathing room) and working on a new book.
His last book Integral Christianity, The Spirit’s Call to Evolve, was transformational for me, both spiritually and intellectually. Several years ago when Paul had gone about as far as he could go as a postmodern Baptist he asked if there was anything else God wanted to teach him. Soon after he discovered the work of Ken Wilber and integral theory changed everything. Ken’s thesis on “The Three Faces of God” was especially a revelation.
“I consider the Three Faces of God to be the most significant advance in our understanding of God since the formulation of the Trinity in the fourth century.” he writes. “These three perspectives give us the fullest understanding of and relationship to God possible in this life.”
From Integral Christianity, The Spirit’s Call to Evolve:
“Since this may be new mental, if not experiential, territory, let’s review again. The three faces of God are:
“I”– the Inner Face of God: God in 1st-person is the image of God as me, the Christ Self, the True Self, the Unique Self, Buddha-nature, the eternal “I am,” Pure Awareness, Pure Consciousness, Original “I Amness.”
“Thou” – The Intimate Face of God: God in 2nd-person is the wondrously caring classical Trinity whom I speak to — Abba Father/Mother, our elder brother Jesus who is our Supreme Guide and Lord, and Spirit that flows in endless, joyful, creative impulse. These are also other namings for the Holy One who comes close to us as our Beloved.
“It” – The Infinite Face of God: God in 3rd-person is the face of God that I speak about as the creative evolutionary process, the Web of Life, Ground of Being, the Great Mystery, and in specifically Christian terminology, the Cosmic Christ of Colossians 2:15-20 who is the pattern that creates and holds all things together.
We need 1st-person identification as the Inner Face of God, 2nd-person devotion to the Intimate Face of God, and 3rd-person inquiry about the Infinite Face of God.”
Paul points that that Jesus’s teachings include all three faces: “Jesus talked about God, to God and as God, and said we can too.” For me, having been raised an active and practicing Christian, this insight really hit home and helped me understand what I had previously experienced as confusing and contradictory teachings from Jesus.
Christianity has always been known to accentuate the 2nd person, devotional aspect of religion and spiritual practice. In this conversation Paul gives some insight into why the second person relationship with the divine can be especially difficult for postmodernists. Even for those of us in the integral world, who talk about loving the divine (spirit, your higher self, your co-creator, etc.) the idea that God loves you back, specifically and personally, in real time, can be problematic.
Yet, as Paul points out, God is love and love is relational. It has to come from another being, not a principle or a concept.
In addition to the three faces of God, I ask Paul to share with me some other distinguishing characteristics of Integral (and beyond) Christianity. Then we indulge in some light banter (“What happens when we die?”).
I hope you’re as inspired as I am by this conversation and by Paul’s gentle yet razor-sharp transmission. May it make your Christmas a little brighter!
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