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01/16/2015 05:30 pm ET Updated Mar 18, 2015

Divine Consciousness: What "Being Saved" Is Really About

Divine Consciousness: What Salvation is Really About

What does "being saved" really mean?

I am sometimes asked, "You frequently use the words 'conscious' or 'Divine consciousness' or 'higher states of consciousness' and, sometimes, 'awake' or 'awakening'. What do you mean by these words?"

What I mean by "Divine consciousness," or any of these other terms, comes closer to what I understand "being saved" or "salvation" is really all about.

Simply stated, I mean this: That God - whatever God is - is manifesting to me in this...yes, this...whatever THIS may be.

I love the way Fr. Richard Rohr puts it: "God is this...Even This!"

Divine Consciousness: Salvation?


Some religious people mistakenly believe that to describe "salvation" in these ways is really just "New Age" stuff. Many could not explain what they mean when they label it "New Age" except that it is something from which you should run.

Seriously? I think not.

Talk about a word that has lost its meaning over the years. What could be a more misunderstood word than this very good but abused and misused word "salvation?"

I thought for much of my youth and young adult life that salvation was all about eternity. That salvation was about saying something called a "Sinner's Prayer" so you could be forgiven and go to heaven when you die.

What I believe today, however...what I am experiencing in my own life...is a larger understanding of salvation. It is about Divine consciousness, awareness, transformation, or the "waking up" to a new understanding of myself, others, and the world.

Divine Consciousness: A Self-Awareness


I was raised to think, for example...

...that "being saved" was all about rescuing me from the pits and perils of hell;
...that salvation was all about getting ready for heaven;
...that life now was just a preparation period for the next life to come.

As a consequence, I told others, and I did so for years, that what they needed was "to be saved."

I grew up in the days of the evangelist Billy Graham. Every young preacher I knew, including yours truly, wanted to be "the next Billy Graham." I think I even preached a few of his printed sermons, sure I was doing the right thing. And, all because, I mistakenly believed, if I did not, people would be forever lost. And worse, they would burn, but not be consumed, in an inferno called Hell.

I felt guilty if I sat with a stranger on a plane and did not present the "Four Spiritual Laws" and do my best to get him to repeat what we called "The Sinner's Prayer" and so be saved.

"God I am a filthy, rotten sinner. I deserve to go to hell. Thank you for killing your Son who, though innocent, took my sin upon himself and so paid you off so you could forgive me (it's all about us, isn't it?) I am sorry you had to do that to him. But I am grateful you did (it's all about us, you know). I receive you into my life. Save me from hell (again, you know, it's really all about us, isn't it?). Thank you. In Jesus' name, Amen."

Really?

How could grace be grace if I have to do anything, even something as simple as repeat a thoroughly self-centered and utterly self-serving prayer, in order to make it operable?

And, isn't that the point of the seldom-repeated parable Jesus told of the workers who only worked one hour but got paid as though they had worked all day? (Matt. 20:1-16). Isn't what hacked off the day-long workers the fact that their employer (God) really wasn't fair? That grace requires nothing, not even an hour of work, to earn a day's wage? They had long suspicioned this about their employer (God). And, the truth, THEY couldn't handle.

Grace isn't fair, it's free.

People today, even very religious people, have strange ideas about God. Heck, many of the doctrines of the Church are based on what today we know today to be strange ideas about God.
  • Grace only bothers those who have not really experienced it.
  • Grace is only troublesome to those obsessed with keeping score.
  • Grace always gets in the way of those who cannot trust that God has done enough in Jesus already.
Salvation is not about keeping score or saying a Sinner's Prayer, any more than it is about making a reservation in a hotel called "Heaven."

Divine Consciousness: What Salvation is Really All About

It seems to me that any honest reading of the words of Jesus would leave any thinking person with an entirely different conclusion than the one embraced by many devout people even today. Especially today.

Wasn't Jesus far more interested in how people lived today than where they would spend eternity tomorrow? Perhaps not, if you give equal weight to the teachings of Saint Paul or to your Church or to your church's doctrines and dogmas.

I don't. Not anymore, anyway.

For me, it is increasingly about Jesus...what he taught, how he lived, and what he asks of those who are serious about following him.

Period.

That's all. And, for me, that's enough.

As any Christian historian knows, doctrines, and then dogmas, that have developed over many centuries have actually caused at least as much harm as any good they have ever served. Most doctrines and dogmas designed to describe what is really indescribable have only resulted in almost endless debates and, ultimately, division. Which explains why there are more than 35,000 different religions - yes, you could call them "religions" - inside the Christian religion itself.

BTW, don't bother to say "Christianity isn't a religion, it's a relationship." That's a smokescreen that cleared decades ago.

By any measure, it is madness. There is simply no other way of describing what happens whenever doctrines and dogmas are declared infallible. Sheer madness.

Divine Consciousness: A New Way of Thinking about Eternity


I now realize, at least this is so for me, salvation is simply an immediate Divine consciousness or a progressive Divine consciousness (or, some combination of the two) that God is within me, beyond me, around me...that God is me, ultimately, as well as you and everyone and everything else. God is this universe experiencing itself.

If this is simply saying too much for you at this point, then say, "I-Thou." That puts the sacred squarely on equal terms. You as "I" and "thou" as "Us" and God as "We."

How's that for mouthful?

You see, God is never definable. That's the real point here.

Yet, this is, of course, what the Christian mystic and Catholic Father, Meister Eckhart was saying, when he said, "The eye through which God sees me is the eye through which I see God."

"So, do you not believe in an afterlife?" someone recently pressed. They seemed quite ready for a religious fight. Which of course anyone is who feels their "beliefs" are being threatened.

My own feeling is, the clearest sign I am outside of a progressive Divine consciousness is when I get so caught up in some belief that I feel threatened whenever it is questioned. (And, all beliefs will be questioned - until you question your beliefs, you have no beliefs. At best, you have inherited opinions). I know I only feel threatened when I'm stuck in some belief and so feel the need to protect it. As if, a belief, if it were really true, would ever need ME to protect or defend it.

Divine Consciousness: More than Mere Beliefs


"Beliefs are a cover-up for insecurity," wrote a wise spiritual advisor. "You only believe in things you really do not know."

Wow! Think about that for even a few minutes.

It is not that I have given up believing in eternity. I just don't think as much about it as I did at one time. The less I fear where I go when I die, the less concerned I am about tomorrow. You only worry about tomorrow because you are afraid of what it holds. You are only afraid to die, for example, because it feels too much like the end - which, of course, it is. If you cannot accept that, it could only ever mean that you are still attached to thoughts about yourself...your body...your notion that you are just too important to suddenly disappear. This is the little ego in you, and in me,... and it is this little self inside us that loves the imaginary notion it deserves to be eternal.

Not so! Not for me, any longer. For me, eternity is a mere illusion of the mind.

How could there be anything real about tomorrow or next year, much less eternity? Are not these mere imaginations of your mind? If or when any of these show up, they will only ever show up as this moment? Even the instant you die, and the imaginary eternity begins, it is really just another instance of now, isn't it?

Time is the great illusion of our time. What if we had a divine consciousness about this?

Don't you find it somewhat silly that we all wear wrist watches as if we could "keep time" or control it? That IS the illusion. Unconsciousness incarnate. Which is why everyone gets so bothered whenever they look at a ten-year-old picture of themselves. Suddenly, it becomes painfully real - and that pain is only ever felt NOW - that time is doing a number on them. Which, of course, it is. Time is killing them.

Eternity is only ever now! And, this is part of what I mean by "Divine consciousness." This is a new way of thinking about eternity.

William Blake was hinting at this when he poetically said:

"To see the world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower;
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour."

Divine consciousness, therefore, is just a new way I express my participation in the transformation of my awareness...my presence...my inner and outer life. It is simply the emerging awareness that God is manifesting in this. Yes, EVEN THIS!"

Even these words.

Divine Consciousness: A New Way of Thinking about Everything


You feel it don't you? Yes, there is something in you resonating with these words. Oh, sure, it may not be in some. A few persons may be resisting these words. If this is you, maybe you should know why. Maybe you should explore what in you feels afraid by these words. What feels threatening to you. "Direct your attention within," said Rumi, the Sufi Muslim poet. "It is the force within that gives life: Seek that." You will discover what in you needs attention, if you will.

Meanwhile, divine consciousness is simply transformation. It is to know a salvation that is real...that is now...that is connected to the very real, and sometimes, very harsh realities of your life. Like your past you can't forgive or the future you worry about almost constantly. And, the present which you miss too frequently.

Now, isn't THIS salvation, a divine consciousness, a transformation to a higher state of divine consciousness, or awareness, within which you could wrap yourself, as well as occupy yourself, for the rest of this life?

And, maybe even into an imaginary Eternity?

This blog first appeared at Dr. McSwain's website blog.

Dr. Steve McSwain is an author and speaker, counselor to non-profits and congregations, an advocate in the fields of self-development, interfaith cooperation, and spiritual growth. His blogs at BeliefNet.com, the Huffington Post, as well as his own website (www.SteveMcSwain.com) inspire people of all faith traditions. Dr. McSwain is an Ambassador to the Council on the Parliament for the World's Religions. His interfaith pendants are worn by thousands on virtually every continent, sharing his vision of creating a more conscious, compassionate, and charitable world. Visit his website for more information or to book him for an inspirational talk on happiness, inner peace, interfaith respect or charitable living.