Introductory Reflections on Conversations in Apocalyptic Times: A Guide for the Spiritual Seeker

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Robert Faas (RF) and Arthur Versluis (AV)

This is Arthur Versluis. and I’m here with Robert Faas, and we’re discussing our book Conversations in Apocalyptic Times: A Guide for the Spiritual Seeker. I thought we’d start by reflecting on the book in retrospect, and on what makes this book valuable for readers.

RF

I think especially the West is suffering right now in regards to spiritual and psychological life, in which there’s so much loss of any real viability in our inner lives. And I have an overwhelming sense of people’s superficial outwardly-directed existence, so there’s a loss of soul and spirit, and the truth is, it’s growing pretty dark.

AV

And this is a global phenomenon. Although it’s certainly true in America that people are essentially looking for a way beyond, a way out of materialism. And that’s that was I think the genesis of the book, but now looking back after years to write and produce Conversations in Apocalyptic Times, we can see that the book has different dimensions, and part of what I wanted to do in the short conversation is just talk about what some of those dimensions are, what the book offers people. One of the things it offers, you’re absolutely right, is getting beyond this materialistic, shallow, empty life.

Yes, the kind of social world that we’re living in now, it is shallow, and a lot of that is driven also by technology and social media. There are so many things that make people feel trapped, and that was particularly true during the pandemic, so-called, for example, in periods of “lockdowns,” in which people were literally trapped, and then there’s the implicit trap, which is materialism itself. And so the book is an introduction to inner life and how to deepen your life and how to get beyond this shallowness, get beyond the entrapments of contemporary society.

RF

Political strife is another major thing right now. Political strife is, I think, making people feel even more alienated, along with the things that we said. I mean, you throw that in there too. So it really produces a huge need, and the call is for rethinking, readdressing our humanity. What does our soul need, and what is it looking for on a deeper level?

AV

What the book offers is an introduction to inner life, into an inner process. In the book, we use the word “process” pretty frequently. The book isn’t about immediately leaping into some other kind of state. It’s more a matter of a process of transmutation and awakening, and the process that we discussed in the book is actually based in Christian theosophy as well as Orthodoxy and Buddhism. But it especially does draw from—and that’s part of our friendship over many years and much of what we’ve done together is built around—Christian theosophy and the Christian esoteric tradition. There’s basically been almost nothing available to people on this. There is some scholarship, but it’s very limited and it doesn’t address actually what you do, and so I’ve been asked by people. I’ve actually been contacted quite recently the last few days by people asking about how to pursue inner life in our contemporary society, and I pointed them to this book. So what can we say about the importance of this subject in relation to the kind of materialistic world that we’re living in with its difficulties? What does a spiritual path offer?

RF

So in some ways it’s almost like a rescue operation, the rescuing of the soul from all this materialism, technology, all these things that are driving a person out of themselves.  What the heart of Christian theosophy offers is that there is a real presence of the light energies of Christ. We often lack any sense of presence at all, and need a process in which we can cultivate this presence and bring it into our ordinary life. We’re not talking here about going off to a monastery or up to the Himalayas, but just: how can we go back to living ordinary existence in a way that really has soul and spirit and furthers the evolution of one’s own being in a meaningful way?

AV

In the book we discuss that it begins with silence and quiet. This is something that you find in something like centering prayer, which was made fairly well-known by Thomas Keating and a couple of a couple of other practitioners of it. But what distinguishes what we’re talking about is essentially that, although silencing the mind and centering is important and that is part of what we discuss especially in the beginning of the book, that’s not the end of the process. In other words inner life is not simply silencing the mind; it’s that we need silence for deeper life to take place.

RF

The first step is to begin to become quiet, to begin to become silent, so that one can begin to undertake the  process of a true inner journey and you mentioned Keating and others, but esoteric Christianity has a long history in Eastern Christianity, especially with what’s called Hesychasm, which means exactly that: silence and light so that we can begin to quiet what self is yes and nishal step and end what has to overlap begins to open up is the fact that we’ve become total strangers to our to oown inner consciousness anymore. So we don’t even know that what we’re carrying and what needs to undergo, you know, profound changed changed so that it doesn’t continue to block the Light from being able to rise up and for us to have access to it. So which gets into then we’re really talking about correlation of the old Mysteries and new Mysteries. The Mysteries always entailed the process of purification of the self, the finding of the self as a first step, as alchemy does. Then one is in true need to begin to see that the soul is carrying, you know, great burdens. And we need to begin to find ways for these burdens to be overcome and over time one is more and more able to have the light bring about changes. So I think the the loss of psychology is stunning in that people no longer know how much that they’re carrying. And our first need for this to begin is to go into the underworld, the soul’s own underground and begin that work of making things more unburdened.

AV

And so that’s one of the things that’s really unique about this book and there are so many actually, but one of them is that it integrates psychological and spiritual practice and focuses on the life of the soul, coming to be aware of that and working with that through dreams and in other ways. But psychology and spirituality are connected. They’re part of a whole and the book is really about becoming whole and both of those are part of that. So that’s an important dimension, I think, of the book.

RF

I do too. Recognizing that there is a difference between psyche (the soul) and the spirit. That was known in the past, but it’s another thing that’s got lost over time. One could say the spirit is more related to the light world. The soul is more related to the fire world, or the darker world, but one has to work with both spirit and soul, and as you were saying, in today’s society, we have a huge division between them. The psychological and spiritual are often not seen or understood together, yet both are critically necessary.

AV

That’s true. And we do in the book mention a psychologist, Robert Assagioli, who did some initial work in that in that area, with what he called psycho-synthesis, but what we’re doing here is really going beyond that. It includes those kinds of things, just as it includes some of the other things that I mentioned but it goes beyond that, because it is itself a greater synthesizing together that we’re engaged in here. Part of that synthesis is also turning on what we discuss in the book as the quest and the importance of the quest and understanding the quest as part of this as a way of recognizing the nature of this larger process because the process we’re talking about is alchemical. But it is also conceivable in terms of a journey, which is what a quest is. And so I wondered if you could say a little bit about about the quest dimensions of the book.

RF

Which lies at the very heart of it, because it’s so true that we are talking about undertaking a journey, a very ancient journey, and that oftentimes over history, especially Western history what was called the quest is at the center of the Grail and other mythologies related to both the ancient Mysteries and the Christic Mysteries.The soul is meant to go on a quest. It is in a broken world and it is meant to heal and become unburdened, and go on this most meaningful Quest that it needs and is faced with. In modern existence, the idea of the quest has also got lost along with the distinction between soul and spirit, and all the rest. So many people are not even realizing that there is a quest that needs to be undertaken.

AV

Well, that’s that’s the thing about this book, having worked on it and worked together on it for years to produce it, is that we realized in retrospect that it’s incorporating all of these different dimensions that have been lost in contemporary society. And in some cases suppressed—it goes beyond simply lost—because that implies a kind of accident, and I’m not sure that it’s really entirely accidental. I think there are a variety of reasons why some things became more dominant and others others disappeared and in some cases, I think you can fairly talk about suppression. That’s certainly true when you look back at the history of Christian theosophy. The Christian theosophical tradition and the spirituality it represents was directly attacked and Jakob Boehme, the great great spiritual teacher of that tradition, was himself directly attacked in his lifetime and forbidden from teaching or writing. So that’s more than simply lost. It’s an actual suppression. And so what we’re doing when we talk about the quest and when we talk about literature, and we talked about the life of the soul is bringing back into conversation and into understanding things that are vital for being fully human, and for realizing who we really are and who we can be and so that dimension is greater—the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Let’s put it that way with regard to the book. What we’re pointing to is a larger way of understanding. What we’re providing here, which is a whole different set of references for people to help to help develop our understanding and our realization of who we are and what our inheritance is. What we need in order to live full and meaningful and deeper lives.

RF 

Yes, that really strikes the note. Literally, what has become lost is the fact that we are fundamentally spiritual beings. I think you’re certainly right about that there’s a lot of suppression going on in regard to assertions you’re only a biological being, you’re like a machine, you’re only this, you’re only that, and gradually the critical idea that one is truly a spiritual being becomes more and more hidden. You know, like forcing people into is this all I am? The loss of the fundamental reality that we are spiritual beings is absolutely critical to understand.

AV

And what we do in the book is engage in true dialogue. Actually, the entire book is dialogue. It’s conversation, and part of coming to understand who we are and coming to understand the nature of us as spiritual beings comes from dialogue. It’s a dialogic process in the book. We refer to it explicitly, sometimes, as a spiral. We come back to the same idea or theme in the dialogue, but you’re at a different point. It’s not the same place because of the dialogue itself, and I wondered because we’ve had you know, so many wonderful conversations, and the conversations themselves are also revelations. They are revelations within the conversation because of the conversation. And so I wondered what you had to say about about that dimension of those conversations, the dialogic dimension of realizing that we’re a spiritual being.

RF

We are in good company with Martin Buber, a Jewish mystic, for whom dialogue was at the heart of what he was trying to say. Dialogue goes on between God and man in between man is man and fundamentally dialogue also has been involved in the whole process of Christianity. I mean many times Christ points to and talks about how “I am with you, I am with you always.” He represents a dialogic reality, because the path is involved in dialogue as well as inner work and that dialogue contributes greatly to inner work. And that fundamentally what we’re talking about is a dialogical relationship can not only with each other, but with Christ, and that is in essence a dialogical relationship that brings about change and metamorphosis.

AV

We talked about Christianity and Christ. I think it’s important for people to recognize that what is made available in this book is actually referring to Christianity in a way that many people may not be familiar with. We discuss Christianity as a Mystery tradition and Mystery here is with a capital M. Mystery in this context goes back to the ancient Mysteries, which were a movement through the underworld, also a quest, effectively movement through the underworld to through that to ultimate state of illumination, light and freedom, and that was the context to the ancient Mysteries. For most people today, I would I would think it’s safe to say including very committed Christians, it has never occurred to them that Christianity is itself a Mystery tradition and that’s part of also what we provide in the book. We talk about the things that we’ve discussed so far, but also that Christianity is a Mystery tradition and that’s a fundamentally different way of understanding what it is. And how the tradition works and what it really means. So I wondered if you could say a few words about that.

RF

The new Mysteries and the old Mysteries that you refer to and the journey they represent have now become included in the new Christ Mysteries. So you still are walking an ancient mystery path in regard to the underworld, and hopefully achieving some kind of illumination and purification in that, but there’s a new Mystery that’s added into that with Christ, which is the Mystery of asking or asking us to be a part of raising up the world. So there’s a Mystery of transformation in regard to the world as well as our own self , because of Christ bringing the light into our world and then establishing that not only do we undergo deep changes, but we also then enter into the world with those changes in a way in which we are fundamentally raising up and transforming our existence. So we have a profound movement that includes these old Mysteries, but also brings forth an even deeper mystery existence of a transformation of the world, ultimately, of course, scripture says, culminating in a new Heaven and a new Earth and new body. And so the end is even greater than it was before, but these Mysteries are absolutely necessary

AV

 And there’s one other thing that we discussed in the book, actually many other things, but one is afterlife experience, what happens after death, and we don’t need to go into great detail about it because that’s why we discuss it at length in the book, but it is worth mentioning that there are are things made available in the book that are really extremely rare. I haven’t seen them discussed in any public setting or publicly accessible place before. References do appear occasionally in obscure texts, but the kind of thing that we’re discussing here, this is the first time I’ve ever seen it in print actually in the way that it’s discussed accessibly in this collection of conversations. And so that’s directly tied to the Mysteries in that the Mysteries in the ancient world and the Christian Mysteries are about death and the transcendence of death. That’s what the ancient Mysteries were about. And that’s what the Christian Mysteries are about. And so that has many dimensions: Christ said “in my father’s house are many mansions” and that verse has a lot of implications. So that’s another dimension of what’s in the book that I just wanted to allude to. One of the things that I wanted us to have a little space to talk about, too, is looking back on the book as a whole.

RF

If I could just follow up on what you’re saying a little there, Arthur.

AV

Sure.

RF

I think what you’re bringing up is so important concerning the new Mysteries of Christ with regard to death and the after-life, in that Christ’s harrowing of Hades, his harrowing of the underworld, changed the nature of the after-death reality. He is bringing his light into that dimension to overcome the powers of darkness, and gave humanity a new journey, a more complete journey to undergo in the afterlife, going through the process of refinement and and regeneration into a new body of light and access to a light- world of heaven. This changed the reality of the whole dimension of the after-death states through the harrowing.

AV

When you look back on the book as a as a whole and then beyond the book, in the things we discussed, what strikes you about it now? What strikes you as unusual or remarkable about the book itself and why people should read it?

RF

I think what comes immediately is the sense of a gathering-together of the past psychological and spiritual dimensions that humanity possessed in juxtaposition to what is the plight of humanity in the present. So it’s like a counterpoint, a gathering-together of what the past was on the spiritual and psychological level, as well as facing the reality of what’s going on in contemporary existence. And out of the confrontation between those two, what I believe comes forward in the book is a new but old path of the process of regeneration. So we have the gathering-together of all these strands and then the facing of what we are dealing with today. How can one break break out of that? And enter into a new journey? Answering those two questions is what is unique in the book.

AV

That’s absolutely true. It is unique. There’s there’s nothing I know of nothing else like it. It’s unique because it is exactly as you say, it is drawing on these different traditions that most people have almost certainly never heard of, but applying them in a contemporary environment. It applies them in our contemporary situation and that’s what makes it so vital, I think, and so important for some people it may not be for others and that’s fine. That’s fine, then they can let it be, but for those that it resonates with, I think it’s important. I think there are people who really recognize the nature of the world that we’re in now, and the kinds of things that are surrounding us. And so this this book provides a path and a process that is not available anywhere else and that’s why I think it’s valuable. Exactly as you say in retrospect looking at it, it unfolds in a very natural, a very organic way out of different conversations and dialogues that we had. So I wondered if you have some parting thoughts for people some parting thoughts about the book or advice. Whatever strikes you as something important at this last phase before we draw this to a close.

RF

I think people should take heart. There is a way. There is a path; it is still with us and we can walk this path of regeneration and become raised up, us and the world, in new and old ways, so that it is still there. This may have been overshadowed or eclipsed in different ways, but it is still present. It is there. It’s like the rock that is still present for us. And so in many ways, I think there’s nothing more important than to realize that there really is a way, there is a true way.

AV

Because what is true is true. True in the past. True in the present. True in the future. Because something in contemporary society has become eclipsed or lost, doesn’t change the truth at all. Providing that path, even pointing towards it, is a really essential service, and that’s at the heart of what we’re trying to do here.  I actually have a question for those who are listening to or reading this, and that is: what would you like for us to share? What would you like for us to focus on? Is there something that you think would be particularly helpful? As the book is available, you know, read it. We’d like to engage in a dialogue with you as well. And so let us know what you would like to focus on and we can do that or weave that into what we’re doing down the road. That’s that’s just something that occurred to me during our conversation.

RF

Yes. Yes, I mean I think others, in engaging with this, with us in a sense establishing a wider dialogue, would certainly be a hope that for both of us grows out of this book—that if we can open up a deeper dialogue that would that would be wonderful.

AV

And also sharing, you know, sharing the journey and the possibility of the journey for people.

RF

Yes. The dialogue of the journey and the quest.

AV

The shared quest goes beyond us. It’s not about us as separate individuals only. It’s something that’s greater than us. And that’s what we’re all engaged in, and that’s what we also share, and if you feel you share it with us, then join us, and we look forward to the conversation. Thank you, Bob.

RF

Most welcome. Good to have a chance to engage in this conversation today.

Robert J. Faas is a clinical psychologist with many years of practice and experience in the Christian alchemical path made available in the works of Jacob Böhme, John Pordage, and Friedrich Schelling. 

Arthur Versluis is author of numerous books on spirituality, sacred landscape, and the intersection of religion and literature. He is the founding director of Hieros Institute, a nonprofit devoted to deepening our understanding of the sacred in contemporary life.