Reflection 4

Mysteries of Birth, Life and Death week 4

Reflection: coping with loss


As human beings, we are subjected to many cycles. When you accept your spiritual mission, you must prepare for a completely new cycle in your system, namely the circulation of light forces, of the symbolic manna that descends from heaven. Have you ever experienced the feeling that your life constantly moves in circles and doesn’t bring you any satisfaction? Maybe it is time then for you to take a different course and move in a direction that better fits with what you inwardly experience.

Characteristic of man is his ability to always start something new – to reinvent himself and, as it were, to be born again and again. This is also how the inner rebirth can take place, the birth of light in the heart of the human being. To be born again requires courage, because in order to be able to unleash something new and inspiring, it is necessary to let go of many old and familiar things and there are no guarantees for success. Starting with something new is a journey to what is mostly unforeseen and unexpected.

The philosopher Hannah Arendt (1906-1971) called this beginning of something new the principle of natality, and she made it one of the core themes of her work. When we step out of ourcomfort zone by starting something new, we break through old cycles of events, we show the world who we are and we express our uniqueness. This creates a diverse society in which man can flourish as a creative being and which, according to Arendt, is the best remedy against totalitarian political systems.

Beginning something new does not have to stem from that which preceded it. That is why all really original ideas contain an element of surprise. Hannah Arendt attaches great importance to good stories, because stories have much greater power than facts. She writes that stories reveal meaning without making the mistake of defining it. Stories clarify your existence and offer starting points to give your life meaning and sense.

Catalyst for an inner transformation

A good story can be a catalyst for inner transformation. Since time immemorial, stories have been vital, just like food, shelter and solidarity between people. Even when we are asleep, we are still dealing with stories in the form of dreams. There are many types of stories such as myths, legends, fairy tales, parables and novels. They can come to us, for example, via storytellers, books, theatre productions, operas, images, films and so on. Stories can be seen as an effective means to allow outer and inner wisdom to enter the defended fortress of our narrow human consciousness. They stimulate us to ask relevant questions and to understand and remember complex ideas. Stories help us to remember important elements that we recognise unconsciously and perhaps have so far neglected.

Hannah Arendt was born Jewish in Germany and was strongly influenced by the Second World War. From her own experience she writes: ‘All sorrows can be borne when they are processed in a story’. The famous American film producer Walt Disney (1901-1966) puts it this way: ‘As storytellers we restore order with imagination. We inspire hope again and again’.

In a good story the characters are faced with difficulties and trials, because that is true in real life also. Buddha found his discovery that difficulties are inherent in life so important that he formulated that as his first noble truth: there is suffering. Suffering in this sense is the translation of the Pali word ‘dukkha’ which refers to the volatility of existence and the cycles of rising, shining and fading, which are often accompanied by the experience of pain and grief. Birth is suffering, illness is suffering, despair is suffering, not getting what you want is suffering, being separated from loved ones is suffering, deficiency in old age is suffering and death is suffering.

As human beings we will have to accept this first noble truth. Of course, we can take action to prevent or reduce suffering, but we can never completely banish it because it is part of the nature in which we live. Ecclesiastes had everything he wanted, but still he could not be happy. It is impossible to model our life to our specific requirements. If we deny suffering or oppose it, it will only lead to greater suffering or, in the form of a formula: suffering = pain x resistance.

Why does an almighty and loving God permit so much suffering on our planet? That is an existential question that philosophers, theologians and millions of others have long been pondering. In ancient times the devil and his demons were often appointed as the guilty parties. Today we often hear that humans are free beings who have misused this freedom to make a mess of life on earth. Both visions contain a core of truth, but neither one offers a complete statement that is satisfactory for everyone.

There is one Bible book that is entirely dedicated to human suffering: Job. The Book of Job is not a closed story but more a narrative that – like the book of Ecclesiastes – is largely written in poetic form and is sometimes regarded as an attack on conventional theology. Many readers will recognise something in the story that fits in with their own experience. They can be touched inwardly without unravelling the events intellectually. It is not primarily about understanding life, because that will ultimately always remain a mystery. It is about a transformation of consciousness, making a fundamental renewal possible. And in addition, a book like Job can be very helpful in this process. The name Job actually means ‘persecuted’.

Wisdom literature

The book of Job, together with the Bible books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, belongs to the wisdom literature of the Old Testament. These writings are characterised by a deep experience of life that is interwoven in these stories and with which one can do something in one’s own life. They are generally of a religious nature but are neither dogmatic nor specifically Jewish. There are indications that the book is of Egyptian origin. The Talmud, the most important book of Judaism after the Jewish Bible, mentions that it is a made-up story that has been written to elucidate some fundamental elements.

In the first chapter of Job, Satan tells God that it is of course understandable that Job is pious, sincere and godly, because he is richly blessed with children (seven sons and three daughters), cattle and possessions. He insinuates that because of this, it is not a true piety. God then gives him permission to test Job on the condition that he lets him live. Then a turbulent storm of disasters breaks over Job. He is deprived of all his wealth, cattle, servants and children.

In the second chapter he also loses his health because he is struck by the terrible disease of leprosy. Job’s wife tries to convince him to break with God, but despite his intense grief and pain, he does not part from God. Then three friends come to Job to comfort him. They achieve exactly the opposite because they claim that the misery of their friend is the punishment of God for his sins and that Job must therefore be a hypocrite because he still pretends to serve God.

Job then has the deep experience of having been abandoned by God. He is deeply troubled, even reproaches God for being unrighteous. Then a new figure appears in the story, Elihu. This initiate and representative of the universal Brotherhood on earth appears exactly at the moment when Job and his friends are ready for his words. ‘When the pupil is ready and sincere, the master will appear.’

Elihu points to the incorrect behaviour of both Job and his friends. He emphasizes the purifying effects of suffering and urges Job to be humble. Because Job has undergone all sorts of horrors, he is now able to experience God on a deeper level. At the end of the story he says to God: ‘I had heard of thee by the hearing of the ear; but now mine eye seeth thee’ (Job 42:5). After Job has prayed for his friends, he becomes healthy again and receives back double his lost possessions. He begets seven sons and three daughters again, enjoys grandchildren and dies in old age.

Millions of people find comfort in the richly symbolic story of Job because they recognise themselves in the suffering and the soul conflicts that are so vividly depicted. This leads them to accept that life on earth is often hard and incomprehensible, but that a spiritual progress that originates in God is still possible. Many distil from the book of Job their practical instructions for life such as: the realisation that one may lose everything, evil also affects good people, take time to mourn when faced with losses in your life, be aware that mourning is hard work and usually lasts longer than you wish, you may doubt God but never give up even if the situation seems hopeless.

In the story of Job we recognise the three phases of loss processing as they are described in the psychology of coping with loss: defense, saying goodbye and accommodating new circumstances. These insights are of course valuable, but pupils of the soul will recognise a deeper layer in the Biblical book of Job.

The path of initiation

The narrative about Job also deals with the gnostic way, about the path of initiation into the mysteries of living, dying and resurrection that was already taught five thousand years ago in the myth of the Egyptian god Osiris, and which probably served as a model for the gospel story of the death on the cross and the resurrection of Jesus. Jesus said to his disciples: ‘For whosoever would save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s shall save it’ (Mark 8:35).

He did not mean lose your physical life as a result of faith – as some martyrs did – but losing the ego-orientation and conditionings that impede your spiritual development. Those obstacles need to be cleared away before an immortal new soul, symbolised in the figure of Jesus, can grow in the human microcosm. If a person chooses the narrow path of initiation, then divine forces break up any obstacle to the germination of the spiritual seed and to the growth of the tree of life.

This may sound frightening and that is how it can be experienced. But the intention behind it is that the person concerned shall be free from fear through this inner death, so that the resurrection body can take shape in harmony and joy. The caterpillar must first die before it can become a butterfly. The pupil of the soul inevitably faces all kinds of challenges commonly related to any apprenticeship but luckily they are usually not as terrible as Job experienced. Winds blow and the storm rises. Those who persevere in the pathway of the Mysteries will conquer. They lose their old world, but they win the universe.

When Job is healed and reinstalled, he again begets seven sons and three daughters. The fallen tree of knowledge of good and evil is thus replaced by the tree of life. The announcement that Job doubly receives his lost possessions back could be an indication that he not only receives a new personality, but also in addition an active spirit-soul. As your desire for fulfilment from the Primeval Source increases, so your desire for things previously important to you gradually decrease. Without forcing, a form of non-attachment is created, that makes this spiritual renewal possible.

Everything that the person concerned needs to possess then comes to him from the universal energy, but he does not hold on to anything, he can easily let everything go. This concept is expressed min the shortest statement known from Jesus: ‘Become passers-by’ (The Gospel of Thomas, Logion 42).

The Greek philosopher Epictetus (circa 50-130) formulated this idea a little differently and more extensively. He was at one time a slave in Rome and after his release founded a school in Greece where he propagated the philosophy of the Stoa. He taught that philosophy is not just a theoretical matter, but in the first place a way of life. Epictetus placed great value on integrity, self-discipline and personal freedom, and taught that we should accept everything that happens in a calm and temperate manner. He did not leave any writings himself, but one of his students wrote down many of his teachings, including the following.

‘Never say: “I lost it “, but rather say: “I gave it back”. Has your child died? It has been returned. Has your wife or your husband died? They have been returned. Your estate or possessions have been taken away from you? Then these also are given back. You may say: “But who took it away from me is a villain. ” But what is it to you, by whom the giver has claimed it back from you? Consider it as long as it is in your possession as someone else’s goods, like travellers do in the inn.’

In the book of Job, Satan is certainly not a villain, a deceiver or a devil (as he is depicted for example in arcanum 15 of the tarot), but a full member of the divine hierarchy, an angel or messenger of God who keeps an eye on what is happening on earth and, in consultation, carries out instructions to get people on the right path. The Hebrew word ‘satan’ literally means ‘prosecutor’ or ‘tester’.

The law of karma

The three friends of Job tell him that the plagues he is undergoing are punishments by God because he has sinned. Apparently they know about the law of cause and effect, the law of karma, the law that the apostle Paul describes as: ‘Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap’ (Galatians 6:7-8).

It is very expedient that the law of karma exists, for that general law of nature binds everything in the entire universe together and makes the plan of God completely safe. The divine plan thus stands eternal, everlasting. It will continue in spite of any deviant or opposing influences. No matter how strong the forces of darkness, the Light will prevail!

If we go against the divine plan, then we or subsequent personalities in the microcosm we now inhabit will be corrected by the law of karma. Then we get to deal with the divine justice known in Greek mythology as the goddess Nemesis. She judges and sentences without regard to the person and is therefore represented as a blindfolded woman with scales in one hand and a sword in the other. We can recognise this image in Lady Justice and in arcanum 11 (or 8) of the tarot: Justice.

When we meet fellow humans who, like Job, are desperate because they are deeply troubled, it is not charitable nor helpful to point to this law of karma and suggest that their plight is of their own making. In this way we would not help them but only make their misery greater. Moreover, in our state of narrow consciousness, we can never know why something happens to anyone. In
addition to individual karma, there is also a collective karma that must be paid out, including family karma, group karma and world karma. That is why it is correct that Elihu reprimands Job’s friends when they call Job a sinner and a hypocrite.

In the same vein, we can also understand why Jesus says in his Sermon on the Mount: ‘Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured unto you’ (Matthew 7:1-2). And in this light also the answer of Jesus to his disciples becomes clear when they ask him why someone was born blind. In the Gospel of John we read: ‘And his disciples asked him, saying, Rabbi, who sinned, this man, or his parents, that he should be born blind? Jesus answered, Neither did this man sin, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him’ (John 9:2-3).

What receives attention, grows

In the story of Job Satan is thus an angel who puts people on the right path and in this sense is certainly not evil. Are there actually evil powers? Oh yes! It is important that we are aware of them, so that we do not fall prey to them. That does not mean that you have to delve into this subject, because then you would directly connect yourself with them with disastrous influence. What receives attention, grows. Or, as the saying goes: ‘When you talk about the devil, you tread on his tail’.

In all kinds of images and paintings, the devil and his demons are often portrayed as grim creatures who are more like animals than humans, and who seek to seduce, mislead, frighten and hurt people. Fortunately they do not exist in the sensory perceptible world but in the astral world they can certainly be experienced as such.

In all world religions, evil powers are recognised and designated as a personification. Hinduism speaks about Ravana. In Buddhism, Mara is the big trickster. Siddhartha Gautama resisted him in his meditation under the bodhi tree, and so transformed into the Buddha. Within Zoroastrianism Ahriman is the god of darkness and evil. In Islam, Satan is referred to as Shaitan. Judaism and Christianity speak of him as a morning star fallen from the sky and as a dragon that was cast out of heaven by angels under the command of Archangel Michael (Isaiah 14:12-15 and Revelation 12). After his baptism in the river Jordan, Jesus resisted the three temptations of Satan in the desert (Matthew 4:1-11).

In the New Testament there are several passages that warn of evil forces and give practical instructions how to exclude them.

  • The devil was a murderer from the beginning, and standeth not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. (John 8:44).
  • Satan fashioneth himself into an angel of light. (2 Corinthians 11:14)
  • Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:11-12)
  • Be sober, be watchful: your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour. (1 Peter 5:8)
  • Be subject therefore unto God; but resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (James 4:7)

In Reflection 7 we will go deeper into this subject. Something that we experience at a certain moment as unpleasant can later be experienced as a blessing. This principle is nicely illustrated by the following comparison of rabbi Abraham Twerski.

‘Lobsters are soft creatures in a hard shell. When a lobster grows, this casing will feel uncomfortable after a while, like a too-tight armour. The lobster gets stressed. He retreats under a stone, throws off his armour and forms a new, larger casing. Until, once again, that new casing starts to pinch again and the lobster starts to feel the stress again and has to hide for a while under a stone to free himself. If lobsters had doctors, they would never grow. Because they would give him a pill and he would feel all right again. We need to realise that times of stress are signals for us to grow.’