Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Month: June, 2015

Satan’s Empty Badassery

Satan is so bad-ass in the first book of Paradise Lost. He wakes up in hell and struts out the pithiest of sayings. Like,

Hail Horrours, hail
Infernal world, and thou profoundest Hell
Receive thy new Possessor: One who brings
A mind not to be chang’d by Place or Time.
The mind is its own place, and in it self
Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n.
(Bk. I, 250-255)

Boom! Drops the mike. On he goes, immutable God of his own internal state, right?

But when he leaves hell and the fawning gazes of his co-conspirators, he has a moment where he is more honest with himself. He gets depressed, surrounded yet untouched by the awesomeness of Eden, because

within him Hell
He brings, and round about him, nor from Hell
One step no more then from himself can fly
By change of place
(Bk. IV, 20-23)

And he eventually realizes,

Which way I flie is Hell; my self am Hell;

Poor devil. He thinks his strength is in a mind that refuses to change. But a mind that cannot change is unnatural and ill-fitting in a world where change is the only constant. He is right that the mind is its own place. But the mind that refuses to change will more likely turn heavens in hell.

With the Sufis in Toronto

Back when I was a religious man, a dear Sufi friend invited me to his prayer and meditation group. Many religious people try to avoid too much exposure from the competition, and I couldn’t blame them. We grow up with stories about unwary sheep stolen by wolves. But I rarely entertained fears that my faith could be destroyed. I believed either my truth was unshakeable and therefore priceless, or else it would prove vulnerable and I could dig deeper to find the unshakeable.

Featured imageWe met in a family apartment, and even though my friend hadn’t told the others I was coming, they didn’t bat an eye at me or my flashy yellow tie. I joined them with a guileless heart, open to whatever wisdom they had for me.

We recited mantras and slipped kidney beans into little bowls. We meditated on the colour blue with our eyes closed. We heard a woman’s simple sermon on love. I stayed in the house of the Sufis for hours, talking about Pakistan, love, and the price of mangoes. But mostly about love.

My faith shook and fell apart some years later and at first glance you’d think it was the foundational things that crumbled. But it wasn’t. The things we call foundational are usually just distinctives–the things we believe that separate us from them: Which books to trust, if any. Which prophets to venerate, if any. Which creators to call on, if any.

It’s hard to touch the fundamental parts of spirituality because of the clutter we surround them with. But the most solid things are deeper than mantras and kidney beans, richer than bread and wine. They are surer than scripture and reach further than prophecy. Those gentle Sufis knew the fundamentals and here’s the proof: If everyone in the world had their same heart, their spirituality, the kingdom of heaven would be here already.