The Narrow Gate

This is the first of two Lenten-themed musings

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the path that leads to destruction, yet many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the path that leads to life, and only a few ever find it.”

These enigmatic words of Jesus (Matthew 7:13-14) lend themselves to several interpretations. Jesus used an analogy, as he so often did when explaining spiritual truths. And his profound words can be viewed as both cautionary and encouraging.

For a spiritual aspirant, Jesus’ message is very clear on two levels of interpretation: exoteric, and esoteric. In terms of the former, any legitimate spiritual path must lead to “life”; that is, it must lead to God, to spiritual illumination, to enlightenment. Any such path will always be small and narrow; i.e., few and far between. And typically it requires that we undergoing transformations which result in a change to our conduct and character. When we are enlightened, we are not going to be the same person we are now. We must commit ourselves wholeheartedly to our path, come what may. If we are serious, we will shed unproductive behaviors and mindsets as we journey on our path. But this vital inner work should not be viewed as if some kind of melancholy drudgery. St. Teresa of Ávila advised, “God save us from gloomy saints!” We would be wise to follow her good counsel.

On an esoteric level, some spiritual traditions posit the existence of a subtle body. This is familiar to anyone who has undergone acupuncture, which works on meridians, invisible to the eye, but are part of one’s subtle body. Many energy healing modalities attempt to achieve healing by working on the subtle body. Within one’s subtle body, some traditions based in India further theorize there is an intense spiritual energy, known as kundalini, which, when awakened by spiritual practices, ascends through a subtle energy channel located inside the spine. This energy is similar to Shekhinah in Kabbalism and the Holy Spirit in Christian doctrine. When it awakens, it must pierce several knots along its upward ascent, until it reaches the top of the crown where it confers unimagined dimensions of ecstasy on the aspirant. Now, it is certainly a stretch to assume that Jesus meant this. But this inner esoteric process simply has a parallel that corresponds to Jesus’ words.

Circling back to the exoteric interpretation, if we don’t enter through the narrow gate, a path that leads to God, we’ve basically wasted our human life; hence we are on the path to destruction. In other words, we’re not making any spiritual progress, which is the purpose of our human life.

Two paths: narrow leading to life, and wide leading to destruction; that is, a conscious forfeiture of our opportunity for spiritual advancement. Which path will we walk?