Two Facets of a Religion

As we are fully involved with our imminent reissue of author-philosopher-historian Gerald Heard’s magnum opus, The Five Ages of Humanity (formerly titled The Five Ages of Man), I thought I’d dip into my spiritual-writing archives and, inspired by Heard, post a brief excerpt from an essay I originally delivered at the inaugural meeting of an informal study group on comparative religion that I moderated in Northern California in the 1980s. Two Facets of a Religion was first presented on July 24, 1986, and below is one section, which I’ve slightly revised.

The philosopher Gerald Heard likened the contemplative life to that of the pure researcher and the active life to that of the applied researcher. While both aspects are needed in a balanced spiritual life, one will naturally be drawn to one or the other, based on their temperament. However, there are weaknesses to which both approaches can succumb if one is followed to the exclusion of the other.

A contemplative life with no outer expression can become a self-oriented, rather than a God-oriented concern. Thus, the very purpose of such a life is defeated. An active religious life that is devoid of an inner connection with God soon loses the very foundation upon which it must stand.

Without the balancing influence of the other, each approach ceases to be dynamically infused with a panoramic vision of purpose. When one path is followed while excluding the other, it can lead to a partial spirituality. But together, both approaches form an interdependent relationship – each drawing from the other and reciprocating back to the other – as shared components of a single, comprehensive expression of one’s spirituality.

What is needed, then, is a decompartmentalization of these two facets that would allow for both to exist simultaneously without conflict or cyclical swings. In this context, the fourteenth century Flemish Christian mystic John Ruysbroeck wrote in his Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage of “the third way” whereby an aspirant “meets God without intermediary.” In this balanced, heightened spiritual state, “God comes to us without ceasing … and demands of us both action and [mystical] fruition, in such a way that the one never impedes, but always strengthens, the other. And therefore the most inward person lives their life in these two ways: namely, in work and in rest. And in each he is whole and undivided; for he is wholly in God when he rests in [mystical] fruition, and he is wholly in himself when he actively loves.” And, according to Ruysbroeck, “This is the highest degree of the interior life.”

From Two Facets of a Religion by John Roger Barrie, Copyright © 1986 John Roger Barrie. All rights reserved.

4 thoughts on “Two Facets of a Religion”

    • Thank you, Elizabeth. How true! Such balance can indeed be elusive, but with continued aspiration, as many saints demonstrate, it can often seamlessly, almost imperceptibly, integrate into our lives.
      John Roger Barrie


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