Mark Prophet used to joke about a “come as you were” party he attended in Chicago. People were supposed to dress up as one of their past-life personalities. Everyone came dressed as royalty. “There were no bricklayers or street cleaners or anything like that,” he recalled. “They had more kings and queens there…than all the stream of history ever had.”
It's hard to bring up reincarnation without focusing on people's memories of who they were in the past. I have recalled lifetimes as both famous people and ordinary people. But remembering past lives—famous or infamous—isn't really why reincarnation is important to Christianity. Although some find that past-life memories help them understand their relationships or untangle their psychology, the real value of reincarnation is simply that it implies opportunity.
It means that if a person doesn't find God in this life, he can return to try again in another life. It means that the child who dies before she has a chance to live and the soldier cut down in the prime of life can return to take up where they left off.
Almost every belief system that teaches reincarnation also includes the idea that man has the potential to become God. This divine potential is described as a seed or spark within us that needs to be nurtured or fanned so that it can develop into full godhood. Reincarnation gives us the chance to pursue that development.
It's easy to understand the concept of becoming God if we think of our latent divinity as a seed. A seed can remain dormant for hundreds or even thousands of years. But when it is nurtured by light and water, it begins to grow and blossom.
“The real unfoldment of man is to be found in the implanted divine seed,” said Mark Prophet. “And the seed is the seed of the Christ within us all. Every son of God has that divine seed implanted within him at the moment he is created.”
Mark found support for this idea in Genesis: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” He taught that the divine image is the seed of divinity within our hearts.
If you think of yourself as having a divine seed inside, then you will realize that at any time you can exercise the option to pursue and develop your godhood as Jesus did. Then you can realize that which has always been your true inner God-manifestation.
What does it mean to become God, to develop godhood? Why would someone want to do it? Mystics have described it as a process of returning to the state of primordial bliss that we knew before we ever made the choice to be separate from God. Their goal is not omniscience or superhuman powers but rather a feeling of oneness with all life. Native Americans call it skanagoah.
Today, some New Agers refer to all people as Gods and Goddesses. But that immediately raises the question: If we are Gods and Goddesses, how have we made such a mess of our world?
Ralph Waldo Emerson answered the question by describing man as “a god in ruins.” His vivid image account…for both the human frailties that hinder us and the spark that gives us divine potential.
We are unformed Gods and Goddesses. And we all have the opportunity to enter, portion by portion, into a mystical union with that divine spark. If we look at our lives as a process of reconstructing our God Self, then we can claim to be Gods in the makingrather than Gods in ruins.
How does a God in the making act? Is he distant and removed? Does he have superhuman powers?
A God in the making may be hard to spot. Superhuman powers are not a prerequisite. Rather, Gods in the making have some or all of the qualities that we call Christlike or Buddhic.
They may be calm, peaceful, humble and helpful, devoted to loving and healing.
Although they may have an otherworldly sense about them, they often retain the practicality with which to negotiate this world.
They have learned to maintain an awareness of God while engaged in all of the mundane tasks of the day.
Like sculptors, they are molding their souls after the pattern of the indwelling God. This metaphor comes to us from the Neoplatonist philosopher Plotinus, who advised, “Never cease chiseling your statue until…you have become this perfect work,…wholly true to your essential nature.”
I like to compare the process of divine union to mounting a golden spiral staircase. Bruno saw it as a journey through heavenly spheres. Plotinus described it as a journey within. Other mystical traditions also use the imagery of ascending a ladder or traveling through heavenly places. Later we will look at the Jewish and Greek images of ascent to the divine and their parallels in Christian writings.
Mystics in every religion have outlined various ways of achieving union with God.
Paul spoke of Christ being “formed” in us.
Early Christian saints practiced asceticism and sought divine visions.
Hindus have used mantras, mudras and a variety of breathing techniques, yogic postures and rituals.
Greek philosophers relied on the pursuit of knowledge.
Bruno believed the key was “the reformed intellect and will” as well as sharing in “the infinite love of the Divine.”
In future chapters we will talk more about this process of divine union.
The idea of an indwelling God is a central theme of both Hinduism and Buddhism, as is reincarnation. Taking a closer look at these ideas will help us to better understand the importance of reincarnation to Western spirituality.