2014 Religious Trends
No, the Veil Is Not Thinning ... Except That It Is
Editors' Note: This article is part of the Public Square 2014 Summer Series: Conversations on Religious Trends. Read other perspectives from the Spirituality community here.
I don't know who you are. For all I know you clicked into this post by Googling "thin veil" hoping for the feminine form draped in translucent garb, or you could be a spiritual master looking for comic relief at the expense of this neophyte mystic, but no matter—whether you think yourself a bit of a perv or count yourself a little lower than the angels, know this: you are the dynamic face of God's creative love. You are gorgeous, uniquely qualified to express the love of God into a world starving for meaning and purpose, and to do it in a way that you and only you can.
Most people don't think of themselves that way. I don't think of myself that way much of the time, but I recognize it to be true, and I'm not the only one. For thousands of years mystics of one stripe or another have been telling us that the presence of God is as close as our breath.
The Gospel authors had that in mind. The "son of man," the new human being, modeled a life united in the presence of God, a life that articulated God's creative voice. They didn't tell those stories simply so we'd know what Jesus did. No, they told them so we'd know what our life is about, so we'd recognize the voice of Spirit erupting from within the center of our own lives.
So no, I don't think the veil is thinning. How could it when there is no veil there?
But of course something is there, something is in the way and we all know it. The scriptures suggest that something is fear. We see the consequences of that every day and it runs deep. Put a little child in a room with lots of toys. Watch what happens when a second child enters the scene. He will see a toy sitting close to the first child. You can be pretty sure that's the one he'll want. But then once that second child wants that toy, you'll see that the first child, who had no interest in that toy until the second child entered the room, will want it, and want it right now. René Girard described this persistent pattern of "mimetic violence" as a pattern built into us, driven by the fear that someone else has something of greater value than I do. It plays out in the nursery and on the geo-political stage.
Yet in spite of those facts, having stared hard at the human condition, I feel a shift taking place. It's subtle, even un-definable, and likely too slow to satisfy us, but it is as though Spirit is preparing her next evolutionary move forward. That shift gets me up in the morning; I can assure you the New York Times does not. The pain of the world it describes is relentless—mass shootings, tribal leaders with rocket launchers, despots with nuclear weapons, epidemics of mental illness and domestic abuse, young girls, the generative hope of any society, sold into sexual slavery. In the face of all that, it is that subtle shift that gets me up in the morning.
But is it really there, or am I simply projecting my dearest hope?
This is a matter of faith to be sure; such a thing cannot be proved. There is no repeatable experiment I can do to support my conclusion, but I believe it is quite reasonable to carry such hope because the conditions are being met for an evolutionary move forward. It's creation's way; it is in the nature of an evolutionary universe: stress drives evolutionary change.
Everything evolves, everything. From planetary systems to ecosystems to consciousness itself, everything evolves; even our spiritual sensibilities evolve. When stress enters a system, when things no longer work, what is next begins to emerge; the shift many are sensing, the thinning veil, is I believe, just such an emergence.
Each new creative move, each Word spoken by the one who is known with "the eye of Spirit," is characterized by three dynamics. We expect that each new creative emergence will transcend what has gone before it, but will also include what has gone before. Our neo-cortex transcends, but includes the reptilian and mammalian brains. There is increasing order and self-organization. The human nervous system is far more complex than any of the dinosaurs.
Finally, there is novelty. When the first Oxygen atom connected to two Hydrogen atoms we might have guessed they'd form a molecule, but we would never have guessed the property of "flow." It was novel.
More and more people are waking up to their role in creative change as they engage the presence of God. That's happening as the rate of change in our world climbs. Something is shifting, it is novel, and we are integral to it. That dynamic is giving us a sense that the veil is thinning. As the veil thins, we discover our obligation.
It has taken 13.82 billion years to knit each of us together in our mother's womb. Now that we have emerged on creation's stage, each of us has a unique role to play, an obligation to awaken, recognize the voice of Spirit erupting within and among us, then with courage play our part in Spirit's next move.
The Rev. Sam Alexander serves the First Presbyterian Church of San Rafael as their pastor, and also serves as adjunct instructor in Homiletics at San Francisco Theological Seminary. He is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College and Union Presbyterian Seminary.