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From Bethlehem to Calvary - Chapter Two - The First Initiation - The Birth at Bethlehem

Before we take up a definite consideration of these great initiations, it might be of value to touch upon one or two points in connection with the subject as a whole. So much peculiar and unsound teaching on the matter is being given out at this time, and so wide is the general interest, that a measure of clear thinking is badly needed, and attention should be called to certain factors which are frequently overlooked. It might be asked at this point, "Who is the initiator? Who is eligible to stand before Him and to pass through an initiation?"

It cannot be too clearly emphasized that the first initiator with whom a man has to deal is, ever and always, his own soul. Many esoteric schools and teachers direct their teaching and their aspirants towards some great Master Who is supposed to prepare them for this step, and without Whom no progress is possible. They forget that it is not possible for such a Master even to contact a man in this relationship until he has made a clear and definite contact with his own soul. It is on the level of awareness which is that of the soul itself that those who can help are to be found, and until we have, as individuals, penetrated into that state, it is not possible for us to be brought into intelligent touch with those who normally function there. Initiation relates to consciousness and is merely a word which we use to express the transition which man can make out of the consciousness of the fourth or human kingdom, into the fifth or spiritual kingdom, the kingdom of God. Christ came to reveal the way into that kingdom.

This initiating soul, as we have already seen, is called by many names in the New Testament, and in the other religions it is called by a terminology suited to the time and temperament of the aspirant. Where the Christian disciple speaks of "Christ in you, the hope of glory," (Col., I, 27.) the Oriental disciple may speak of the Self or the Atman. The modern [42] schools of thought speak of the ego, or the higher self, the real man, or the spiritual entity, whilst in the Old Testament reference is made to the "Angel of the Presence." A long list of these synonyms could be compiled, but for our purpose we shall confine ourselves to the word "soul" because of its wide use in the West.

The immortal soul in man prepares him for the first initiation, for it is this soul which manifests upon earth as the "infant Christ" and appears in man. This is the new birth. That which has been slowly gestating in man comes at last to birth, and the Christ, or soul, is born consciously. Always the germ of the living Christ has been present, though hidden, in every human being. But in due time and season the infant soul makes its appearance, and the first of the five initiations is made possible. The work proceeds, and the Christ-life unfolds and develops in the man until the second and third initiations take place. At that time, as many believe, we are initiated through the instrumentality of the Christ, and in full waking consciousness the initiate stands in His Presence and sees Him face to face. Browning expresses this truth in the great poem Saul when he says:

"Oh, Saul, it shall be
A Face like my face that receives thee; a Man like to me
Thou shalt love and be loved by, for ever: A Hand like this hand
Shall throw open the gates of new life to thee!
See the Christ stand!"

After the third initiation, the Transfiguration, when the personality has been subordinated to the soul, or the indwelling Christ, and the glory of the Lord can shine forth through the medium of the flesh, we are faced with the supreme achievement of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. Then, we are told, that mysterious Being, spoken of in the Old Testament as Melchizedek, and as the Ancient of Days, will play His part and initiate us into the still higher mysteries. Of Him we are told that:

"This Melchizedek, King of Salem, Priest of the Most High God [43] ...was, in the first place, as His Name means, King of Righteousness, and besides that, King of Salem (that is King of Peace). Being without father or mother or ancestry, having neither beginning of days nor end of life... He remains a priest in perpetuity.)"
- Hebrews, VII, 1-4, Weymouth Translation.

He is the One Who receives the initiate and superintends the higher transitions of consciousness which are the reward of the tests triumphantly undergone. He is the One Whose "star shines forth" when the initiate enters into light.

There are therefore three initiators: first, a man's own soul, then the Christ of history, and finally the Ancient of Days, the one in Whom "we live, and move, and have our Being." (Acts, XVII, 28.) These ideas are interesting when we realize that out of the five initiations there are three which seem, and naturally so, to be of supreme importance. In the life of Christ there are episodes which represent great points of attainment, all climaxing cycles and initiating new ones. These are the first initiation, the Birth; the third initiation, the Transfiguration; and the fifth, the Resurrection. There is in nature some mysterious value which is connected with the first, the third, and the fifth - the beginning, the middle point and the climaxing consummation. As has been pointed out, "it is the intervals, not only between the base note, the major third and the perfect fifth, or those which distinguish the quaver from the semi-quaver, which enable us to build up a symphony or song." Between these high points, in the intervals of which the details are given us in the Gospel story, the work is carried on which makes the later achievements possible. We are primarily considering in this book the technique of the entrance into the kingdom of God. That kingdom exists, and birth into it is as inescapable as birth into the human family. The process is a sequential proceeding from gestation until, in "the fullness of time," the Christ Child is born; the soul begins to manifest on earth, and the life of the disciple and initiate begins. He passes from stage [44] to stage until he has mastered all the laws of the spiritual kingdom. Through birth, service and sacrifice the initiate becomes a citizen of that kingdom, and this is as much a natural process connected with his inner life as are the physical processes in their connection with his outer life as a human being. These two go on together, but the inner reality eventually comes into manifestation through the sacrifice of the human to the divine.

The initiate is not simply a good man. The world is full of good men who are probably a long way from being initiates. Neither is the initiate a well-meaning devotee. He is a man who has added a sound intellectual understanding to the basic qualifications of a sound moral character and devotion. Through discipline he has coordinated his lower nature, the personality, so that it is a "vessel meet for the master's use" (II Timothy, II, 21.), that master being his own soul. He knows that he walks in a world of illusion, but is training himself whilst doing this to walk in the light of the soul, realizing that in service to his fellowmen and in forgetfulness of self he prepares himself to stand before the portal of Initiation. Upon that path he meets those who, like himself, are learning to be citizens of the kingdom.

This has been the knowledge and the message of all true Christians down the centuries, and their united testimony bears witness to the reality of the kingdom, to the fact that those who seek it truly can find it, and that those who make enquiry as to its existence shall not be disappointed. The way into the kingdom is found by questioning and answering, by seeking and finding, and by the obedience to that inner voice which can be heard when all other voices are stilled.

When that voice is heard we come to a consciousness of the possibilities ahead and take the initial step towards that first initiation which leads to Bethlehem, there to find and meet with Christ. Within ourselves we find God. In the cave of the heart the divine life can be felt throbbing. Man discovers himself to be one of a vast number who have undergone the [45] same experience, and through the process of initiation he gives birth to the Christ. The "infant life," newborn into the kingdom of God, starts on the struggle and the experience which will lead him step by step from one initiation to another till he too has attained. Then he also becomes a teacher and an expression of divinity, and follows in the footsteps of the Savior, serving the race, sounding the needed note, and helping others to reach the point he has reached. The path of service and cooperation with the divine will become the purpose of his life.

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