Dr. Bob Benefield might be described as a Christian Mystic. His most recent book, Crack in the Matrix, explores mindfulness and “Christ Consciousness.” He says, “Awareness in consciousness is a key to spiritual enlightenment. This book offers a framework for examining consciousness research and one’s personal consciousness. Metaphysical and mystical states of consciousness are operationally defined and correlates of those states of consciousness are examined.”
I found Dr. Bob on the internets (as often happens for me!), and we began talking about his project and the challenges he faces as a mystical thinker in a conservative Baptist University. I asked him to guest post on Hatch* to tell us a bit about his background and experience, as well as a bit about his project. Here is part one of his story.
I grew up in the rural South in Webster Parish in the tree-laden hills of north Louisiana. I started first grade at Westside Elementary and graduated from Minden High School in 1962. I grew up in a racially segregated society. Restaurants, drinking fountains and toilets were labeled “White only” or “Colored”.
As I speak of in my book, Planning with Purpose, I was a child of a working class man who never finished the 3rd grade. My mom was teaching me about Jesus and the great plan that God had for me. Even though we were poor, I was getting the best free education that a White kid could get in Webster Parish, Louisiana. My parents did not get the educational opportunities that I go, so I was taught that getting to go to school was a real opportunity and I was to treat it as such. I must have been crazy, because going to school was wonderful to me. School was a source of recognition and encouragement for me. I even liked doing my homework!
Learning to read and to think was like opening a window of fragrant air. I loved it.
I was encouraged to succeed in school. My strengths were recognized and applauded by my teachers. I was encouraged to “study hard” and it was all related to FREEDOM and LOVE–American freedom and God’s love. The teachers in my schools encouraged me to believe in the American Dream of upward mobility. You are fortunate to be in America, they said, where you have freedom and can make something of yourself. I was taught that the United States of America was a country based on the idea of freedom. Because you are free to learn, you can do anything. It was simple: God loved America and with God, all things are possible. When it came to that dream, I hoped and I worked.
With regard to religion, I grew up in the Baptist Church: Missionary Baptist, that is. Missionary Baptists of the American Baptist Association taught that they were the true Bride of Christ and that Southern Baptists (like those at the First Baptist Church) were “a bunch of liberals.” In the American Baptist Association, each local church was independent and controlled by the voting members not controlled by the Convention or local board. Freedom and having choice at the local church level was a strong tenet of the Missionary (ABA) Baptists that I grew up with in Louisiana.
Because of my mom, I grew up believing that God had a plan for my life, a calling! Momma told me that there was a special path for everyone who made the choice to know God. Those who surrender to God are shown that path. It is the path of LIGHT. It is the path that our FATHER-GOD makes available to us. It is our calling. It is our path of heart and soul. It is our purpose for being alive. Momma always stressed to us that we had a purpose in life and that we could only know that purpose by knowing God. “Our purpose is God’s will for us,” she would say.
What a journey it has been! In Planning with Purpose I share childhood experiences that shaped my spiritual growth. The journey and my life today focus on consciousness and “the Breath, the Flow, and the Light”: You were created in the image of God.
You communed directly with God in the Garden. God gave you the gift of choice. Your choice was to be disobedient. Your choice created your separation from God. Your choice made real the illusion of the matrix. Your choice NOW can bring you into union with God in your consciousness. Christ’s choice for forgiveness created the atonement- at*one*ment- from God. Until at*one*ment, your separation continues in your consciousness. Atonement opens the door to union with God in consciousness. Your spiritual identity can be known only thru atonement. Your spiritual identity can be known only thru conscious union with God the Father.
Christ’s atonement makes that conscious union with God possible. Christ Consciousness is that conscious union with God operating. You have choice. You have choice of your awareness and your awareness of your awareness. Consciousness is God’s gift to you. Thru consciousness, God seeks to know you. Thru atonement and commitment, you can know God consciously. You are awakening to Christ Consciousness. Awakening is your choice. Fulfillment is your opportunity. In Christ Consciousness, choices become opportunity. In Christ Consciousness, choices are NEW and CREATIVE.
I currently attend St. Mark’s United Methodist Church. The focus of my church is on experiencing the presence of God and applying that knowledge in every interaction with everybody and everything. Although there are many things I do not prefer in my church, I prefer the creative over the destructive: I have learned to seek out the good (or God) in the midst of the darkness of the matrix. I do not believe there are any challenges [the church as a whole] faces that are impossible or cannot be solved with collaborative creative problem-solving strategies.
I believe that God has a purpose for me: he wants me to be fully me and open and receptive to the creative flow in all things. In my book, Crack in the Matrix, I explain my belief that mystical union with God occurs in consciousness. My life’s message seems to revolve around this today.
Mystical union occurs when you listen in silence to the message of the cosmos. From within the silence emerges a whisper-like way of knowing that is not limited to the finite boxes of metaphysical processing.
Mystical union can be experienced when you go in silent receptivity to the depths of your being. Simply seek in humble receptivity that which cannot be operationally defined and placed into a convenient box-concept. Release the box-concepts created by your ego. Release the thinking, talking, analyzing mind of the Analysis Zone of Consciousness. Release time and enter the now. Know life in the now of the Neutral Zone of Consciousness. Know the infinite eternal presence that is present. Click in receptivity and acceptance of eternal, infinite life.
Dr. Bob is in his 40-something year of college teaching. He is currently Professor of Psychology and Criminal Justice at East Texas Baptist University in Marshall, Texas. He is also Professor Emeritus at LSU-Shreveport. He has been involved as a researcher and consultant-facilitator in conflict resolution, anger management, and creative problem-solving for schools, law enforcement, and community agencies. He received the PhD from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, the MA from New Mexico State University, and the BA from Louisiana Tech University. He is currently a researcher in spiritual discernment as well as consultant and workshop facilitator promoting changes in consciousness for positive behavior change. For more information about Dr. Bob, check out http://www.crackinthematrix.com. Next week tune in for more of Dr. Bob’s discussion on the Crack in the Matrix!