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Behold the Spirit: A Study in the Necessity of Mystical Religion Paperback – February 12, 1972
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Comments Upon Original Publication Of
Behold The Spirit
"I regard [the] book as one of the best -- in fact the only first-rate -- book in recent years in the field of religion. It gets to the fundamental problem, it honestly sees the weaknesses of contemporary Protestantism, and it attempts to diagnose and cure the evil in the only way a cure can be effected, namely by a doctrine with content at the basic metaphysical level.
"It also goes further than this, recognizing contributions from Oriental religion which simply are not present in contemporary Western religion. More than this it shows how the traditional Western doctrine of the Incarnation and the Atonement can be reconciled with and combined with the intuitive religion of the Orient, such as that of Zen Buddhism. These are exceedingly important and outstanding achievements."
"Behold the Spirit will, I think, prove to be one of the half-dozen most significant books on religion published in the twentieth century." Canon Iddings Bell
From the Inside Flap
This study of the necessity of mystical religion, also shows how traditional Western doctrine can be reconciled with the intuitive religion of the Orient.
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by Alan Watts
Can I discover what has my father found so influential about this book that he keeps coming back to it? What might I relate to as I read?
Behold the Spirit was an invigorating, thought provoking read about taking the incarnation of Jesus seriously. Taking the incarnation seriously means, as I paraphrase Watts, to see that union with God has already been established in creation - God has taken this first and permanent step in love. Humanity's goal or life purpose then is to become awakened to this already-present grace of God's presence and love.
The tenor of the book (and what I resonated with and believe my father might resonate with also) is that the institutional state of Christianity is more often focused on propagating or preserving itself than living into this reality - as in: the goal is to grow church membership and increase congregational activity, but little time and energy is spent on living into the present reality of God's unifying love which is already present, un-earned; it's a love that is longing for us to wake up to it so we can more and more fully live with God in the here and now.
Behold the Spirit weaves in an out of other mind-filling questions and ideas, as well as projections that Christians might look to Eastern culture and see there a capacity for living in the here and now in a way that the incarnation suggests.
Do I agree? Yes - I think what we see in Jesus as we read the Gospels is much of the time not very "Western" (however hard that is for us Westerners to hear). Many of Jesus' rhythms are something we'd find more akin to today's Eastern cultures (generally) - which means I think we in the West should approach Jesus in the Gospels first and from that, ask ourselves, "How can we step into this life of salvation and who or what can help us practice that way?"
My greatest "take away" from the book: The "mystical" life is not the crazy or esoteric fanaticism many imagine but rather an awakened ("whoever has eyes to see"), un-earned, received grace to live with and within God in the present moment - and to see that such a moment is the chief purpose of life; it is quite simply coming to see that the Kingdom of God is truly already present - God is here: Live.
Might want to add my thoughts to other reviewer opinions to get a better picture
Alan Watts died in 1973. He held degrees, including an M.A. in Theology and a D.D. He was an ordained Episcopal Priest and has been involved with some of the best Universities in the world, including a lectureship at Harvard. He also had extensive knowledge of Indian and Chinese Philosophy and Zen Buddhism.
This book was apparently written as his master's thesis in 1947. The preface to the book was revised in 1971. Many mainstream theology students have positive comments for the book, and somewhat negative comments for the preface. I read the preface a dozen times.
The book is organized in two parts. Part I covers The Epoch of the Spirit; The Gift of Union; and The Realization of Union; Part II includes The Being of God; The Heart of God; The Life of Action; and The Life of Completion.
Understanding that the book was written as a thesis helps a reader with the enjoyment of the book. Some material was included for academic reasons.
Many passages by Watts are so perceptive, so profound, and so relevant, that you may end up thinking about them for several days. It is one of the few books on my nightstand. I am very sorry I never had a chance to meet the author.
Although this book was written over 60 years ago, it is one of the most relevant books on mystical Christianity that can be obtained. I highly recommend to all interested in the subject. One problem is, that after you read it, the next book you read next will be a disappointment.
Most recent customer reviews
The author used a lot of references to ideas that I just couldn't quite put...Read more
A well thought out analysis of current and past Christianity (with his Eastern bias, of course) and then a suggestion for the future of...Read more