by Michael Maciel
Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.
– Exodus 20
In the days before video when no one carried smartphones in their pockets, young athletes would worship photos of their heroes, which they would cut out of sports magazines and tape to their bedroom walls. The photos were freeze-frames of fluid movements, and each captured moment would become an icon, an ideal to strive for. Unfortunately, a still photo is hard to mimic without sacrificing the gracefulness of live action. Today, athletes can see replays of their moves before they even catch their breath. This, more than improvements in equipment, is perhaps the biggest reason for the exponential rise in athletic performance.
Too often, our hopes and dreams, our ideals and goals, both for ourselves and our loved ones, are little more than still shots. They are images engraved in our mind, ideas stuck in time that simply do not relate to our current life circumstances. We have ideas about what marriage looks like, what success looks like, what health looks like, ideas that are usually more theoretical than practical. And when we base our knowledge of the present solely on what worked in the past, we violate nature’s prime directive: adapt to changes or die.
Whenever we base our spirituality on the concepts of others, ideas we read in books, or the traditions of our faith, which might be hundreds if not thousands of years old, we run the risk of idolizing images that no longer serve us. Our philosophies become like statues, unable to move, unable to breathe, and unable to have any real effect in our lives. For life more resembles a video with light and color and sound than it does a photograph. Life is a living thing. It moves and breathes, it ebbs and flows, it is born, grows, explores, and then retires, and finally sleeps, only to reawaken and begin again. Is it any wonder that the Ten Commandments, which are truly iconic, would be a living, breathing presence in our spiritual life rather than a set of prohibitions written in stone?
One of religion’s greatest contributions to the spiritual evolution of humanity has been the moral code. This is undeniable. But to say that religion is only about morality is to deny its primary purpose, which is to awaken us to our innate divinity, our creative potential, to empower us to rise above the robotic laws of nature and find our place at the right hand of God as co-creators, in love, in joy, and in harmony. This is our true estate, which the moral code was designed to prepare us for but was in no way intended to be the summit of our aspirations. Such a belief would be the equivalent of going to college for the sole purpose of acquiring knowledge with no intention of ever pursuing a career and putting that knowledge to work. What would be the point?
As the second step in the Law of Mind, “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image” cautions us not to get too attached to what we think we want, because as we focus on it, it will, as night follows day, reveal to us aspects of itself we could not have imagined. The closer we come to realizing our ideal, the more it reveals its true nature. What success looks like from the starting blocks looks vastly different from how it looks as we sprint towards the finish. The journey towards our goals is always a growing experience, an unfolding wisdom, and a fine-tuning of our judgment as to what is truly valuable and what is truly vain. The effort itself provides the fires of transformation, and the first thing to get transformed is our understanding of what all the effort was for.
In reality, there is no finish line. Life is continuous and ever-evolving at the point of being. There is no statue carved out of stone waiting for us like some kind of cosmic trophy. What we achieve through prayer becomes the next level as we spiral upwards in our endless journey of spiritual evolution. Every end is a new beginning—forever.
Perhaps it’s because we learned the Ten Commandments in Sunday School as children that we tend to regard them in childish ways, instead of one of the most sophisticated spiritual documents ever written. Just as the First Commandment is the profound principle of focusing on our highest conception of divinity, so the Second Commandment prepares us to blow right through it when we finally get there. When the scholars tried to foist their fossilized ideas of heaven onto Jesus, he said with the wisdom of one truly alive in God, “He is not the God of the dead but the God of the living.” It doesn’t get any more profound than that.
It helps to remember that Moses, the author of the Ten Commandments, was trained in the Egyptian Priesthood, the same mystery school that understood the cosmos and built the Pyramids as its reflection, using knowledge that the best and brightest of today’s scientists can’t figure out. So don’t be blinded by vain imaginings of cultural and scientific superiority. We may be superior in some ways, but when it comes to understanding and using the powers of the soul, we are mere children.
Books by Michael Maciel