Neville Goddard and your Imagination
I’m going to begin this Palm Sunday morning by telling you a story about a man. His name is Neville Goddard, he’s married, and he has a young daughter whose name is Vicky. So, it’s him, his wife and his daughter all living together in New York. The year is 1943, it’s the height of WWII, and he is 39 years old. From 1940 onwards is when the US Army began drafting men. At first, they were drafting about 1 in 9 men, and by 1943 this number rose to about 1 in 5, because numbers were depleting so quickly. And so in 1943 Neville Goddard is drafted. Of course, most American men, called upon to serve their country in the 1940s, driven by their sense of patriotism, accepted their call as a matter of duty. Neville Goddard was not so willing. He regarded himself at 39 to be too old for war, and he wasn’t that keen on war anyway, and on top of that he had his wife and his daughter to think about at home. But of course, he didn’t have a choice, so he was sent to Boot Camp in Louisiana. Frustrated by this as he was, after a short time he went to see his commanding officer, and he asked to be discharged. And as you might imagine, he was essentially laughed out of the room. He was told in no uncertain terms that he had a mandate and a duty to serve his country.
So, what did he do? He went to bed and imagined himself back in his home in New York with his wife and his daughter. Every night he did this. He put himself there in his mind’s eye. He did this for a few weeks, until one day, his commanding officer asked to speak to him again. He went in to see him, and his commanding officer asked if he was still looking to be discharged. Neville said that he certainly was. And so the officer said fine, and discharged him. It is very odd that he would be discharged at all, let alone in late 1943, with the Normandy landing just around the corner. Odder still is what was written on his discharge papers – it reads ‘Honourable discharge’. Reason given: he had to pursue a vital civilian occupation. It would be very interesting to learn why his occupation was deemed so vital, what went on in the commanding officer’s mind, for him justify a 180 degree turn. But sadly, that information does not exist. It has been lost. So, what I didn’t mention at the beginning is what Neville Goddard did; he was an esoteric/metaphysical itinerant lecturer. So how he ever pulled off his “vital civilian occupation” classification is a mystery. His esotericism was not part of the Blavatsky/Theosophical religion branch, but part of the broader New Thought movement. And so, sure enough, in no time at all he was back in New York, back with his family, and back on the metaphysical New York lecturing circuit. For the rest of life, he lectured, wrote books, and expounded on his metaphysical outlook, and it’s that outlook which will be underpinning our exploration of Palm Sunday this morning.
And there were shouts of jubilation, and palm branches were held up and waved, and the people proclaimed, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the one who enters on the back of a colt into the Golden City!’
We can imagine ourselves there, in the throng of the crowd. We’re swept up by it all, we can’t help the joy we feel, because we are surrounded by joy. It’s as if this person, this Son of David, here clad in white, brings with him a great possibility, and a hope which defies logic. For to enter Jerusalem, is to enter the city of love, it is to step into kingdom of love.
Percy Shelley, in the poem we heard, The Revolt of Islam, does just that - he imagines himself in the crowd:
‘And I among them, went in joy--a nation
Made free by love; a mighty brotherhood
A glorious pageant!’
He uses this imagery to exemplify the kind of public spirit of joy which captures the people in times of revolution. He has the French Revolution in mind. It’s a curious kind of joy to consider with hindsight. There’s their lofty optimism, their dreams of liberty, and thus their shout of elation, but is all that joy not annulled by the violence wrought in the name of such lofty idealism? A direct comparison can be made with Palm Sunday. Here are the crowds, they’re full of joy, their voices rise in jubilation. But in just a few short days, those same voices will shout, ‘Crucify him! Crucify him!’ So, is this joy not ashes in their mouths then? In Christianity of course, there is the metanarrative that can be laid across all these disparate events, drawing them all together into a single tapestry of meaning. There is joy, there is pain, but ultimately there is resurrection which robs suffering and evil of its sting. From this vantage, we can rejoice with those rejoicing, with this crowd, because their joy echoes through the ages. It anticipates the cosmic significance of this moment, the saviour who has come. It reflects the joy that people feel when the saviour comes and enters their own lives.
For Shelly though, being the atheist that he was, this joy cannot be redeemed quite so easily. There is no God making it all better in the end. This joy needs to be either judged and dismissed in the light of the violence wrought, or entered into and celebrated for what it is in this moment at hand. This, in effect, requires us to disregard our rational faculties. To really enter into the joy of the crowd, we have to forget that we know what is coming - the violence, the suffering, the death. But that is always the case when it comes to joy. Your own death is coming and it may very well hurt, and we could very well lose ourselves to that fact. Many people have. Or we could choose to enter into and inhabit the joy of the moment, whether that be the joy of the crowd that we rejoice with, or the joy that we bring forth as we seek to author the reality of our present, to imagine a joy-filled possibility, and step into that. So, this gets us on to strange phenomena, a central tenet of esoteric/new thought ideas, that thoughts are causative, that thoughts that we have are capable of hardening into reality. And I gave you the example of Neville Goddard, who imagined himself back with his family, and somehow the stars aligned and that deep longing of his became a reality. And you could obviously say that it was a coincidence, or that perhaps there were factors at play that we don’t know. Certainly possible. And yet, I don’t know, it just kind of seems to true to me, true in that, in less dramatic ways, I feel like I have experienced what Neville did, that I have imagined unlikely outcomes that have become my reality (at least, I would say true on one of those planes of reality I like to talk about. I also recognise the sense in which it is very much not true).
So, anyway, this week I discovered the person Neville Goddard. I heard his story, and I decided to read on, to enter his thought world, how he understood this stuff, his own experience, and the causative nature of thoughts. Neville’s central belief is that your imagination is God, that they are one and the same. And that everything you see and experience is your own mental world, pushed out into the “real world”, literally. So, there is no real, material world, there is only your imagination. So for you as an individual, Lewis does not really exist, there is not really a person here speaking, I am a projection of your imagination. What I’m saying is really your own imagination talking to itself. You are God. Your imagination is God the creator. The Bible is the same. It’s in no way historical, or anything like that, it’s a projection of your imagination, and as such the whole text acts as an allegory for you. A story told as if it was true.
So this morning, when I talked about Palm Sunday, I didn’t make reference to the historicity of the text, or draw on any theology to understand the text. The text’s wisdom is not revealed to us through this kind of study of the text; rather an appreciation of its deeper allegorical nature. In thinking about the text as allegory I looked to someone else who treated the text as allegory - Shelly being a good example, as he used this text to illustrate his own imaginative world. As an allegory I’m seeking for the text to teach me something, and when I approach a text in this way there should be a lot more creative possibility. And so the text pointed me this morning towards a discussion on joy. The standing of joy, the complexity of joy, the simplicity of joy, the importance of joy even in the face of pain and darkness. And so, Jesus enters the Golden city, and the events of Holy Week unfold, and by Friday he’s dying on the cross. And for Neville, reading this as an allegory, he believed this culmination in the crucifixion, in your crucifixion, should awaken you to a deeper reality, that you are God clothed in human flesh. That is what that death represents, that you have been deceiving yourself, and now you can wake up and recognise your own divinity.
Any kind of esoteric reading of the Bible presupposes a hidden, imaginative way, that if only you can find, or unlock, or discover, would suddenly allow you to see the text at a deeper, more meaningful level. And for Neville, it was this: to see the Bible as an allegory for you, and your spiritual development. In other words the secret of scripture is you. And so, if you are God, then like we find in Genesis, as you are a being created in God’s image, you are a creative being, and to bring things forth in your nature being expressed, to build things up, to speak things into being, in all dimensions of our lives - your pursuits are imbued with a sacred quality.
Finally then, as I wrap up this morning, I will close by giving you Neville Goddard’s two step technique, which I think obviously requires a suspension of our rational self to attempt. It is a model that mirrors the story I began with, his honourable discharge from the army. It begins by discerning for yourself your own deeply felt desire. And that may be easier said than done, because coping mechanisms often allow us to trick ourselves into believing that we want certain things that we don’t really want. A fantasy can numb the reality. But anyway, once you have reflected deeply, and discerned your deeply felt desire, and you’re able to articulate it to yourself plainly, that is step one. And step two is to enter a meditative state. Or a very relaxed, still state, even in the moments before you fall asleep. And in that state, picture a very simple scene, in which your desire has been realised. Feel yourself in the scene. Not observing the scene from the third person, not seeing your face, but experiencing the scene as you in the first person, physically, vividly, and emotionally present to it. And proceed with this with gentle persistence. I have heard it said that you cannot get to the root of Neville’s system without experimentation. So experiment! And who knows… It worked for Neville!