It’s the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine)
When we reclaim the original resonance and intent of power words, we are liberating the language of our divine inheritance from political bastardization. The true idea of ‘repentance’ — more correctly, metanoia — was made precisely for this time of mob justice and corrupt systems.
“All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”
T he crazy street preacher shaking his fist inside a human sandwich board used to be a caricature. The lunatic fringes have gone mainstream and the social media echo chambers resound with violent accusation. The end is not nigh; it’s here already. That’s why fire-and-brimstone sermonizers traditionally urged us to “repent”, before it was all too late. In our current theatre of the absurd, repentance has taken on a new ideological cast. Mob justice urges public shaming, so we may cower under the same dark obelisks of guilt and disgrace erected by religious fundamentalists. Such strange bedfellows only amplify the collective cognitive dissonance.
Yet the word repent itself is a mistranslation of a much nobler idea, just as our present impasse may well be obscuring the new world at hand. I am not arguing for the reassertion of repentance. Quite the opposite. When we reclaim the original resonance and intent of power words, we are liberating the language of our divine inheritance from political bastardization. The true idea of repentance was made precisely for this time of mob justice and the exposure of corrupt systems.
So let’s go back first, because “repent” has a storied history. In the gospel of Matthew, the verb “repent” is the very first word spoken by Jesus. In Mark, repent is the cornerstone of his first statement. “ ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news.’” (1:15) It is reasonable to expect that Jesus used his words precisely and that he was laying out his platform on public debut, so it has weight and heft, this word, a grand significance.
Sermon on the mount: Etching by Jan Luyken from the Phillip Medhurst Collection of Bible illustrations housed at Belgrave Hall, Leicester, England
Metanoia: A new operating system
Repentance is a translation of the Greek noun metanoia, literally beyond (meta) the mind (nous). Superficially, it means a change of heart or mind, to turn around, but the meta of metamorphosis, for example, also connotes expansion and even transcendance. At the beginning of his preaching ministry, when Jesus says (in Matthew 4:17), “Repent [metanoeō], for the kingdom of heaven has come near”, the verb form, metanoeō, acts as a kind of emphatic that prefigures the following words.
Nous in classical Greek means mind or heart. Yet this is not the analytical mind but the mind of higher perception — the eye of the heart. French theologian and philosopher Jean-Yves Leloup writes that the nous was regarded as “the finest point of the soul”, or even “the angel of the soul”, that bridged dimensions. “It [nous] gives us access to that intermediate realm between the purely sensory and the purely spiritual,” he writes. This realm between God and human is where a living deity can communicate with us.
As usual, Jesus appears to have been speaking on multiple levels. Metanoia is not a mere turning around, but a change in how we perceive reality itself while in direct communication with the cosmic mind.
In a very real sense, it allows us to view ourselves and life from the shared perspective of God. If that’s not a game-changer, I don’t know what is. When Jesus prefigures his statement with metanoeō, he’s revealing exactly where heaven can be found and it’s not where the listener has been taught to look.
The kingdom of heaven cannot be found in the future, not in some promised land, and not after revolution. That’s a radical idea in the ancient Jewish world and it’s a radical idea now: it’s not about loyalty or choosing sides. The new world is revealed right where we are, regardless of outer appearances. If we can look through the eyes of the heart — into the realm of pure consciousness — this other order of reality can be perceived. It is perennially “at hand” and Jesus is the vehicle for the always-here kingdom to “come near”, simply by virtue of drawing attention to it.
‘An extraordinary mistranslation’
So why was the sin-soaked word repent used as the translation of metanoia. Because it was the closest fit. This rendering has been called “an extraordinary mistranslation” (Treadwell Walden), “an utter mistranslation” (J. Glentworth Butler), a “linguistic and theological tragedy” (A. T. Robertson), and “the worst translation in the New Testament” (John Albert Broadus). According to Walden, there is a precise Greek word for repentance as it’s understood as regret or remorse for what has occurred, metameleia, yet it was not the word used by Jesus.
Metanoia is not just a fundamental shift in consciousness. It doesn’t inspire a new way of living so much as change the very ground on which living is based. But to perceive and receive this “kingdom”, we need a new operating system with an entirely new mode of perception, which means death for the old ways of seeing reality.
This is where our present doomsday cult comes into its own. What if the new world we are seeking wants us, as much as we want it, until all such separation consciousness breaks down?
The sheer force of attraction would buckle external forms of the old operating system, and deprogram the inetrnalized ones after a critical threshold of cognitive dissonance had been passed: when it became more uncomfortable not to see than to see.
In a therapeutic setting, it’s understood that the client can only see what they can afford to see: a clear reckoning of the wreckage and maladaptations of trauma can only keep pace with the building of inner resilience at the risk of a healing or existential crisis. The old operating system has been knitted onto our nervous systems over generations, so even positive change and enlightened awareness is perceived as a threat. But as any good therapist knows, a breakdown is the fertile ground for breakthrough. We are well past the tipping point. If there are no internal structures to allow for uncomfortable seeing, then it is the very new world pointed to by metanoia that becomes the holding ground for the collective’s awakening.
In the gospel of Thomas, Jesus says: “[The kingdom] will not come by watching for it. It will not be said, ‘Look, here! Or ‘Look, there!’ Rather, the Father’s kingdom is spread out upon the earth, and people don’t see it.” By training our awareness on the kingdom that is not here or there — and by withdrawing our sovereignty from the whole sordid spectacle playing out on the world stage — we are in effect ensuring that awakening occurs in the safest manner possible. With nothing to push against, any individual has a threshold for how much dissonance they can withstand, before seeing becomes the only option. Polarization only delays that moment of breakdown/breakthrough. This, I believe, is the esoteric meaning of the Middle Path, but never in human history has it become so imperative.
Withdrawing sovereignty does not mean ignoring or refusing to engage in enlightened action. It means not confusing the two orders of reality.
In the pre-Christian world, metanoia was personified as a cloaked goddess who sowed regret. She is wistful and sad, lamenting a lost opportunity. Walden writes that this metanoia symbolizes “sorrow of a godly kind”. Metanoia has also been translated as conversion. To turn around, or change one’s heart and mind, has never had a more theatrical example than Saul’s meeting with Christ on the road to Damascus. Saul’s experience is so earth-shifting, so paradigm-busting, so upside-down-turning, that the old world is shattered in its wake. Sums can be converted. But when human souls are on the scale, we need a full-bodied language more worthy of the exchange.
Beyond the mind, and beyond the political will of the ego to divide life into sides, our new world is always at hand. Perceiving it through the eyes of the heart is not a private affair; instead, metanoia opens a clear view beyond the ruins of the decaying operating systems and makes it available for everybody. Semantics matter, more than we know. Until sacred words that have been coopted and bastardized are spoken in their rightful way, what they reveal, in the collective mind, cannot be seen. This is how we ‘word’ our new world into being.
Many have asked, when will the fabric of a new dimensional reality appear? I believe it will appear at exactly the same time that mass consciousness needs somewhere to project its awareness to, after both the old normal and the proposed new normal are seen as transparently corrupt. With such sovereign human attention directing consciousness, it cannot help but appear. The end is indeed nigh, and so therefore is the beginning.