Feb 112012
 

One thing I find extremely interesting is how Jesus is most typically portrayed in Western religious art, and especially in previous generations.  He is soft, thin, gentle; our kind teacher and merciful healer.  According to our contemporary stereotypes, he is remarkably effeminate!

Jesus meek and mild 1 Jesus meek and mild 2 Jesus meek and mild 5

Granted these are ethnically inaccurate pictures, and they aren’t typical in the Orthodox tradition, but they are the norm in the West for both Protestants and Catholics.  In any case, this pacifist, inclusive, forgiving, emotional, penniless Jesus, apparently also without spouse or child, hardly provides a respectable role model for the stereotypical macho American male.

Please don’t misunderstand me.  I am not saying this is the only way Jesus should ever be portrayed.   It’s important that we not ignore the Jesus who was a hardworking builder’s son, who stormed the temple, who boldly called people out for their hypocrisy, who didn’t run from his accusers.  Certainly there is a lot of dynamic and assertive strength in the Son of Man, not that those are uniquely masculine qualities.

What I mean to do is pose some questions: What has happened to that old iconic image in the mind of modern Americans, especially men?  How would most American Christians respond to a man like the traditional Jesus shown above appearing today and claiming to be the Way, the Truth, and the Life?  How have so many of us come to ignore the nobility of Jesus as a man who was heroic in large part because he refused the role of warrior?

It’s quite clear that many of us Christians prefer the vision of Christ portrayed in the Book of Revelation, the Divine warrior-king who comes to swing a sword (or pull a trigger, or drop a bomb) against all those who aren’t on the “right team.”  But is that image one we should emulate?

apocalyptic christ

That picture of Christ is as the Lord of Vengeance that many Christians have hoped and prayed would come in their lifetimes.  This is the Christ who seems prophesied to violently defeat all those who have not repented and accepted him as Master, and to extract even more than eye for eye and tooth for tooth from those who have opposed the faithful.   It’s not my purpose here to refute that vision of Christ’s return, but to point out that (even if its literal reading is an accurate portrayal of the Second Coming) intolerance, vengeance, hostility, and violence are nonetheless not what Jesus calls for in the meantime.  Instead, he teaches the exact opposite. (Matthew 5; Luke 6:17-49)  We are therefore not to make the warrior-king Christ of Armageddon a model for Christian life, let alone a model for masculinity.

So the last question I want to pose is this:  How would our society, and the world, be different if we fully celebrated and emulated the Jesus of the Gospels as a role model for masculinity?

Please do not consider these questions to be merely rhetorical.  I really am interested in your responses.

Agape

Jul 252011
 

Practice

Combining-Meditation-And-PrayerIn Part 2 we reflected on the non-dual transcendence of the one Love that is God, and the possibility that everything is therefore in some way an experience or expression of Love.  But now we turn to ponder the practical significance of these views, as we should do with all philosophical and spiritual insights and propositions, no matter how intuitively, intellectually, or emotionally certain we may be of their truth.

What difference might it make in our lives to live with faith, if not knowledge, that everything is Love?  If we carefully consider this question, we may become aware of how muddy and murky our perceptions and conceptions of Love have been, how much we have habitually judged things as either being loving or not, or perhaps how we have semi-consciously ranked things on some vague scale of more or less loving. So, if nothing else, serious regard for Love as ever-present in, even essential to, the existence of all things and acts may help us be more mindful and immediately present in our experiences and expressions of love.  This mindfulness can repeatedly confront us with our own assumptions, preferences, and expectations of Love, our own biases and prejudices about Love and its many forms. Thus, when we find ourselves reacting to an experience as though it is somehow opposed to Love, this practice begs us to look beyond the surface and deeply into the desires, motives, intentions, hopes, and fears that have shaped our judgments of it, and perhaps those that have played more external roles in the experience.  Most of us know what it’s like to see the mask of hostility on the face of a loved one, initially respond to it with our own defensive hostility, and then later discover the love that was there, even if it was only the other person’s self-love fearfully hiding behind that mask.  Love never left; we just failed to recognize it in our knee-jerk reactions of self-protection, of our own self-love. To some of us it may even be apparent that all hostility and violence in the world is the result of creatures, all acting in their own self-love, competing with each other for survival, comfort, and propagation of their species. In any case, one effect of such a practice is that it can aid us in living with greater openness to understanding others and ourselves, and thus into greater compassion and action for the wellbeing of each and all.

You probably noticed that the last statement strongly implies that a love characterized by understanding, compassion and serving mutual wellbeing is more desirable than one characterized by unchecked selfishness, defensiveness and hostility. This view seems to be something that most of humanity has always agreed with.  Still it is clear that we humans experience and express love in different ways, and that each of us tends to consider some expressions of Love more desirable than others.  We often use words like “true” or “pure” to speak of the most desirable or admirable forms of Love.  But if everything is a manifestation of the One Love, are such distinctions just illusions we should try to banish from our minds?  If all is God, then how can we justify preferring one thing over another, let alone one form of Love over another?  Wouldn’t whatever we find ugly and unhealthy be just as pleasing and acceptable to God as anything else, and, if it is, shouldn’t it be so to us as well?

To begin responding to these questions, let’s recall that non-duality does not exclude duality, but transcends and subsumes it.  Thus a non-dual spirituality does not necessarily put one in the position of denying any meaning or value in dualistic experiences and expressions of Love.  So we should not be surprised to find the mystics of every religion and tradition have asserted the desirability and importance of various virtues to the most whole human expressions of Love.  Where, then, does a Christian look for a guide to living a love that most fully and completely reflects the transcendence of Love in our ordinary dualistic experience?

Let’s consider what we know or believe about how God, or Love, has expressed Itself through this dualistic creation.  First, there is the act of creation as presented in Genesis 1 & 2.   Love somehow makes it possible for duality to manifest and reproduce itself within Love’s unity.  Acting within that duality to create humanity, our tradition asserts that Love makes us in Love’s image, breathes life into us with Love’s own Spirit, and thereby endows us with intelligence and free will, so that we might choose what to do in this creation.  So we can see that Love is creative and giving of itself and wills for its offspring to be of the same nature.

As Christians, we consider Love’s greatest gift to humanity to be the life of Jesus Christ, whom we take to be our chief exemplar of what it means to live the fullness of Love as much as humanly possible.  In one of Jesus’ most significant moments of preaching, the Sermon on the Mount, he extolled a number of virtues, such as those in the Beatitudes, and provided his own version of the law of Love for our dualistic world:

You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy.  But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!  In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.  If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much.  If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that.  But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.

Jesus speaks very clearly in this moment about how human love can come closest to Divine Love.  There is also clarity on another occasion when, speaking for God, for Love Itself, he says:

Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. … whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus also teaches that there is no greater love than laying one’s life down for others, which he then did in reflection of Love’s grace continually giving Itself to us.  Love apparently has no limitations with being Self-sacrificing, perhaps because in Its transcendence Love knows that ultimately there is nothing lost; Love knows Itself in all things.

Love, as taught and practiced by Jesus, is what all Christians, whether or not we consider ourselves mystics, are called to do. Nowhere in scripture is the ideal of Christian love more poetically extolled than in 1 Corinthians 13. In the Greek text of this chapter, in the law of Love given in the Sermon on the Mount, and in the Great Commandments given by Jesus, the term used for love is agape, or intentional, careful, gracious, self-sacrificing love that is understood to transcend all knowledge, works, faith, and hope.  Agape is also used in 1st John to say God is Love.  Jesus and the New Testament authors obviously considered agape to be the form of Love in ordinary human experience that comes closest to the fullness of Love Itself.  It may thus be considered the form of love in which all others – such as philia, eros, sturge, and xenia – are most beautifully experienced and expressed.

Finally, let’s reflect on how all of this might be more meaningful specifically in the context of mysticism.  Many of us tend to think of mysticism as being a more or less solitary practice in which one turns inward to more fully commune with God.  This is certainly a profound way to love God, yet if God is Love Itself then every experience and expression of love is, to some degree, communion with God.  To mindfully practice love in our everyday lives is therefore a mystical practice with just as much significance as, if not more than, our solitary practices.  Such a practice makes our mysticism a more complete response to the call of Christ to love God with all we are and others as ourselves, and thus toward a more complete expression of Love’s non-dual transcendence.  To give and receive Love is mystical experience, if we would only realize it.

Agape!

Maranatha!

Jul 222011
 

Love

In Christian mysticism, we acknowledge that God is ultimately a mystery while affirming it is also possible to know many things about God.  In Part 1, for example, it was suggested BlackMadonna_8that it is possible to know God is non-dual, and that God is transcendent in a way that includes immanence rather than opposes it.  Within that scope, our tradition speaks of many attributes of God that we can know, such as creativity, wisdom, understanding, mercy, justice, beauty, and so on.  But there is one word that stands above all others as the supreme attribute through which we can most fully know God, the one that encompasses all others, and that word is “love.”  Our scriptures even boldly declare that God is love.  If we are to take such scriptures literally (in this case I do), and if God is non-dually transcendent, then love must also be non-dually transcendent.  But this is a very intellectual and abstract way of coming to a position on the nature of love, and if there is truth to it then we should find it reflected in our actual lives.

The ways we experience and express love span the entire range of the human psyche and its functions: intuition, thought, emotion, sensation, and action. Love has both conscious and unconscious dimensions, and it is found both “above” in the most sublime realms of illumination and transformation and “below” in the darkest depths of instinct and inertia. Love as an agent of human reproduction encompasses the union of two, their separation, and the birth of a third.  Love can be either passive or active, and it is expressed by the gentle hand of tender caresses as well as the strict hand of punitive discipline.  Love is known in the hottest throes of passionate lovemaking and the coolest musings of philosophy (literally the “love of wisdom”).  The love of self at the expense of loving others, no matter how selfish, shortsighted, and confused it might be, is still a form of love. When we explore the ubiquity of love deeply, we can find its spark lurking within even the most unconscionable desire. Even hate, fear, and apathy, each of which might sometimes appear to be the opposite of love, are still conditions we can experience within the context of a love that isn’t merely limited to feelings of affection, confidence, and care. It is also poignant to me that we actually speak of forms of love, such that our language itself reveals at least a vague apprehension of a single love that transcends the different ways we experience, express, and conceptualize love.  Even the Greeks, who were the source of much of our language about love, didn’t always hold clear and consistent distinctions among the various forms of love they discerned, including agape, eros, philia, sturge and xenia. Plato’s Symposium is a fascinating discussion just of eros, and the views of the participants span a very broad range of experience, expression and meaning.  (It’s also interesting to me that “love” is one of those English words that is both a noun and a verb. An entire sentence can be formed using no other word but “love”, such as “Love love, love.”  This statement means “I urge you to love love itself, my beloved.” Perhaps this is another word game, but I digress.)

In all of these ways we find evidence that love is not bound to dualistic oppositions though it is known in and through them.  Furthermore, the unconscious dimensions of love contribute to our inability to completely grasp the meaning of love.   Yes, we can know many things about love, and we can clearly see that it not only crosses all boundaries of human experience, but we also cannot deny that the whole truth of love is mysterious.  So it is that we can arrive at an understanding of love’s transcendence apart from any metaphysical speculations or extraordinary spiritual experiences.

If we take seriously the equation that God is love, the mystical assertion of the non-duality of God, and the conclusion that ordinary human experience itself reveals the non-dual transcendence of love, then we must consider the possibility that all human experiences of love, from the most spiritual to the most mundane, participate to some degree in a transcendent love that is divine, that is God (and is therefore worthy of being written as “Love” with a capital L).  Indeed, this way of thinking has led many people to conclude that everything is an experience or expression of Love.

But here is the rub:  To describe everything as an experience or expression of Love verges on a statement with as little everyday usefulness to many people as saying everything is an experience or expression of energy.  It might be true, but what difference does it make?   Does it imply that all experiences and expressions of Love are equal and worthy of no distinction in our lives?   These questions lead us directly into the practical dimensions of loving in this world, which we’ll address in Part 3.

 

Jul 202011
 

After the last series I muttered to myself about never wanting to do another series again.  Hah!   Well, here I am doing it again because, when I stopped to look at how much I had written, I found I had too much on this topic for a single post.  I sure can be a long-winded fool!  So right now it looks like this will be a three-part series, beginning with an examination of how we might understand “transcendence” in a non-dualist way, followed by explanation of what I mean by “transcendent love” in that context, and ending with a consideration for how those ideas might shape one’s spiritual practice.

Transcendence

What do we mean by “transcendent“?  In common use, and especially in spiritual circles, it usually means a state of elevation above other things.  We mystical types often speak ofdali-salvador-the-rose-8300094 transcendence as a blissful experience or state of consciousness closer to God and further, if not completely, removed from the pains of mundane existence. In short, we make transcendence something otherworldly. This expectation fits neatly into the dualistic thinking of heaven vs. earth, unity vs. separation, love vs. hate, and so on.  In that dualistic thinking we find it easy to define transcendence as otherworldly because we want to escape the part of existence we have judged to be lacking, wrong, corrupted, diseased, bad, or evil.  In short, we have a desire for a “there” we can get to in order to be away from the “here” we find unacceptable, and our notions about transcendence seem to offer us the way out.

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Buddha in the Earth Witness Posture

Let’s consider, however, that this might say more about the dynamics of our thoughts and feelings than it does about the whole truth of transcendence. Mystics of many traditions agree that it is possible to know transcendence here and now, even while living and moving in this world. They claim that the non-dual One is not only beyond our common world of seeming separation, but It interpenetrates and is present here and now in a way that defies the either/or logic we are trained to idolize. Christianity is no exception, and here are some of its messages from non-dual perspectives: God is the One in which we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28); the Kingdom of Heaven is within you (Luke 17:21), and it is also spread out over the face of the entire earth (Thomas 113); Jesus speaks of lifting a rock or splitting wood and finding him there (Thomas 77). From such a perspective it is clear that the One we call God, and thus the experience/state of being closer to God, is not limited to either/or duality; it is both beyond the world as we commonly know it and present within it.  One of my favorite analogies for such an experience/state is lucid dreaming, which means being aware that you are dreaming while you are still in the dream.  Lucid dreaming transcends the usual either/or opposition we make; it is both dreaming and wakefulness, and it is suggested this has significant relevance to mystical transcendence.

At this point, it might be objected that the non-duality of God is traditionally spoken of as both transcendent and immanent.  I appreciate this statement and have often used it.  Yet in the present context it can be seen that this statement is only another way of tackling the non-duality of God through our dualistic language and logic, and it is a way that continues to imply transcendence is apart from the here-and-now as we commonly know it.  To me, that use of the word “transcendence” fails to open to its larger meaning of climbing across boundaries, of being without limitation, and so God’s transcendence would remain limited by being conceptually opposed to immanence; a transcendence that is not also immanent isn’t fully transcendent after all.    I admit it’s a bit of a word game, but I’ve found it to be a helpful one, not unlike a Zen koan.

For Part 2: How can we understand love as transcendent in this non-dualist way?

 

Apr 062011
 

In part 2, we considered the possibility that Satan – the voice of selfishness and the temptation to take the east way out – led Jesus to confront his own sense of existential emptiness and spiritual hunger.  In doing so, it was suggested that Jesus experienced compassion for all others who suffer not only with physical hunger but with these deeper issues, and that he also realized such challenges are not best answered through temporary acquisitions the way physical hunger is by physical food. To attempt satisfying our spiritual needs in such ways would be to put economic power above faith.   It was further suggested that Jesus realized our emptiness and spiritual hunger are not wrongs to be righted, not lackings to be eliminated, but are instead natural symptoms of our freedom and the will to live it.  There is liberation in welcoming and embracing them.

For the second and third temptations, I will offer an expanded hypothetical dialogue between Jesus and Satan.

The Second Temptation

The Adversary’s next pitch, this time for political power, amounts to something like this:

Okay, Jesus, you’ve realized your freedom and your will to do something meaningful with it.  You care deeply about all of humanity, and you realize economic power isn’t the ultimate answer.  After all, a full belly doesn’t solve all the world’s problems, does it?  So think about this:  You could fulfill the prophecies of the Messiah and rule all the nations of this world, and in doing so you could command things to be whatever you wish.  You could end all wars, stop oppression of the weak and the righteous, put an end to hunger for everyone, and make the world a utopia.  Just imagine!  The New Jerusalem!  Heaven on earth!  Now that’s something the Son of God should do, right?

This proposition has got to sound pretty good to Jesus, and we can imagine it would be an even bigger temptation than pursuing economic power alone.  But then Jesus hears something to this effect:

Of course, the rub is that all these ignorant human beings were created with free will, which means not everyone is going to want to get on board with your plans.  Unless you want rebels and insurgents undermining everything you do, you’re going to have to make everyone want to get on board.  And, to be blunt, the only way that’s going to happen is if you acknowledge the fact that it’s my spirit running the show down here.  I mean, Jesus, just look around!  Distrust, selfishness, temptation, manipulation, violence – these are things that really move people!  Embrace these principles and, with your powers, you’ll have the whole world eating out of your hand, and the rebels and insurgents be damned! Literally! Hahahahahaha!

Jesus doesn’t fall for it.  Tyranny isn’t the way to peace and love, and so  he responds:

It is written: “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.”

Jesus has realized the wisdom that a 20th century bard would express in this way:

There is no political solution to our troubled evolution. Have no faith in constitution. There is no bloody revolution. We are spirits in the material world.  (“Spirits in the Material World”, by the Police, written by Sting)

The Third Temptation

The voice of Satan doesn’t miss a beat:

Okay, okay, so it’s a religious solution you are here to provide. I can dig it!  So come with me.

Whether in a vision or in actuality, Jesus finds himself atop the temple in Jerusalem.

Look at all those people down there, thirsty for God’s grace,  hoping and praying for miracles, and making sacrifices because they believe they have to appease a jealous, angry, vengeful Father.  And no wonder!  This living hell is a long way from the Garden of Eden, and there isn’t a soul down there who doesn’t know guilt and shame.  I’ve got to hand it to you – you’re right that no amount of money and no king is going to cure those diseases.  What people need is to actually see that God really is with them right now, loving them just as they are, and that they can welcome that love and let it live through them. But what is it going to take to wake them up, Jesus?  If preaching, prophecy and rituals were enough, then things clearly wouldn’t be in such a mess, would they?

No.  What they need is just what they are praying for – a miraculous sign that makes it obvious God is among them.  If you could pull off a great miracle like that, one that would prove beyond any doubt you are the Son of God, then surely everyone will listen to you.  They’ll know how divine you are and that you speak the truth.  All believers will recognize you as the Great Shepherd, and you’ll have the kind of power to change lives that priests and preachers only dream about or pretend to have.  You could show everyone the way to peace and harmony, and they will listen because they will have seen for themselves that you and your Father are one.

Nothing would prove who you are and open the way for the one true religion better than beating death itself!  Jump off of here and let what is written in the scriptures be fulfilled. Let the angels do their duty and catch you in front of all these witnesses!  Go on! It will be a glorious and awe-inspiring event that all of humanity will remember for all time!

Then, slowly and softly, almost in a whisper, the Accuser adds:

And, if you’re not the Son of God…? Well, then you’ll die quickly in a supreme leap of faith and be freed from all of this mess anyway.

So, what do you say?

Jesus answers:

The Scriptures also say, “You must not test the Lord your God.”

This statement may seem fairly simple, but it communicates more than may be apparent at first glance.   Let’s not forget that a temptation is not tempting if one does not feel tempted.  So how is it that Jesus feels tempted?  If, as so many in the Church believe, Jesus knows beyond any doubt he is the one and only incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity, if he knows he is possessed with the most miraculous of divine powers, if he knows his path is to offer himself as the Paschal Lamb for all of humanity, then wouldn’t he know that he would survive to complete his mission?  If all of that were true, then how would throwing himself off the temple be a temptation to him and a testing of God?  This act would be tempting to Jesus because Jesus himself is very aware of his humanness and uncertain of the extent to which he is specially divine.  The voice of temptation keeps digging at him, “If you are the Son of God….”  It would be a test of God to prove, once and for all, who Jesus is, and perhaps not only to prove it to everyone else, but also to Jesus himself.    If this is not Jesus’ experience, then there would be little to no temptation or test of God in this moment atop the temple.  In the end, it seems Jesus decides to heed the laws of nature, gravity in this case, and trust God will work through him in other ways.

But what if this line of reasoning is off target and Jesus is quite certain the angels would catch him?  Why wouldn’t he add that miracle to the list of others he’s going to accomplish?  Perhaps Jesus knows such an act would only reinforce the perception that God is most with those who are born special rather than with everyone, including the poorest, the meekest, the sickest, the least of humanity.  Maybe he knows it would only make him seem more an object of worship than a teacher to emulate.  Maybe he knows that kind of confusion is already destined to become a bigger distraction from his message than he would prefer.  Perhaps he knows that even people who might witness such a miracle wouldn’t believe it, and that some of those who at first believed would in time doubt their own experience.  Maybe he knows it would very soon become another point of religious argument and division rather than one of faith and kinship.  It seems reasonable that Jesus could have foreseen all these things and, whether or not it would be a test of God, the temptation to prove God’s love through some grand miraculous event just will not send the messages he wants to send.  In the end, it seems Jesus finds the promise of religious power to also be more of a distraction than an aid to helping people welcome and live with Divine peace and love.

Jan 302011
 

I, this watching, listening, reflecting point of consciousness, in the depths of meditation experience the will opening awareness to the vast silence in which all thoughts come and go.  Attention traces back along the paths of their manifestation – from words back to images, sounds and feelings.  Through these forms it traces back to pulses of energy filled with potential and emerging from the silence as though born out of nothing.

With continued observation it becomes clear that in the silence, beyond all perception, are mysterious intelligent forces and dynamics composing those emergent pulses. In time it is discerned there are forces and dynamics of different categories, “intelligences” focused on different aims, each leaving a resonance within the pulses it sends.  Through these pulses and the forms into which they unfold, increasing familiarity finds that some of those intelligences are aware of this probing, and some of them desire to communicate and be known.

As intention and openness to communication builds on many sides, the mysterious intelligences respond at times with bursts and floods of energy pulses.  These bursts and floods stimulate imagination to unfold the most dazzling artistic displays in dreams, visions, locutions, and the like, brimming with the excitement and disclosure of newly met lovers. Growing intimacy clarifies the “voices” of various intelligences, each singing at different times in differing degrees of cacophony, harmony, or unison. Patient intention for truth eventually distinguishes within the chorus a certain voice interweaving itself in and through all the others. At first it seems only one among the many, yet it becomes realized as the one to which all others respond, as a choir does to the whispers and motions of its conductor.

With knowledge of the central wisdom and power of the intelligence behind that voice, I resolve to focus attention upon it. I make known my commitment to it and to all the intelligences that might listen, so that those which can still themselves or sing harmonious responses to that voice will do so and thereby assist me in communing with its source.  What follows is an attempt at transcribing some of our communication, freely acknowledging that my abilities to single out that voice, translate it, and understand its meaning are still in development and sometimes in error, or perhaps always so to some degree.

An Allegorical Conversation

Hello. I believe I am welcome to communicate as directly as possible with you, is that correct?

You are more than welcome, much more.

I feel awe in doing so. It is a mixture of excitement, joy, wonder, anticipation, so many feelings, but also fear, I must admit.

Yes, that’s all natural, including your fear. Be still. It passes.

Thank you.  I see that this is my response to the unknown, knowing that I cannot predict or control it. It is my lack of trust in myself to protect and preserve myself.

Yes, that fear and lack of trust stem from your desire to remain much as you are, to not die to the illusion of yourself, and the conflict of that desire with the knowledge of your limitations and the desire to be free from them, to die to the illusion of yourself as you know you must. It is simply part of your present existence that you cannot clearly discern the illusion of you from the essence that you truly are.  You know this.

Yes, I do. I wish it were otherwise.

You do and you don’t wish it were otherwise, which is fine.  In time it becomes otherwise, but outside of time it already is, always was, and always will be.  You know this, and that knowledge is what enables you to be patient with and even enjoy the illusion despite its torments.

Yes, and with that, in this moment, I sense a release from the fear of communicating with you so freely.

That’s right.  You are free to communicate with me as openly, honestly and informally as your most intimate friend, even more so.

Okay, that makes sense.  And, as in an intimate conversation with a dear friend, it naturally calls for devotion.

Yes, and with time the rapport builds.  Though there are phases in which I seem silent and distant to you, even absent, they pass so that you increasingly come to know we are present to each other in all circumstances.

I’m smiling with the thought and feeling of that.

As am I.

Hmm. I’ve wondered if you feel things like I do.

I feel everything, everything you feel, everything every creature feels, has ever felt or ever will feel.

That’s comforting, yet I cannot begin to imagine what that must be like for you.

Once when you were lucid you were asked what would happen if you didn’t imagine anything, and so for a moment you emptied yourself into complete silence and stillness, and then suddenly it was filled with golden light, as if by an explosion.

Yes! I recall it was so alive and full!  It was humming and buzzing and shining with so much energy!

That moment was a glimpse of what it’s like to feel everything all at once.

What do you call it?

Your mind might call it “Life”, “Light”, or “Logos” but your heart is already calling out another name.

Yeah, it’s “Love”, and more than I ever thought love could be.

Yes.

Love is everything. It is the Logos, the Life and the Light. Even the things I don’t always recognize as love must be Love.

Yes.

You are Love.

I am.

I want to know you, so much!

You do know me, and always have known me, and your knowing continues to grow.

Ah, yes, I have known you in so many ways, some of them lesser and some greater.

Yes, but now you know the greatness even in the least of these.

Ha ha ha ha!  Yes!  Yes, you remind me that as a child I learned to see you in the Jesus who spoke such similar words.

“Jesus loves the little children….”  You know the song.

Oh, you bring tears to my eyes!

I love you. You know it is always true.

Yes, yes, my beloved. I’m so grateful. My tears say what words cannot.

I am always with you. I know what is in your heart.

Yes, thank you.  I forget that so easily.  I am so easily distracted and absorbed in the illusions.

It’s okay. You are my child at play in the playground I have given you.  If I had not wanted you to forget yourself in play, I would not have made it so.

But there is not only joyful play here. There is labor and misery and evil here too.  Did you create these?

What I am about to tell you is only one way to comprehend this mystery, yet it is true. I create you and your kind with individuality. Into each of your beings I pour some of my love, my life, will, and creativity, and I seal it with the forgetting of its root, and then send you into the natural world with its laws, which I have ordained.  I do this so that you might be free to participate in creation with me, even to make worlds of your own.

In the forgetting of your root you sense your loss and limitation, yet the heat of my eternal being and the will to become is also there. Thus, believing you are that which is temporary and bound to space and time as you know it, rather than remembering you are that which is eternal and free, you desire to artificially make the temporal into something eternal, the illusory into the real, the relative into the absolute, and therefore cannot help but know the frustration of your desires and the fear of oblivion.

So it is that your ignorance and fear shape your understanding of things, and thus much of your relative reality, into what you call misery and evil.  Yet, I made all of this to be as it is, and though I am not bound to it, I am in it with you, within you and all around you.  I have not only sealed you with the forgetting of your root, but have also endowed you with the potential to break that seal and begin remembering me, and so begin to see love glowing through the veils that are your suffering.

If everything is love, even misery and evil, why should I care what anyone experiences or does?  Why be compassionate and ethical?

There are many ways to answer, and one way is this: Because you can’t really stop yourself.  It is part of who and what you are to want these things for yourself and others, and it would only be compounding the illusions of your life for you to pretend otherwise. This desire is part of what breaks the seal of forgetting your root. It involves recognizing your deepest self in others, for I am in each of you.  It is interwoven with your desire for the truth beyond the duality of evil and good as you know good, in that state where all is known as the Love that has no opposite.

Heaven. It’s about bringing heaven and earth together as much as possible.

Yes.

I believe all of this, but it’s still hard to understand how love can create circumstances that are sure to result in suffering. That seems more like cruelty than love.

From the perspective of separation it must seem to be so, but consider three things: First, I am with you even in that suffering, suffering with you, though in me the suffering is known as love.  Second, I only reveal the truth to you in the ways you are presently able to accept it.  Third, even to one who has awakened to remember and find union with me to the fullest possible extent, the necessity of it all shall remain a mystery, for it is such even to me, who knows it is undeniably true.

Even for you?!  Aren’t you God?!

I am.  Yet “I am” is somewhat like the awakening of consciousness from deep sleep.  It takes little attention for “I am” to know there is a still and silent One that is the transcendent source and substance of all that is possible and all that is impossible.  I am the first-born of That. I am one with That, yet I am not all It was, is or can be.

Ah, in this I hear the answer to why there is something instead of nothing: All we can know of this, all we can communicate, is that it is the mysterious will of the silent One.

Yes.

So you do not have the power to change the essential way of things?

Yes and no.  If I were to change the essential way of things, it would be the will of the One working through me, but the will of the One is for things to be as they are.

I can sense this line of questioning isn’t going to reveal much more to me.

You are free to change the subject.

Thank you. I feel this is a good place to rest, though one more question comes to mind: What if I share this with others? I know some will welcome it, but I know others will not, and I am a little fearful of how it will affect them and how they will respond.

Let go of your fear.  Remember that what they and you really are cannot be harmed, and that my love is always with you, each and all. When you share these words, some might hear it as you do and take comfort, and others might hear it as the babbling of a child and they will smile with grace. Some might hear it as a mockingbird heralding the dawn, as the howling of a dog in the night, the squealing of a hungry pig, or the taunting of a devil.  All hear as they are best able to hear, and they respond accordingly.  Go now and do what you must with love, from love, for love, and you will know me as you have said you want so much to do.

Thank you, Love.  It makes no sense to say goodbye.

Hello!

Jan 272011
 

“Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” (John 8:58)

In light of the Logos-centered Christology reviewed in Part 1, we can revisit John 14 and hear Jesus speaking to his disciples both personally and spiritually, his voice moving back and forth between the unique humanity of their loving teacher and friend and the divine universality of the Logos, and sometimes richly speaking with double-meaning:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”

Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these….

“If you love me, keep my commands. … Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”

Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?”

Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.

“All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

“You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. …”

For now I’ll leave it for you, if you wish, to work out how these various statements might fit into the view we are considering.  My concerns at this point are the keynotes in Jesus’ call to know the Logos as the Way of realizing union with God.

If Jesus is telling his disciples that knowing the Logos is the Way, then he is telling them that the Way is within themselves just as it is in him.  This is not at all surprising when we recall that he has also said the Kingdom of God is within.  If we, like Phillip, want to see the Father, Jesus is telling us we must look within ourselves, behind the mask of human personality and deep into the root of our own consciousness and being, into our own “I am-ness”, and thus come to know the Logos within ourselves.  His instruction is nothing less than a prescription for mystical practice, but a contemplative opening inward isn’t all there is to it.  Jesus is quite clear that an indispensable part of the Way is following the commands of the Logos, Its compassionate inspiration, to do loving works in the world.  Actually, this must be so because to really know the Logos that was speaking through Jesus, and that also lives and speaks in you, is to know It is present in everyone.

Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. (Colossians 3:11)

So it is that our love for others, as manifested in the works we do for others, is evidence of how much we know and love the Logos, and thus God.  The internal and the external are repaired, reintegrated, reunited by the loving grace of Logos. It’s love for us and our love for It is one and the same love flowing out and back upon Itself, as it is written in 1 John 4:7-21 (emphasis added):

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.  This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit.  And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.  If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God.  And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.  This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.  And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

God is love, and God’s first-born, the Logos, the rational animating principle, is love.  One does not truly know love without being loving, thus to love is to know the Logos and so realize union with God.  The practice of love is mystical practice; to be loving is the Way, the Truth and the Life, in silent contemplation of the One and caring for others and ourselves.  This union of both passive devotion and active participation is the bhakti yoga of Jesus Christ, as encapsulated in his assertion of the Great Commandments.  The degree to which we have such faith in and experience with Divine Love as the meaning of our unique yet interconnected lives is the degree to which we are anointed, “christed”, and have died to the illusion of separation from God and others.

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:3-4)

Of course, this way of understanding Jesus and his message is not the only way, and there are many Christians who would not agree with it.  Let it be so.  After all, love is more than the effort to “fathom all mysteries and all knowledge”.  So, to reiterate, the purpose of these reflections has not been to attack other views, but rather to offer another possibility to those who are seeking, and to greet those who are also on this way.

Maranatha!

Jan 252011
 

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

For most Christians this quote is typically supposed, with others like John 3:16, to clarify beyond any doubt that Jesus of Nazareth, son of Mary, was the one and only incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity, and from that point forward is the only guide we should trust to lead us to the Kingdom of Heaven.  Such quotes have been regarded as divine declarations that Christianity is the one and only religion acceptable to God, which has in turn been wrongly considered as justification for every form of disregard, condescension, discrimination, and cruelty against non-Christians.

But is that the only way we can understand this statement? Are there other ways of understanding Jesus’ words that make theological sense and also harmonize more completely with the message that God’s love is for all (Acts 10:34-36, Romans 2:11)?

Yes, there are such ways to understand this and other passages dealing with the divinity of Jesus, and they can make a profound difference in how we live our faith and relate to other human beings.  I am about to dive into one of those views and I caution the reader that it may be challenging to your beliefs.  Please understand it is not my intention to dissuade anyone from the common view, but instead to present an option for those who are interested, and to reach out to others who see things in a similar way.

The view presently offered begins by noting that the original Greek of the first chapter of the Gospel of John identifies Jesus as an incarnation of the Logos, which is usually translated into English New Testaments as “Word”.  Logos literally means “word”, “speech”, or “reason”, but long before the time of Jesus it had become a philosophical term, especially among the Platonists and Stoics, referring to the rational spiritual principle emanated directly from the One to animate material existence.  In this role, the Logos serves as God’s “only begotten son”, the cosmic architect and intermediary between heaven and earth.

In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God. He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  (John 1:1-3)

The Gospel of John’s view is remarkably similar to Philo the Jew of Alexandria’s identification of the Logos as the “Angel of the Lord”, or God’s messenger as mentioned in the Hebrew Bible.  Although Philo’s work was largely unacceptable to Jews of the times, early Christian theologians found much to admire in it.  Philo’s life (approx. 20 BCE to 50 CE) closely predated the Pauline Epistles (approx. 50-60 CE) and the Gospel of John (approx. 85-90 CE), and the ideas and language in these texts is at times so strikingly similar to Philo’s that some scholars have suspected more than a coincidental relationship, perhaps much more.  In any case, it remains that early Christians equated certain Jewish ideas about a messiah with Greek ideas of the Logos, and saw them embodied in the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, whom they therefore honored with the Greek title equivalent to Messiah, “Xristos”, meaning “the anointed one”.   A highly significant point in making this connection is that the Logos was considered inherently present in all creatures, which is also to say that Christ is present in all people, whether they realize it or not.

In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:4-5)

So Christ is the Logos, the rational animating principle of Spirit that is the bridge between heaven and earth, present in every human being, even those who lived before Jesus, those who have never heard his name, and those who never consider him their savior.  The simple fact that someone exists is proof of the Logos present and active within that person.  The uniqueness of Jesus is therefore not in being an incarnation of the Logos, but in being the most celebrated exemplar of one who has fully awakened to himself as an incarnation of the Logos.

From this perspective, when Jesus speaks about being the only way to the Father, he is not speaking of himself as a historical figure with whom one must be acquainted in order to be with God; he is instead speaking on behalf of the Logos that can be recognized and embraced as God’s presence in each of us, its precious unique manifestations.  The Logos is the life in our own bodies, the spiritual Breath breathed into us by God that makes us one with God, the Inner Light of mind that makes it possible to realize the depth and fullness of “I am”.

Therefore Jesus said to them, When ye have araised man’s Son, then ye shall know, that I am, and of myself I do nothing; but as my Father taught me, I speak these things.  (This is the Wycliffe translation of John 8:28, which remains faithful to the original Greek text and does not add “Him,” “He” or anything else after “I am.”)

In Part 2 we’ll look more closely into Jesus’ message about knowing the Logos as the Way to realize union with God.

Jan 212011
 

Mysterious Source, may this analogy be faithful in following the light of love back to You.

It is as though within the infinite fertile blackness of Your womb You condense the quintessence of being into the single brilliant ray that is the light of love, and this ray You direct into and through the principle of becoming.  In this way, all possible possibilities manifest as the interconnected emanations of Your immanence.  So too does each seemingly separate beam not only stream forth uniquely, but also shines as an unerring beacon leading back through the principle of becoming and the ray of love to the quintessence of being, and thus to the primal unity of You.

All creation is a fractalization, myriad reflections mirrored in extension, in and of this process.

So it must also be with the light of consciousness and the principles of religion, science, philosophy, and art – each a prism in the Soul of Humanity receiving the light of Spirit – all pouring forth unique yet interconnected rays that manifest more of Your immanence while also providing the countless paths of love leading back to Your unity in darkness, silence, and mysterious transcendence.

Jan 152011
 

Dedication

Today Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. would have turned 82 years old. Monday is the USA’s national day of remembrance for him.  It is a great privilege to have witnessed the way Spirit worked through him to directly impact the world in which so many of us lived and matured, and into which so many more have since been born and raised.  With heartfelt gratitude to him and the One who gave him to us, I dedicate today’s post to beloved Brother King, may he rest in peace.

Click here for his speech, “A Knock at Midnight” (duration 7:24).
Click here for his last speech, “Mountaintop”, given the night before his assassination (duration 1:16).

The Humanity of Jesus

Mainstream Christian theology holds that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine. Even so, many of us have been schooled in a vision of Jesus where his humanity is accounted for by little more than his birth and death in a body of flesh and bone.  Yet the Gospels and other reports of his life do indeed show us something more of the human who called himself the Son of Man.  Let’s ponder the person revealed in these passages:

As a Boy

Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”

“Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he was saying to them.

Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man. (Luke 2:41-52)

After Baptism by John

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness,  where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.

The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”

The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world.  And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”

The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here.  For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.  (Luke 4:1-13)

When Asked to Heal a Boy

On the next day, when they came down from the mountain, a large crowd met him. And a man from the crowd shouted, saying, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only boy, and a spirit seizes him, and he suddenly screams, and it throws him into a convulsion with foaming at the mouth; and only with difficulty does it leave him, mauling him as it leaves. I begged your disciples to cast it out, and they could not.”

And Jesus answered and said, “You unbelieving and perverted generation, how long shall I be with you and put up with you? Bring your son here.” (Luke 9:37-42)

After the Miracle of Feeding Four Thousand

The Pharisees came out and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven, to test him.  Sighing deeply in his spirit, he said, “Why does this generation seek for a sign? Truly I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.” (Mark 8:11-12)

Responding to Being Called “Good Teacher”

And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” (Luke 18:19)

Before Raising Lazarus from the Dead

Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, he groaned in the spirit and was troubled.  And he said, “Where have you laid him?”

They said to him, “Lord, come and see.”  Jesus wept.

Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” And some of them said, “Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind, also have kept this man from dying?”

Then Jesus, again groaning in himself, came to the tomb. (John 11:33-38)

On the Road from the Mount of Olives

As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it [because he saw that it would be destroyed.] (Luke 19:41)

In the Temple

And he found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables.  And he made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and he poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables; and to those who were selling the doves he said, “Take these things away; stop making my Father’s house a place of business.” (John 2:14-16)

Foretelling the Return of the Son of Man

“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Mark 13:32)

At the Last Supper

“Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12)

Before His Arrest

And he was withdrawn from them about a stone’s throw, and he knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from me; nevertheless not my will, but Yours, be done.” Then an angel appeared to him from heaven, strengthening him. And being in agony, he prayed more earnestly. Then his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.  (Luke 22:41-44)

Upon the Cross

And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which is, being interpreted, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34)

What are the Implications?

Other non-canonical texts even paint a picture of Jesus as a temperamental boy and then a man with a special love for his disciple Mary Magdalene. But leaving those aside, the canonical Gospels do more than enough to challenge the notion of a Jesus untroubled by normal human feelings, like: curiosity, frustration, humility, sadness, anger (even to the point of aggression!), fearful agony, and even despair.  The Gospels certainly do not portray a being fully conscious with the transcendent all-knowing mind of God Almighty; in fact, they make it clear that Jesus considered himself less than, and subordinate to, the One he called Abba.

Please understand that none of this is intended to be a denial of the divinity of Jesus or that he was an incarnation of the Logos or Second Person of the Trinity.  It is instead offered as an opportunity to rethink what such words and ideas mean, to meditate upon the mystery of how Jesus could be divine, the Light and Word of God, and also thoroughly human.  For many of us, these considerations naturally connect with considering our own natures, and in that context let’s review two more passages in addition to one previously listed:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. (John 1:1-4)

“Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are “gods”’? If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came —and Scripture cannot be set aside— what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’? Do not believe me unless I do the works of my Father. But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.” (John 10:30-38)

“Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12)

Maybe it’s enough to trust God and just sit quietly with all of this, letting Christ speak to each of us, and the Holy Spirit move each of us, as they will.