Archive for the ‘Fourth Bundle’ Category

JOHN 1:1-18

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. 15 (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) 16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

This hymn to the Divine Logos, the creative Word of God, comes directly out of the mystical stream of New Testament spirituality. If we should try to interpret its meaning using the binary logic of orthodoxy we will be thrown onto the rocks of paradox – for how can the Word be both with (alongside and separate from) God and identified as God?

Admirably, orthodox Trinitarian theology has respected the paradox by refusing to resolve the apparent contradiction in the language. But when we listen from the place of a more mystical spirituality this poem moves us into the farthest reaches of space and time, and into the essential depths of being itself.

One of the astonishing claims of the poem is that this Divine Logos is inherent to the very structure of existence itself. The idea is not simply that God spoke this Word ages ago, but that God is speaking it now. To continue in being, the cosmos must be brought forth constantly from the Void by the generative will and intelligence of the Divine.

This metaphor and analogy have a deep history in the wisdom tradition of the Bible, and we find them throughout the cultures from Asia to Africa, from ancient Greece and Old Europe to the Americas and Australian subcontinent. What we find in this perennial and universal contemplative philosophy is a sustained and imaginative reflection on the cosmic order, the mystery of time, and the harmony of existence.

Human happiness and well-being, according to this Great Tradition, is a function of living by an elevated awareness of how all things fit, flow, and flourish in the one Community of Being.

                                                                                               

So where does Jesus fit into all of this? Although it may seem a minor point to us at first, the author is careful not to draw a simple equation between Jesus of Nazareth and the Divine Logos of eternity. The technical distinction is between the essence or inner reality (the Logos) and its expression in temporal form (the man Jesus).

It’s not that Jesus is accidental to the central revelation of Christianity. Indeed, without the humanity of Jesus there would not have been a revelation to speak of. As clearly as we can manage to put it, Jesus was the manifestation in flesh of the Divine Logos that is the creative power and organizing principle within all things. The individual personality of Jesus became sufficiently transparent so as to reveal the inner reality of our human existence, of existence as such, and, beneath even that, of the very mind of God.

This myth of the Incarnation would later be developed into a full-blown doctrine of such abstraction that one might wonder whether its original insight has been all but lost on the orthodox dogma. It can often sound as if Jesus descended into this world from somewhere else, “put on” the disguise of a human appearance, did whatever he came to do, and then returned to the heavenly realm from which he came.

More consistent with John’s Gospel, and with the wisdom tradition in which he stands, it is rather that Jesus became such a clear window into the deeper mystery of being itself, such a pure voice for the primordial Word of God behind all things, and such a perfect manifestation of God’s will for the human being, that everything was seen to turn around him.

EPHESIANS 1:3-14

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. 5 He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 

7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight 9 he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 

11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14 this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

The real challenge at the threshold between trimesters two and three is to let go of all the conclusions of orthodoxy (level 2) in order to plunge into the present mystery of God. This can seem like an abandonment of the tradition theology, and we may even be made to feel as if we are forsaking God and salvation entirely. But this is only because we are, in fact, needing to progress beyond the limits drawn by the conventional doctrine of God.

If our community and its tradition is overly anxious over its orthodox definitions, we will experience its influence not as support and assistance, but as resistance and condemnation. Tragically, countless thousands have had their spiritual growth arrested and all but uprooted by the violent backlash of one dogmatic orthodoxy or other.

One misunderstanding that unnecessarily complicates an otherwise successful spiritual journey is the expectation that the mysticism of the third trimester will bring with it an esoteric, overly philosophical, or “impersonal” experience. It is assumed, for instance, that any sense of God as a dynamic reality and personal presence will need to be relinquished – and no one wants that!

But this simply isn’t an accurate rendering of the actual experience of an initiate to the deeper mystery of God. Indeed it is more frequently the very opposite: the one who releases all to the gracious ground and holy presence of God experiences the breakthrough of an unprecedented revelation. All things in God!

                                                                                                

The realization of God’s will in and through the life of a Christian need not generate an exclusionary mindset, where the purposes of God in other systems of belief, devotion, and practice are categorically denied. As we’ve already seen, this is the dangerous tendency of the second major stage of spiritual formation (orthodoxy).

With the penetration of faith into the essential mystery of God in stage three (mysticism), the need to defend an ideology has vanished – for the simple reason that truth at this point is revealed as transcending all theological systems, and as surpassing even the mind itself.

Now the experience of apotheosis, the suffusion of the whole personality with the divine, becomes the singular aspiration of the soul. It is now theoretically impossible to exclude any aspect of existence from the holy presence of God, since God is nothing less than the vibrant ground of being itself.

For the Christian whose spiritual journey has attained this level of mystical insight, Jesus Christ represents and names that long time trajectory of self-realization whereby God enters into the creation process. In Christ, the will and purpose of God have been made flesh (incarnated) and have overcome the obstacles of human ignorance, fear, and hostility.

Even now God is gathering up all things in Christ, so that nothing is left outside his redeeming love. As we die to ourselves (release the ego) and surrender to God, Christ is resurrected within us, revealed now as the truth of what we really are.

PSALM 147:12-20

12 Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem!
    Praise your God, O Zion!
13 For he strengthens the bars of your gates;
    he blesses your children within you.
14 He grants peace within your borders;
    he fills you with the finest of wheat.
15 He sends out his command to the earth;
    his word runs swiftly.
16 He gives snow like wool;
    he scatters frost like ashes.
17 He hurls down hail like crumbs—
    who can stand before his cold?
18 He sends out his word, and melts them;
    he makes his wind blow, and the waters flow.
19 He declares his word to Jacob,
    his statutes and ordinances to Israel.
20 He has not dealt thus with any other nation;
    they do not know his ordinances.
Praise the Lord!

Spirituality advances and unfolds through the course of a human lifespan according to a development logic that is well documented and represented widely across the world cultures. Using the conceptual model of trimesters in pregnancy, we have identified the critical opportunities and challenges that human spiritual growth must address and successfully negotiate in the journey to fulfillment.

In summary fashion, we can name the principal idea of God at each stage using the terms Providential Power (stage/trimester 1), Patron Deity (stage/trimester 2), and Ground of Being (stage/trimester 3).

In the first trimester our relationship to God is to One who watches over us, cares for us, and provides for our basic needs. At this stage our world awareness hasn’t yet expanded to to the point of confronting other perspectives and value systems. We simply cannot comprehend that someone else may have a notion of God different from our own.

During the second trimester, however, as alternative worldviews and lifestyles become impossible to avoid or ignore, we will typically come to the conclusion of the psalmist – that these others do not (for they can not) know the true God, who is our God.

If spirituality is allowed to progress, we will eventually come to the awareness of God as transcending (going beyond) theology altogether, while at the same time immanent to all things as the essential ground of being itself.

It seems that this sense of privilege and exclusive favor that comes during the second period is somehow necessary to a healthy spirituality – as long as it can be prevented from hardening into a self-centered fundamentalism.

JEREMIAH 31:7-14

7 For thus says the Lord:
Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob,
    and raise shouts for the chief of the nations;
proclaim, give praise, and say,
    “Save, O Lord, your people,
    the remnant of Israel.”
8 See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north,
    and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth,
among them the blind and the lame,
    those with child and those in labor, together;
    a great company, they shall return here.
9 With weeping they shall come,
    and with consolations I will lead them back,
I will let them walk by brooks of water,
    in a straight path in which they shall not stumble;
for I have become a father to Israel,
    and Ephraim is my firstborn.

10 Hear the word of the Lord, O nations,
    and declare it in the coastlands far away;
say, “He who scattered Israel will gather him,
    and will keep him as a shepherd a flock.”
11 For the Lord has ransomed Jacob,
    and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him.
12 They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion,
    and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord,
over the grain, the wine, and the oil,
    and over the young of the flock and the herd;
their life shall become like a watered garden,
    and they shall never languish again.
13 Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance,
    and the young men and the old shall be merry.
I will turn their mourning into joy,
    I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.
14 I will give the priests their fill of fatness,
    and my people shall be satisfied with my bounty,
says the Lord.

There is a critical difference in significance between those things that happen to us, those that are made to happen by us, and those that happen through us. Considered from a spiritual perspective, we might distinguish these distinct modes of experience with the words encounter, achievement, and evolution.

Each of these, in turn, calls forth from us a response that is peculiar to its own dynamic: sustained attention in the case of what is happening to us, moral commitment with respect to our goals and objectives, and radical trust in the guiding wisdom of our personal growth and transformation. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that, if only we could raise the degree of sustained attention, moral commitment, and radical trust in our lives, the world would be a totally different place.

Staying with these themes a while longer, we begin to notice that they correlate to the major trimesters in a human lifespan – youth, maturity, and late adulthood.

In the first trimester of youth our experience is predominantly focused on what is happening to us, which must mean that the skill of cultivating sustained attention is one of the major tasks of this period of development.

As we mature and find our place in the culture-play of our profession and family life, we become producers, managers, custodians, and laborers – responsibilities that call upon our moral commitment to achieve outcomes of real value and lasting impact.

And in our later years we begin to relax into being, and come to rediscover ourselves as vehicles of a timeless (but always timely) wisdom and inner peace.

                                                                                          

After a detailed explanation of the great themes and their respective trimesters of emergence in a human lifespan, we must press on to acknowledge the obvious fact that, in any given moment, life is happening to us, by us, and through us.

Furthermore, depending on where we are in our life at that moment, our urgent need and higher calling may be for greater attention, stronger commitment, or deeper trust. (The theory of trimesters in human development is still helpful nevertheless, as it highlights the shifting accent of concern and opportunity throughout the course of life.)

Jeremiah envisioned the day when God’s people, both young and old, women and men together, would join as one chorus in praising their redeemer. It is important to remember that at the time these words were being proclaimed, God’s people were languishing in exile.

To this oppressed and dispirited community Jeremiah announced that something extraordinary was going to happen, that they needed to prepare for its coming, but that its accomplishment would require their full surrender to God’s unfolding purpose through them.

In a sense, the circular path of Israel’s biography represents the journey each of us is on: beginning in God, advancing into ego-consciousness, and coming home again.