Posts Tagged ‘spirituality’

MARK 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,

‘This people honors me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
    teaching human precepts as doctrines.’

You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”

14 Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: 15 there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.”

21 For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, 22 adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

It’s time to ask about the dividing-line between what is essential and what is conditional or secondary in the religious life, according to the teachings of Jesus. Lest we deceive ourselves, we must not assume that for Jesus spirituality was merely a matter of what one feels inside, or how pure and noble one’s intentions might be. Jesus was intensely interested in the “fruit” of our lives, that is, in what is produced by the hands and the mouth in the form of ethical behavior. You can tell the tree by its fruit, he said on a number of occasions.

But Jesus also knew that fruit is only part of the tree, a trusty witness to the internal health of the tree, but it’s not everything. Moreover, you will frequently find when you bite into an apparently wholesome piece of fruit, that it’s mealy and rotten inside. Just so, good works may be more about the visual display than genuinely benevolent motives.

The heart, while maybe not the birthplace of our motives (that’s probably farther down), is where they gather emotional energy as attitudes and convictions. The heart is also the center of consciousness tuned into that most mysterious of all our human frequencies: love. On the continuum of human consciousness, the heart-center is situated midway between the mind-center above, which responds to the frequency of truth, and the belly-center below, where the survival concerns of life are dominant.

Between the life urgencies we carry in our bellies and the truth-claims we defend in our heads are the desires and aspirations we hold in our hearts. Our lives tend in the direction of what we love most. Is it God?

PSALM 84

How lovely is your dwelling place,
    O Lord of hosts!
My soul longs, indeed it faints
    for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh sing for joy
    to the living God.

Even the sparrow finds a home,
    and the swallow a nest for herself,
    where she may lay her young,
at your altars, O Lord of hosts,
    my King and my God.
Happy are those who live in your house,
    ever singing your praise.

Happy are those whose strength is in you,
    in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
As they go through the valley of Baca
    they make it a place of springs;
    the early rain also covers it with pools.
They go from strength to strength;
    the God of gods will be seen in Zion.

O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer;
    give ear, O God of Jacob!
Behold our shield, O God;
    look on the face of your anointed.

10 For a day in your courts is better
    than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
    than live in the tents of wickedness.
11 For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
    he bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does the Lord withhold
    from those who walk uprightly.
12 O Lord of hosts,
    happy is everyone who trusts in you.

We can say with certainty that any psalm in our Bible that refers to the temple and its courts could not have been written by David, who lived before its time. The ending of Psalm 23, about dwelling in the house of the Lord forever, makes it questionable on the list of authentic poems by the shepherd-king. Regardless, the remarkably personal and passionate spirituality that is expressed in this and other poems of the biblical collection form a continuous line of influence from David himself.

For the author of this psalm the house of God is a place of delight, where every creature can find refuge and a beauty beyond words. The poet’s heart longs to be in its sacred precincts, with songs of praise and overflowing joy.

And then there is this: Happy are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion (the mountain on which the temple stood). As he looks outward to the stream of pilgrims approaching the temple, the psalmist has a vision of the true path of approach, in the heart of every honest and searching soul.

JOHN 7:37-39

37 On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, 38 and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” 39 Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

The author of the Fourth Gospel was very careful in setting his portrait of Jesus inside a framework that revealed both his messianic relevance to Judaism and his universal relevance to the human spiritual quest. By reconstructing the “life and message” of Jesus into the Jewish yearly cycle of festivals, the author translates his significance in terms of Deliverance, Covenant, Atonement, and Kingdom of God – the major phases and layers in the identity of his people.

Water is a powerful archetype throughout the Bible – from the primordial waters of chaos, which according to Genesis is the only thing God did not create, and the streams that flowed through the garden of paradise; to the parting sea that made way for the Hebrew fugitives; to the cool refreshment that sprung from a rock in the desert; to the Jordan River that marked their entry into the Promised Land; and on into the numerous uses of water in daily hygiene and ritual purification before meals and sacred ceremonies.

There is every indication that Jesus took inspiration for his kingdom movement from the OT prophets, and his greatest influence was Isaiah. The Bible book by the same name actually spans almost two centuries, with the themes of the eighth-century BCE “First Isaiah” taken up and developed by “Second Isaiah” during the Babylonian Exile (c. 540 BCE), and then further adapted by the so-called “Third Isaiah” after the exiles returned to Jerusalem  (c. 525 BCE). The major lines of concern for all three writers have to do with social justice on behalf of the poor, suffering, and marginalized populations of empire.

In Isaiah 55 (Second Isaiah) we read:

Ho, everyone who thirsts,
    come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
    and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
    and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
    listen, so that you may live.

This sounds very much like what the Fourth Gospel has Jesus say as he calls out into the marketplace. As the religious ceremony is wrapping up and people are on their way home, Jesus invites them to an experience that is inwardly deep (the heart-center of faith, longing, and love) in contrast to the public liturgy of the festival.

External religion is not sufficient to satisfy human spiritual need. No matter how interesting or necessary religion can make itself for the individual, however many relevant services it can offer the religious consumer, it cannot save us or make us whole. The difference between (outward) religion and (inward) spirituality is like the difference between using water to wash dirt off your skin and taking a long drink after working hard in the sun.

JOHN 14:15-21

15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

18 “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”
He abides with you, and he will be in you. This simple shift from “with” to “in” marks the transforming moment of what we can call mystical experience. In fact, it’s helpful to put these two positions together with a third for a more complete picture of spiritual awakening and faith development.

So let’s begin with a third position, really first in the sequence, which corresponds to the popular view of God or Spirit as “outside” you – up there in heaven or over there in the temple sanctuary; in short, somewhere else. The category of supernatural intervention is also part of this cluster of ideas, where God is regarded as “over nature,” managing the cosmos and human history from behind the curtain, as it were.

Religion can become completely preoccupied here: coordinating the rituals, defending an orthodoxy, managing a budget, and maintaining its membership roster. In a sense, because God is outside the system, religion takes on the responsibility of carrying on in his absence. It determines who’s in and who’s out, and in many Christian traditions an emphasis on the (future) Second Coming of Jesus serves to reinforce the church’s authority in the meantime. Until the Boss gets back, we’re in charge.

So that’s the position of the divine as “outside.”

At some point faith deepens and God is encountered in a more personal way. The one who, according to the myths, made the world, stepped into history a long time ago, supervises everything from above, and will eventually wrap it all up, is also right here with me. God cares for me and maybe has a plan for my life. God wants me to reach out and get involved, to help my neighbor and do what is right.

True enough, religion can also exploit believers at this level of spirituality. How do you know what God wants? We are called, charged, and ordained to speak God’s Word into your life. You want to cultivate a personal relationship with God? Very well. Here are all the materials to help you do that – sermons, fellowships, lesson plans, retreats, mission trips, daily devotions, etc.

Pretty soon and I’m safely folded into “the program.”

Jesus guided his disciples through this descent of faith, from orthodox doctrines to a more personal quest for God. He talked about God in third person in order to make a connection with their current beliefs. But then he began to translate the divine mystery into second-person references, of you and your neighbor. Yes, God loves the world; but we need to cooperate with God’s love and help it reach those in need.

That’s as far as most religions get, if we’re lucky. As we said, they frequently fall short, getting caught up in the power trip of mind-control, expanding its facilities, and telling people what to do. Even if it does its job well, however, religion can only approach the threshold of the fully awakened spiritual life. There it must wait for the individual to emerge again from communion with God and step back into the practical concerns of daily life.

Jesus invited those who were ready for it, into a position with God where distinctions start to fall away. “The Spirit will be in you.”  Not outside of you or even with you, but deep within – deeper even than your own sense of self, as the very ground of your being. This experience of mystical communion is too deep for words to reach and express.

The thirteenth-century German mystic Eckhart von Hochheim (Meister Eckhart) declared: “The eye through which I see God is the same eye through which God sees me; my eye and God’s eye are one eye, one seeing, one knowing, one love.”

ACTS 17:22-31

22 Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. 23 For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. 26 From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, 27 so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us.28 For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said,

‘For we too are his offspring.’

29 Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. 30 While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent,31 because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

It’s questionable whether a lot of religious “objects” – presumably temples, altars, and idols – directly translates into a population being “extremely religious.” We know from our own day that the paraphernalia and even the practices of religious life do not necessarily correlate to a vibrant spirituality. A religion can be dead inside, underneath all the elaborate display and outward activity.

The gods of Greek culture were associated with the wide range of concerns in daily life. There was a god of commerce and a goddess of marriage, a god of wine and a goddess of the hunt, a god of war and a goddess of love, a god of healing and a goddess of the harvest; on and on across many domains of nature and society. Each god or goddess was represented by an emblem or idol, and since most Greek deities were anthropomorphic (human-like) in character, their associated idols were commonly statues – “formed by the art and imagination of mortals” –  set up in temples or sacred locations.

The Hebrews, on the other hand, had been a nomadic federation of tribes in their early history. Carting around an idol would have been a logistical challenge – although Yahweh’s war-box (the ark of the covenant) did serve as, or at least slip into the function of, an idol during that time. Eventually graven images and artistic likenesses of Yahweh were prohibited and violently rejected as idolatry, which refers to worshiping an idol.

A danger for the Jews, and for the Christians after them, was more a conceptual than physical idolatry – becoming so enamored of and devoted to a particular mental representation of God (in idea and doctrine), that it effectively closes down access to the divine presence. This is the mystery “in which we live and move and have our being,” which is really a definition that defies definition when you think about it.

How can you picture this mystery? How do you symbolize being itself? It would seem that the mere attempt would amount to constructing an idol.

                                                                                           

Jewish religion was really the first example of what is called ethical monotheism, a belief in one god whose primary relationship to humans is as the absolute moral authority. Yahweh demanded purity, obedience, retribution and repentance; and at some fateful time in the future, he will judge all people according to their righteousness or sin, rewarding or condemning them as they deserve.

As Christianity began as a messianic sect within Judaism, this was its basic worldview and expectation as well. As the religion got going, Jesus was simply inserted into the existing program as the long-anticipated savior and final judge. His death on the cross had paid the penalty for sin, but only for those who believe. For everyone else – all those nonbelievers – things would continue as before, with them punished according to the principle “You get what you deserve.”

Had Christianity stayed true to the life and gospel of Jesus himself, this entire system would have been thrown off by the radical force of his insistence that we don’t get what we deserve – none of us do. Instead we get grace, love and forgiveness out of the generous initiative of God. Nothing has to be earned, paid, or believed; and no membership is necessary – if it’s even possible to talk of insiders and outsiders any longer.

In fact, it could even be said that our belief in God is the last idol to set aside.

ROMANS 4:1-5, 13-17

What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness.

13 For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14 If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15 For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.

16 For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, 17 as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”)—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.

If we take Abraham as an archetype (a controlling pattern) for understanding the dynamics and progress of faith, then his relationship to God in the period prior to the Law under Moses represents a connection more “primitive” and therefore also more universal than the kind that is defined and validated in the system of religion.

The obvious analogy is the individual development each of us undergoes in our growth from infancy to adolescence. Erik Erikson named this the progression from “basic trust” to “social identity,” with the first being pre-verbal and intuitive while the later stage is more rule-bound and rational. Abraham, then, is the exemplar in Paul’s mythology of heroes of faith in its deepest dimension, coming before reward motivation and obedience to law. God called him, and he trusted. That’s faith.

It was with this deep primal faith in mind that Jesus called his disciples to “become as little children” and warned us that without such simple faith a person “cannot enter the kingdom of God.” It wasn’t a license to act childish (Lord knows we’ve got enough of that going on in our churches!) but an invitation to release ourselves in complete trust to the present grace and providence of God.

This was a point of critical importance for Paul, for he was convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that the grace revealed through Jesus was more foundational than religion itself. For that reason, it is universal and available to all.

                                                                                             

If the favor of God, according to the Christian revelation, is not our compensation or reward for obeying the law, then its “motivation” must come from elsewhere. That is to say, if it’s not my obedience to the law that wins God’s blessing on my life, then that blessing must be sheer gift, coming out of the essential generosity (grace) of God’s heart.

By seeing this transaction of grace and faith deeper down and prior to the authority of the law, and further, by acknowledging it as fully sufficient for salvation, Paul was putting religion (law) in its proper place. In this order, with grace coming before religion (and not as its benefit), he confirmed what had been fundamental to Jesus’ teachings as well.

When you see that love, grace, and forgiveness come first, then your religion takes on a whole new orientation and purpose, serving as the vehicle of your gratitude and service rather than the way of salvation you had once mistakenly thought it to be. In the spirit of Jesus’ gospel, we can say that repentance is not making ourselves worthy of God’s grace and forgiveness, but is rather the turn-around that accepts it in joy and thanksgiving.

All along and from the very beginning, the creative and redemptive current of blessing and grace has been “the one thing” that the religions have quantified and tried to manage, under the many names of God.

MATTHEW 5:13-20

13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.

14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

The righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees is a righteousness that is based on the Law. By Jesus’ time the Law had expanded from the two tablets of commandments into more than six hundred rules and regulations for governing Jewish belief and behavior.

The “law and the prophets” in Judaism formed a dual authority over the societal order and personal piety of the people. This was, in short, the orthodoxy of his day. When he began proclaiming his gospel and teaching about the kingdom of God, many were convinced that this new spirituality would pull down and do away with organized religion and its law.

Jesus knew that you can destroy orthodoxy, but only to raise another in its place. The logic why this is so is fairly straightforward. Orthodoxy is religion seen from the outside, and as long as you are working to discredit the dogmas of the system you will have to replace these rejects with others that you find more credible. Every “new spirituality” that has ever gotten a foothold in society as a challenger to existing orthodoxies has succumbed eventually to a dogmatism of its own.

Genuine spirituality is religion experienced from within. Because it isn’t about a systematic arrangement of absolute truths, a healthy spirituality doesn’t feel the need to replace one idea with another. Its principal aim is to live in God, and to live God out!

                                                                                   

“You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.” Who is? To whom is Jesus speaking in this early chapter of Matthew’s story? Not the organized church, certainly, which is not yet on the scene.

According to the narrative, Jesus is addressing “great crowds” of people who had been following him from all over Palestine. These are not “true believers,” and neither is there any suggestion that they are converts to the “system” of Jesus’ teachings. Their identity may be difficult for us to accept, but they are very simply people – human beings.

It seems that Jesus held a remarkably high view of human nature, and was of the belief that the human being is something inherently special and noble. And according to the way he was remembered as treating others, it would not be a stretch to attribute to Jesus a perspective on the human being as a potential of God.

As divine potential, a human person has inside him- or herself the powers of salt and light. Jesus called human beings the salt of the earth, and the light of the world. What significance is there to these different phrases?

Earth refers to our home planet, while the term world is used throughout the Bible in reference to the layer of human culture that encircles the earth with a halo of art, architecture, communications, commerce, science, industry and political life. The one who lives out of the divine center of what they are is like an enhancing spice among Earth’s creatures, and like a radiant lamp among the world’s people.

That kind of person can breathe new lift into religion, fresh meaning into “the law and prophets,” and thereby bring to fulfillment the old and worn orthodoxies of our day.

MATTHEW 5:1-12

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him.  Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Jesus pronounced an exceptional blessing on those who are inwardly spacious, accepting on themselves the full burden of existence, living without a sense of entitlement, pursuing honesty and integrity, reaching out and helping others in need, cultivating pure and wholesome motives, and who are working diligently and patiently for peace.

Once again, we can detect a progression here. From inside to outside, the blessed and truly happy person is one who is deeply rooted in God and compassionately involved in the world. If this is Jesus’ definition of “true religion,” then it is curiously absent of orthodoxy and ceremony – the twin forces that hold together the system of conventional religion.

But there is a price.

Since conventional religion rolls along smoothly so long as its members remain sufficiently entranced, the presence of even one awakened person who sees through all the mystification and pageantry is an intolerable threat. Soon questions will be asked and curiosity will be aroused.

And if these are not checked and thrown under judgment early enough, doubts will arise and the methods for enforcing conformity – catechism for the young and unison creeds for the standing congregation – will be exposed for the propaganda devices they are. The authoritarian system is debunked when just one dissident speaks up for truth. Actually, instead of always leading to disillusionment and collapse, this can be a moment of revelation and revival.

                                                                                  

In retrospect we can see that, while Jesus gave his full attention to the promise of individual awakening, his longer vision was of a community of such enlightened and liberated persons who together can change the world. The full picture of this salvation process reveals the shape of a circle, beginning with the individual’s complete immersion in the collective habits and beliefs of the tribe. This is the place of conventional religion.

Upon the moment of awakening, which may break suddenly or else gather more slowly over time with the accumulation of questions, doubts, and discoveries, the individual is granted a new perspective. The center of meaning shifts from the shared environment of traditions, symbols, rituals and myths, into the inner space of a deepening spirituality.

This is where the all-important “individuative-reflective” stage in faith development takes place, focusing with great intensity on the emergent need for a personal, relevant, and more mystically grounded worldview.

Finally – and this brings us full-circle, though many who make it this far choose at this point to opt out of “organized religion” altogether – the awakened one returns to the group to help in the formation of spiritual community, the corporate life of radical grace, universal compassion, and unconditional forgiveness.

But as we’ve said, conventional religion itself (and conventional society as a whole) resists and will even try to violently suppress the one who seeks the transcendent flame of truth. Better to keep that flame at a distance, framing it in our theologies and worshipping it in our sanctuaries.

If you should dare throw yourself into identity with it, as Jesus did, you’d better expect trouble with the authorities!

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.

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.