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Christ in Evolution

March 11th, 2019

Unfolding Creation
Sunday, March 10, 2019

God will wipe away all tears from their eyes; there will be no more death, and no more mourning or sadness. “Now I am making the whole of creation new, . . . It is already done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.” —Revelation 21:4-6, Jerusalem Bible

Contrast this passage (repeated in Revelation 22:13) from the very end of the Bible with Christianity’s recent notions of Armageddon, Apocalypse, or Rapture. God keeps creation both good and new—which means always going somewhere even better or, in a word, evolving. God keeps creating things from the inside out, so they are forever yearning, developing, growing, and changing. This is the generative force implanted in all living things, which grows things both from within—because they are programmed for it—and from without—as they take in light, nutrition, and water.

If we see the Eternal Christ Mystery as the symbolic Alpha Point for the beginning of “time,” we can see that history and evolution indeed have an intelligence, a plan, and a trajectory from the very start. The Risen Christ, who appears in the middle of history, assures us that, all crucifixions to the contrary, God is leading us somewhere positive. God has been leading us since the beginning of time and even includes us in the process of unfolding (Romans 8:28-30). We are invited to be a “New Humanity” (Ephesians 2:15b). Christ is both the Divine Radiance at the beginning and the Divine Allure drawing and attracting us into a more positive future. We are thus bookended in a Personal Love—coming from Love and moving toward an ever more inclusive Love. The Book of Revelation brilliantly names this “Alpha” (first letter of the Greek alphabet) and Omega (last letter).

Maybe you personally do not feel a need for creation to have any form, direction, or purpose. After all, many scientists do not seem to ask such ultimate questions. Evolutionists observe the evidence and the data and say the universe is clearly unfolding and still expanding at ever faster rates, although they do not know the final goal of this expansion. But Christians should believe that the overarching vision does have a shape and meaning—which is revealed from its inception as “good, good, good, good, good” and even “very good” (Genesis 1:10-31). How did we ever get from that to any notion of “total depravity”? The biblical symbol of the Universal and Eternal Christ, standing at both ends of cosmic time, was intended to assure us that the clear and full trajectory of the world we know is an unfolding of consciousness with “all creation groaning in this one great act of giving birth” (Romans 8:22).

As Christian philosopher Beatrice Bruteau (1930–2014) put it:

The conclusion seems to be that to share in the divine life I must accept the vocation of consciously living in this self-creating universe. . . . [This] means that I need to know something about the whole thing, how it works, how it’s moving, how to take my place in it, make my meaningful contribution to this general improvisation.

Joining in [God’s] creative work is really central to the whole contemplative enterprise. Cosmogenesis—the generation of the cosmos—can be seen, as Teilhard de Chardin saw it, as “Christogenesis,” the growth of the “ever greater Christ.” This Christ has been “growing in stature and wisdom” (Luke 2:52; read “complexity and consciousness”) these last dozen or so billion years and is nowhere near finished yet. [1]


The Pattern of Evolution
Monday, March 11, 2019

Perhaps the reason it is so hard for us to see the evolution of the Cosmic Christ in our individual lives and in the arc of history is that this groaning and this giving birth (see Romans 8:22) proceeds by a process of losses and gains, and the losses are very real. There is no doubt that history goes three steps forward and two steps backward, but thank God there seems to be a net gain. We may be more aware of war, racism, classism, genocide, and ignorance around the world today, yet violence is actually declining. [1]

When a new level of maturity is found, there is an immediate and strong instinct to pull backward to the old and familiar. This is even included in the Biblical text, which is crucially important to understand. Thankfully, there is always a leaven, a critical mass, a few people who carry the momentum toward healing and wholeness. This is the Second Coming of Christ: Christ embodied by people who can no longer live fearfully, hatefully, or violently. There are always some who have been transformed by Love, by the Christ Mystery. This is the corporate shape of “salvation.”

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881–1955) wrote: “Everything that rises must converge.” [2] In other words, evolution moves toward unity. Along the way there will be differentiation and complexity, but paradoxically, that increased complexity moves life to a greater level of unity at a higher level, until in the end there is only God who is “all in all” (see 1 Corinthians 15:28).

With greater differentiation and complexity there will also be pushback, fear, and confusion. We see this in our current political climate in the United States and much of the world. It mirrors Newton’s Third Law of Motion that “every action elicits an equal and opposite reaction.” Today many people are reverting to nationalistic thinking, denial of climate change, the stoking of fear and hatred, rather than imagining solutions to very real issues of poverty, immigration, injustice, and other forms of suffering.

What can we do in the face of resistance? I believe contemplation or nondual consciousness can help us approach change with creativity, openness, and courage. Thomas Berry (1914–2009), a Catholic priest and eco-theologian, envisioned our species coming together around a shared story of the universe. While he knew the transition would be challenging, Berry held out hope:

. . . [T]he basic mood of the future might well be one of confidence in the continuing revelation that takes place in and through the earth. If the dynamics of the universe from the beginning shaped the course of the heavens, lighted the sun, and formed the earth, if this same dynamism brought forth the continents and seas and atmosphere, if it awakened life in the primordial cell and then brought into being the unnumbered variety of living beings, and finally brought us into being and guided us safely through the turbulent centuries, there is reason to believe that this same guiding process is precisely what has awakened in us our present understanding of ourselves and our relation to this stupendous process. Sensitized to such guidance from the very structure and functioning of the universe, we can have confidence in the future that awaits the human venture. [3]

Finding God Everywhere

March 8th, 2019

This Is My Body

Finding God Everywhere
Friday, March 8, 2019

Yesterday I shared theologian Sallie McFague’s model of the universe as the body of God. Let’s continue exploring this concept and its implications. McFague writes:

We know God—we have some intimation of the invisible face of God—through divine incarnation in nature [what Franciscans call the first Bible] and in the paradigmatic [i.e., model] Jesus of Nazareth, in the universe as God’s body and in the cosmic [universal] Christ.

. . . Each of these forms of the incarnation [reveals] divine immanence and transcendence [i.e., that God is both within all things and beyond all things]. . . . When we contemplate the wonders of evolutionary history in both its smallest and greatest dimensions, through a microscope or a telescope, what we grasp is a concrete experience of awesomeness that comes as close as may be humanly possible to experiencing immanent transcendence or transcendent immanence. Suddenly to see some aspect of creation naked, as it were, in its elemental beauty, its thereness and suchness, stripped of all conventional names and categories and uses, is an experience of transcendence and immanence inextricably joined. This possibility is before us in each and every piece and part of creation: it is the wonder at the world that young children have and that poets and artists retain. It is to experience the ordinary as extraordinary. This is experiencing the world as God’s body, the ordinariness of all bodies contained within and empowered by the divine.

Our model has also suggested another way that divine transcendence and immanence join: in the body of Christ, the cosmic Christ. As Dorothee Soelle comments on the parable of the Good Samaritan [Luke 10:29-37]: “God is, as it were, lying in the streets, if only we could learn to see.” [1] The radicalization [“deeply planted” like a root; radix is Latin for root; the term did not first connote fanatical or extreme as it often does today] of transcendence in the Christic paradigm is the incognito appearance of Christ wherever we see human compassion for the outcast and the vulnerable. Radical love for the “unworthy”—the foreigner lying injured on the road (or a destroyed rainforest, the few remaining individuals in a species, or a hungry child)—is also an image that melds divine transcendence and immanence. God is present when and where the oppressed are liberated, the sick are healed, the outcast are invited in. Just as every flower or insect is the body of God if we can learn to see it as such. There is nothing novel about this suggestion; in fact, it is biblical to the core, for as we read in Matthew, “just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (25:40). Our only addition is to suggest that the least of the family members must include, in our time, the other creatures of the earth and even the planet itself.

The Universe its the Body of God

March 7th, 2019

This Is My Body

The Universe Is the Body of God
Thursday, March 7, 2019

The bread and the wine together are stand-ins for the very elements of the universe, which also enjoy and communicate the incarnate presence. Authentically Eucharistic Christians should have been the first to recognize the corporate, universal, and physical nature of the “Christification” of matter. Unfortunately, too often the bread and wine are largely understood as an exclusive presence, when in fact their full function is to communicate a truly inclusive—and always shocking—presence. A true believer is eating what he or she is afraid to see and afraid to accept: The whole universe is the body of God, both in its essence and in its suffering.

Theologian Sallie McFague (b. 1933) presents an excellent model of the universe as the body of God. She writes:

We have suggested that God as the embodied spirit of the universe is a personal/organic model that is compatible with interpretations of both Christian faith and contemporary science, although not demanded by either. It is a way of speaking of God’s relation to all matter, all creation, that “makes sense” in terms of an incarnational understanding of Christianity and an organic interpretation of postmodern science. It helps us to be whole people within our faith and within our contemporary world. Moreover, the model does not reduce God to the world nor relegate God to another world; on the contrary, it radicalizes both divine immanence (God is the breath of each and every creature) and divine transcendence (God is the energy empowering the entire universe). Finally, it underscores our bodiliness, our concrete physical existence and experience that we share with all other creatures: it is a model on the side of the well-being of the planet, for it raises the issue of ethical regard toward all bodies as all are interrelated and interdependent. . . .

Whatever happens, says our model, happens to God also and not just to us. The body of God, shaped by the Christic paradigm, is also the cosmic Christ—the loving, compassionate God on the side of those who suffer, especially the vulnerable and excluded. All are included, not only in their liberation and healing, but also in their defeat and despair. Even as the life-giving breath extends to all bodies in the universe, so also does the liberating, healing, and suffering love of God. The resurrected Christ is the cosmic Christ, the Christ freed from the body of Jesus of Nazareth, to be present in and to all bodies. The New Testament appearance stories attest to the continuing empowerment of the Christic paradigm in the world: the liberating, inclusive love of God for all is alive in and through the entire cosmos. We are not alone as we attempt to practice the ministry of inclusion, for the power of God is incarnate throughout the world, erupting now and then where the vulnerable are liberated and healed, as well as where they are not. [1]

Bodily Knowing

March 6th, 2019

Wednesday, March 6, 2019
Ash Wednesday

Mutual desiring and indwelling is the intended impact of the Eucharist. We know that Jesus often referred to himself as the “bridegroom” (John 3:29; Matthew 9:15), and one of his first recorded acts of ministry was partying at a wedding feast (John 2:1-11), creating 150 gallons of intoxicating wine out of dutiful waters of purification! We also know that the very erotic Song of Songs somehow made its way into the Bible, and its images of union have been precious to mystics from the earliest centuries. Yet much of later Christianity has been rather prudish and ashamed of the human body, which God took on so happily through Jesus and then gave away to us so freely in the Eucharist.

The Eucharist is an encounter of the heart, knowing Presence through our own offered presence. In the Eucharist, we move beyond mere words or rational thought and go to that place where we don’t talk about the Mystery anymore; we begin to chew on it. Jesus did not say, “Think about this” or “Stare at this” or even “Worship this.” Instead he said, “Eat this!”

We must move our knowing to the bodily, cellular, participative, and thus unitive level. We must keep eating and drinking the Mystery, until one day it dawns on us, in an undefended moment, “My God, I really am what I eat! I also am the Body of Christ.” Then we can trust and allow what has been true since the first moment of our existence. We have dignity and power flowing through us in our bare and naked existence—and everybody else does too, even though most do not know it. A body awareness of this sort is enough to steer and empower our entire faith life, while merely assenting to or saying the words will never give us the jolt we need to absorb the divine desire for us.

This is why I must hold to the orthodox belief that there is Real Presence in the bread and wine. For me, if we sacrifice Reality in the elements, we end up sacrificing the same Reality in ourselves.

The Eucharist is Christians’ ongoing touchstone for the spiritual journey, a place to which we must repeatedly return in order to find our face, our name, our absolute identity, who we are in Christ, and thus who we are forever. We are not just humans having a God experience. The Eucharist tells us that, in some mysterious way, we are God having a human experience!

Read these familiar words, perhaps inspired by Teresa of Ávila (1515–1582), aloud a couple times and let its message sink in to your marrow:

Christ has no body now, but yours.
No hands, no feet on earth, but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which
Christ looks compassion into the world.
Yours are the feet
with which Christ walks to do good.
Yours are the hands
with which Christ blesses the world.

This Is My Body; Holy Blood

March 5th, 2019

This Is My Body
Holy Blood
Tuesday, March 5, 2019

As if eating his body weren’t enough, Jesus pushes us in even further and scarier directions by adding the symbolism of intoxicating wine as he lifts the cup and speaks over all of suffering humanity, “This is my blood.” Jesus then dares to say, “Drink me, all of you!” It’s utterly scandalous language that has been domesticated by overhearing.
During Jesus’ time, contact with blood would typically mean ritual impurity for a Jew. How daring and shocking it was for Jesus to turn the whole tradition of impure blood upside down and make blood holy! And what an affirmation of the divine image within women—whose menstruation was often considered unclean.
One of the things I’ve learned from studying male initiation rites around the world is that startling, vivid rituals can have great psychic effect. Some examples of these rituals include symbolic drowning, digging one’s own grave, marking with ashes, and even the now outdated slap that bishops used to give at Confirmation—all intended to shock us into realization.
There’s a real difference between mere ceremonies and life-changing rituals, as my friend Fr. Jim Clarke taught me. [1] Ceremonies normally confirm and celebrate the status quo and avoid the shadow side of things. For example, on July 4 in the United States, we celebrate Independence Day with fireworks and parades to show we’re “proud to be an American,” while never acknowledging colonists’ genocide of Indigenous Peoples, the enslavement of Africans, how our over-consumption has contributed to planetary devastation, and other ways our “freedom” has cost others. We are not allowed to note these things without being considered unpatriotic or even rebellious. True sacred ritual is different than mere ceremony because it offers an alternative universe, where the shadow is named and drawn into the light. Sadly, most groups avoid real life-changing and healing rituals—even the church.
While many Eucharistic or communion services usually seem rote and ceremonial, being fully present to its symbolism can and should startle us. While the experience of eating Jesus’ body and blood can be comforting, it should also be deeply discomforting. Many mystics and liberation theologians have recognized that by inviting us to drink wine as his blood, Jesus is calling us to live in bodily solidarity “with the blood of every person whose blood has been unjustly shed on this earth, from the blood of Abel the Holy to the blood of Zechariah” (Matthew 23:35). These are the first and last murders noted in the Hebrew Bible. In the act of drinking the blood of Christ at this Holy Meal, we are consciously uniting with all unjust suffering in the world, from the beginning of time till its end. Wherever there was and is suffering, there is the empathy and healing justice of God—and we are joining with God insofar as we can. “This is all my blood!” Jesus is saying and we are agreeing.
I can see why Christians celebrate the Eucharist so often. This message is such a shock to the psyche, such a challenge to our pride and individualism, that it takes a lifetime of practice and much vulnerability for it to sink in—as the pattern of every thing, not just the bread and wine. Every thing is in Christ and Christ is in every thing. There is only one suffering, and it is the suffering of God. There is only one love, and it is all the love of God.

This Is My Body

March 4th, 2019

God’s Body
Sunday, March 3, 2019

As I shared earlier, the prologue to John’s Gospel gives us a wonderful vision of the Christ Mystery. [1] John uses the word Logos, which I take to mean blueprint. It is the inner pattern of reality, revealed in Jesus and in creation. Let’s take a closer look:

In the beginning was the blueprint. The blueprint was with God. The blueprint was God. And all things came to be through this inner plan. [The inner reality of God is manifest in the outer material world. That is why we can consider creation to be the Body of God.] No one thing came to be except through this blueprint and plan. All that came to be had life in him. [Now it’s become personalized: in him, in Jesus. So, this great universal mystery since the beginning of time now becomes specific in the body and the person of Jesus. The blueprint has become personified and visible.] And that life was the light of humanity (John 1: 1-3).

At the Last Supper, when Jesus held up the bread and spoke the words “This is my Body,” I believe he was speaking not just about the bread right in front of him, but about the whole universe, about every thing that is physical, material, and yet also spirit-filled. His assertion and Christians’ repetition resound over all creation before they also settle into one piece of bread to be shared. The bread and wine, and all of creation, seem to believe who and what they are much more readily than humans do. They know they are the Body of Christ, even if many Homo sapiensresist and even deny such a thought. When celebrants speak these sacred words at the altar, they are speaking them to both the bread and the congregation—so they can carry it “to all of creation” (Mark 16:16). As St. Augustine (354–430 CE) preached, we must feed the Body of Christ to the people of God until they know that they are what they eat! [2]

We also are the Body of Christ, as is all of the universe. The Apostle Paul used a perfect metaphor: “As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit. . . . Now you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it” (1 Corinthians 12:12-13, 27). I love to think of every flowing stream, every waterfall, and every river as “baptizing” the physical universe, washing away its inability to know how glorious it is. (Read a few Mary Oliver poems if you want to get the same message.)

You Are the Body of Christ
Monday, March 4, 2019

Christ is the eternal amalgam of matter and spirit as one. They hold and reveal one another. Wherever the human and the divine coexist, we have the Christ. Wherever the material and the spiritual coincide, we have the Christ. That includes the material world, the natural world, the animal world (including humans), and moves all the way to the elemental world, symbolized by bread and wine. The Eucharist just offers Christians the message in very condensed form so we can struggle with it in a specific and concrete way. We cannot think about such a universal truth logically; we can only slowly digest it! It is the spiritual version of healthy eating and nutrition.

Only gradually does the truth become believable. Finally, the Body of Christ is not out there or over there; it’s in you—it’s here and now and everywhere. The goal is then to move beyond yourself and recognize that what’s true in you is true in all others too. This was supposed to spark a political and social revolution. But Christians wasted centuries arguing about whether it could even be true and how it might be true. The orthodox insistence on “Real Presence” is merely taking the Mystery of Incarnation to its natural, full, and very good conclusion. Here I am quite happy to be traditionally Catholic. “There is only Christ, he is everything, and he is in everything,” Paul shouts (see Colossians 3:11). This is not pantheism; it is the much more subtle and subversive panentheism, or God in all things. (The only trouble with our Catholic belief in “transubstantiation” is that this explanation smacked of pantheism, whereas panentheism would have been much easier to defend and understand.)

You and I are living here in this ever-expanding universe. You and I are a part of this Christ Mystery without any choice on our part. We just are, whether we like it or not. It’s nothing we have to consciously believe, although that sure helps and seems to accelerate the enjoyment. Incarnation is first of all announcing an objective truth. If we consciously take this mystery as our worldview, it will create a deep contentment and inherent dignity in those who trust it. It gives us all significance and a sense of belonging as part of God’s Great Work—no exceptions. We are no longer alienated from God, others, or the universe. Everything belongs from the beginning. And it has always been pure, undeserved gift. The utter gratuity of it all is what we cannot comprehend!

Participating in Christ allows me to know that I don’t matter at all, and yet I matter intensely—at the same time! That’s the ultimate therapeutic healing. I’m just a little grain of sand in this giant, giant universe. I’m going to pass from this form in a little while, just like everyone else will. But I’m also a child of God and part of the eternal Body of Christ. I’m connected radically, inherently, intrinsically to the Center and to everything else. I call this “ontological holiness” as opposed to the moral holiness most of us were taught and inside of which no one really succeeds.

Christ in Paul’s Eyes; A Bigger Story

March 1st, 2019

Christ in Paul’s Eyes

A Bigger Story
Friday, March 1, 2019

To legitimate our religion’s status in the Roman Empire, Christians felt that we had to prove that Jesus was independently divine. After the Council of Nicaea (325), Jesus was said to be “consubstantial” with God, and after the Council of Chalcedon (451), the church agreed on a philosophical definition of Jesus’ humanity and divinity as being united as one in him. All true, but such oneness largely remained distant academic theory because we did not draw out the practical and wonderful implications for humanity.

As a rule, Christians were more interested in the superiority of our own group or nation than we were in the wholeness of creation. Our view of reality was largely imperial, patriarchal, and dualistic. Things were seen as either for us or against us, and we were either winners or losers, totally good or totally bad—such a small self and its personal salvation remained Christianity’s overwhelming preoccupation up to now. This is surely how our religion became so focused on obedience and conformity, instead of on love in any practical or expanding sense.

Without a Shared and Big Story, all humans retreat into private individualism for a bit of sanity and safety.

Perhaps the primary example of Christians’ lack of attention to the Christ Mystery can be seen in the way we continue to pollute and ravage planet Earth, the very thing we all stand on and live from. Science now appears to love and respect physicality more than most religion does! No wonder that science and business have taken over as the major explainers of meaning for most people today (even many who still go to church). Christians did not take this world seriously, I am afraid, because our notion of God or salvation didn’t include or honor the physical universe. And now, I am afraid, the world does not take Christianity seriously.

Hope cannot be had by the individual if everything is corporately hopeless.

It is hard to heal individuals when the whole thing is seen as unhealable.

We are still trying to paddle our way out of this whirlpool—with a very small paddle! Only with a notion of the Preexisting Christ can we recover where this Jesus was “coming from” and where he is leading us—which is precisely into the “bosom of the Trinity” (see John 1:18). “I shall return to take you with me, so that where I am you also may be” (John 14:3), the Christ has promised. That might just be the best and most succinct description of salvation in the whole New Testament.

Inseparable

February 28th, 2019

Christ in Paul’s Eyes

Inseparable
Thursday, February 28, 2019

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. —Romans 8:38-39, New Living Translation

Did you ever notice that Jesus tells the disciples to proclaim the Good News to “all creation” or “every creature” (Mark 16:15), and not just to humans? Paul affirms that he has done this very thing when he says, “Never let yourself drift away from the hope promised by the Good News, which has been preached to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become the servant” (Colossians 1:23). Did he really talk to and convince “every creature under heaven” in his short lifetime? Surely not, but Paul knew that he had announced to the world the deepest philosophical ground of things by saying that it all was in Christ—and he daringly believed that this truth would eventually stick and succeed.

I have never been separate from God, nor can I be, except in my mind. I would love for you to bring this realization to loving consciousness! In fact, why not stop reading now and just breathe and let it sink in? It is crucial that you know this experientially and at a cellular level—which is, in fact, a real way of knowing just as much as rational knowing. Its primary characteristic is that it is nondual and thus an open-ended consciousness, which does not close down so quickly and so definitively as dualistic thought does.

Regrettably, Christians have not protected this radical awareness of oneness with the divine. Paul’s brilliant understanding of a Corporate Christ, and thus our cosmic identity, was soon lost as early Christians focused more and more on Jesus alone and even apart from the Eternal Flow of the Trinity, which is theologically unworkable. Christ forever keeps Jesus firmly inside the Trinity, not a later add-on or a somewhat arbitrary incarnation. Trinitarianism keeps God as Relationship Itself from the very beginning, and not a mere divine monarch.

In Christ

February 27th, 2019

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Paul summarizes his corporate understanding of salvation with his shorthand phrase “en Cristo,” using it more than any single phrase in all of his letters (over 100 times). En Cristo seems to be Paul’s code phrase for the gracious, participatory experience of salvation “from the beginning” (see Ephesians 1:3-12), …………

Ephesians 1 New Living Translation (NLT)

This letter is from Paul, chosen by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus.I am writing to God’s holy people in Ephesus, who are faithful followers of Christ Jesus.May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace. All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ.Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. 7 He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding. God has now revealed to us his mysterious will regarding Christ—which is to fulfill his own good plan. 10 And this is the plan: At the right time he will bring everything together under the authority of Christ—everything in heaven and on earth. 11 Furthermore, because we are united with Christ, we have received an inheritance from God,[c for he chose us in advance, and he makes everything work out according to his plan. 12 God’s purpose was that we Jews who were the first to trust in Christ would bring praise and glory to God. 13 And now you Gentiles have also heard the truth, the Good News that God saves you. And when you believed in Christ, he identified you as his own, by giving you the Holy Spirit, whom he promised long ago. 14 The Spirit is God’s guarantee that he will give us the inheritance he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people. He did this so we would praise and glorify him.

………….the path that he so urgently wanted to share with the world. Succinctly put, this identity means humanity has never been separate from God—unless and except by its own negative choiceAll of us, without exception, are living inside of a cosmic identity, already in place, that is drawing and guiding us forward. We are all en Cristo, willingly or unwillingly, happily or unhappily, consciously or unconsciously.

Paul seemed to understand that the lone individual was far too small, insecure, and short-lived to bear either the “weight of glory” or the “burden of sin.” Only the whole could carry such a mystery of constant loss and renewal. Paul’s knowledge and experience of “in Christ” allowed him to give God’s universal story a name, a focus, a love, and a certain victorious direction so that coming generations could trustingly jump on this cosmic and collective ride.

I hope that Christians will come to enjoy the full meaning of that short, brilliant phrase, because it is crucial for the future of Christianity, which is still trapped in a highly individualistic notion of salvation that ends up not looking much like salvation at all. Paul calls this bigger divine identity the “mystery of his purpose, the hidden plan he so kindly made in Christ from the very beginning” (see Ephesians 1:9-10).

Every single creature—the teen mother nursing her child, every one of the twenty thousand species of butterflies, an immigrant living in fear, a blade of grass, you reading this meditation—all are “in Christ” and “chosen from the beginning” (Ephesians 1:3-4, 9-10). What else could they be? Salvation for Paul is an ontological and cosmological message (which is solid) before it ever becomes a moral or psychological one (which is always unstable). Pause and give that some serious thought.

An Interior Faith

February 26th, 2019

Christ in Paul’s Eyes

An Interior Faith
Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Describing his encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus in his letter to the Galatians, Paul writes a most telling line. He says, “God revealed his Son in me” (Galatians 1:16, JB, NIV). This high degree of trust, introspection, and self-confidence was quite unusual during a time that was more extroverted and literal. In my opinion, this is why the first fifteen hundred years of Christianity did not make much of Paul. Except for the rare Augustine and many of the Catholic mystics and hermits, it took widespread literacy and the availability of the written word in the sixteenth century to move believers toward a more interior Christianity, both for good and for ill. [1]

Note Paul’s primary criterion for authentic faith: “Examine yourselves to make sure you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you acknowledge that Jesus Christ is really in you? If not, you have failed the test” (2 Corinthians 13:5). So simple it’s scary! Paul’s radical incarnationalism sets a strong standard. He knew that the Christ must first of all be acknowledged within before Christ can be recognized without as Lord and Master. God must reveal God’s self in you before God can fully reveal God’s self to you.

It’s important to remember that Paul is just like us in never knowing Jesus in the flesh. Like him, we only know the Christ through observing and honoring the depth of our human experience and gaining new eyes. When we can honor and receive our own moment of sadness or fullness as a gracious participation in the eternal sadness or fullness of God, we recognize ourselves as a member of this one universal Body.

Thus, Paul shows that we too can know Christ’s infinitely available presence through our own inner dialogue, or the natural law, which is “engraved on our hearts.” Quite daringly, he declares that even so-called pagans, “who do not possess the law . . . can be said to be the law” (see Romans 2:14-15). This is surely why he spoke to the well-educated Athenians of “The Unknown God . . . whom you already worship without knowing it” (Acts 17:23). Paul likely inherited this idea from the “new covenant” to God’s people: “I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts” (see Jeremiah 31:31-33). (This idea remained largely undeveloped until a natural law was sought out by the moral theologians of the last century—and now in Pope Francis’ strong understanding of individual conscience.)

Paul merely took incarnationalism to its universal and logical conclusions. We see that in his bold exclamation: “There is only Christ. He is everything and he is in everything” (Colossians 3:11). If I were to write that today, people would call me a pantheist (the universe is God), whereas I am really a panentheist (God lies within all things, but also transcends them), as were both Jesus and Paul.