Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category

The Circle of Eternity

March 10th, 2021

I once shared a happy dinner with the beloved Irish poet and philosopher John O’Donohue (1956­–2008). He passed away far too soon at the age of 52, and I imagine he was immediately welcomed into the communion of saints, living in the “circle of eternity” he describes in this passage:

The Celtic Irish tradition recognizes that the eternal and the transient worlds are woven in and through each other. Very often at death, the inhabitants of the eternal world come out toward the visible world. . . . Your friends who now live in the eternal world come to meet you, to bring you home. Usually, for people who are dying to see their own friends gives them great strength, support, and encouragement. . . .

Here we are caught in linear time. . . . Time must be totally different for the dead because they live now within a circle of eternity. . . . The Celtic mind never liked the line but always loved the shape of the circle. . . . I imagine that in the eternal world time has become the circle of eternity. Maybe when a person goes into that world, he or she can look back at what we call past time here. That person may also see all of future time. For the dead, present time is total presence. This suggests that our friends among the dead know us better than they can ever have known us in life. . . .

I believe that our friends among the dead really mind us and look out for us. Often there might be a big boulder of misery over your path about to fall on you, but your friends among the dead hold it back until you have passed by. One of the exciting developments that may happen in evolution and in human consciousness in the next several hundred years is a whole new relationship with the invisible, eternal world. We might begin to link up in a very creative way with our friends in the invisible world. . . . They are now in a place where there is no more shadow, darkness, loneliness, isolation, or pain. They are home. They are with God from whom they came. They have returned to the nest of their identity within the great circle of God. God is the greatest circle of all, the largest embrace in the universe, which holds visible and invisible, temporal and eternal, as one. . . .

In the eternal world, all is one. In spiritual space there is no distance. In eternal time there is no segmentation into today, yesterday, or tomorrow. In eternal time all is now; time is presence. I believe that this is what eternal life means: it is a life where all that we seek—goodness, unity, beauty, truth, and love—are no longer distant from us but are now completely present with us.

Wisdom beyond the Veil

March 9th, 2021

By passing along the narrow road they widened it, and while they went along, trampling on the rough ways, they went ahead of us. —Augustine of Hippo, Sermon for the feast of Saint Quadratus

I can’t imagine that God expects all human beings to start from zero and to reinvent the wheel of life in their own small lifetimes. We must build on the common “communion of saints” throughout the ages. This is the inherited fruit and gift that is sometimes called the “wisdom tradition.” (In the Catholic Church, we refer to it as the Big Tradition and it is held in the same esteem as Holy Scripture.) It is not always inherited simply by belonging to one group or religion. It largely depends on how informed, mature, and experienced our particular teachers are. CAC faculty member Barbara Holmes honors the wisdom she has been gifted by the teachers in her own faith and culture: 

I know that African foremothers and forefathers would have referred to the assembled leaders [in my book Liberation and the Cosmos] as ancestors and that the place would be understood to be “beyond the veil.” Although some folks use a very narrow definition of the word ancestor, I use the word as an indicator of legacy and interconnections. The ancestors are elders who pour their lives into the community as a libation of love and commitment. They live and die well, and when they transition, they do so in full connection with an engaged community.

Thereafter, they dwell in the spaces carved out by our spiritual and cultural expectations. They may be in another life dimension, but they connect with us in dreams, in memories, and in stories. . . .

The stories reveal a promise that the community will continue beyond the breath of one individual and that all transitions will be well attended by relatives from the other side. This is a cosmology of connection that values but also transcends cultural contexts; life is considered to be a continuum of transitions, ruptures, and returns. Those who admit that the “ordinary” is punctuated by the ineffable cherish those indescribable and nonrational events as an enigmatic but welcome gift. The fact that I grew up in a family that included the presumptions of transcendence and the unseen in our everyday lives has affected my journey in powerful ways. . . . 

The end result is that I know that I am not alone. I am connected to the past and the future by the ligatures of well-lived lives, the mysteries of “beyondness,” and the memories and narratives that lovingly bind and support me. While I hope that when I die, one of the elders in my family who have crossed over to the realm of the ancestors will be at my bedside, I certainly did not expect contact prior to that time. And yet here I am, [in my work] hearing from liberation leaders I have never personally met. They are also my elders as certainly as if they occupied a branch of my family tree. They have bequeathed to all of us a legacy of resolve, resistance, and spiritual expansiveness.

The Fullness of Time

March 8th, 2021

What some call “liminal space” or threshold space (in Latin, limen means a threshold) is a very good phrase for those special times, events, and places that open us up to the sacred. It seems we need special (sacred) days to open us up to all days being special and sacred. This has always been the case and didn’t originate with Christianity. Ancient initiation rites were intensely sacred time and space that sent the initiate into a newly discovered sacred universe.

What became All Saints Day and All Souls Day (November 1–2) were already called “thin times” by the ancient Celts, as were February 1–2 (St. Bridget’s Day and Candlemas Day, when the candles were blessed and lit). The veil between this world and the next world was considered most “thin” and easily traversed during these times. On these days, we are invited to be aware of deep time—that is, past, present, and future time gathered into one especially holy moment. We are reminded that our ancestors are still in us and work with us and through us. We call it the “communion of saints.” The New Testament phrase for this was “when time came to a fullness,” as when Jesus first announces the Reign of God (Mark 1:15) or when Mary comes to the moment of birth (Luke 2:6). We are in liminal space whenever past, present, and future time come together in a full moment of readiness. We are in liminal space whenever the division between “right here” and “over there” is obliterated in our consciousness.

Deep time, or the communion of saints professed in Christian creeds, means that our goodness is not just our own, nor is our badness just our own. We are intrinsically social animals. We carry the lived and the unlived (and unhealed) lives of our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents as far back as DNA and genomes can trace them—which is pretty far back. It does take a village to create a person. We are the very first generation to know that this is literally and genetically true. There is deep healing and understanding when we honor the full cycle of life. No wonder so many are intrigued today by genealogy searches and ancestry test kits. Many cry and laugh at their newly discovered place in a long family tree about which they knew little. 

Living in the communion of saints means that we can take ourselves very seriously (we are part of a Great Whole) and not take ourselves too seriously at all (we are just a part of the Great Whole) at the very same time. I hope this frees us from any unnecessary individual guilt—and, more importantly, frees us to be full “partners in God’s triumphant parade” through time and history (2 Corinthians 2:14). We are in on the deal and, yes, the really Big Deal. We are all a very small part of a very Big Thing! We are little happy and content fish in a huge and limitless ocean.

A Community of Holy People

In the fourteenth century, the inspired, anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing taught that God in Christ dealt with sin, death, forgiveness, and salvation “all in one lump.” It is a most unusual, even homely, phrase; for me, this corporate and even mystical reading of divine history contributes toward the unitive vision so many of us are seeking. Jesus by himself entered history as an individual, albeit a divine individual, but the Universal Christ is a compelling image for this “one-lump” view of reality.

I think this collective notion is what Christians were trying to verbalize when they made a late addition (fifth century) to the ancient Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in the communion of saints.” They were offering us this new idea that the dead are at one with the living, whether they’re our direct ancestors, the saints in glory, or even the so-called souls in purgatory. The whole assembly is one, just at different stages, all of it loved corporately by God (and, one hopes, by us). Within this worldview, we are saved not by being privately perfect, but by being “part of the body,” humble links in the great chain of history. This view echoes the biblical concept of a covenant love that was granted to Israel as a whole, and never just to one individual like Abraham, Moses, or Esther. We are often too preoccupied with the “salvation of individuals” to read history in a corporate way, and the results have been disastrous. The isolated individual is now left fragile and defensive, adrift and alone, in a huge ocean of others who are also trying to save themselves—neither assisting nor relying on one another or the whole Body of Christ.

Theologian Elizabeth Johnson, a Sister of Saint Joseph, has worked for many years to redeem and expand the Catholic understanding of what exactly is meant by the “communion of saints.” She describes it as an “intergenerational community of the living and the dead stretching across time and space and comprised of all who are made holy by the Spirit of God.” [1] She writes:

In a physical and biological sense, interrelationship is not an appendage to the natural order but its very lifeblood. Everything is connected to everything else, and it all flourishes or withers together. . . .

Together the living form with the dead one community of memory and hope, a holy people touched with the fire of the Spirit, summoned to go forth as companions bringing the face of divine compassion into everyday life and the great struggles of history, wrestling with evil, and delighting even now when fragments of justice, peace, and healing gain however small a foothold. When they are seen together with the whole natural world as a dynamic, sacred community of the most amazing richness and complexity, then the symbol of the communion of saints reaches its fullness as a symbol of effective presence and action of Holy Wisdom herself. [2]

A Gospel Lens

March 5th, 2021

You are not here to verify,

Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity

Or carry report. You are here to kneel

Where prayer has been valid. —T. S. Eliot, “Little Gidding”

Everybody looks at the world through their own lens, a matrix of culturally inherited qualities, family influences, and other life experiences. This lens, or worldview, truly determines what we bring to every discussion. When Jesus spoke of the coming of the Reign of God, he was trying to change people’s foundational worldview. When Francis of Assisi described his “marriage to Lady Poverty,” he was using a lovely metaphor to explain his central thesis for life. When Americans identify money as “the bottom line,” they are revealing more about their real worldview than they realize.

We would do well to get in touch with our own operative worldview. It is there anyway, so we might as well know what this highly influential window on reality is. It’s what really motivates us. Our de facto worldview determines what catches our attention and what we don’t notice at all. It’s largely unconscious and yet it drives us to do this and not that. It is surely important to become conscious of such a primary lens or we will never know what we don’t see and why we see other things out of all perspective.

Until we can allow the Gospel to move into that deepest level of the unconscious and touch our operative worldviews, nothing substantial is going to change. It will only be rearranging the furniture, not constructing a new room. Conversion is about constructing a new room, or maybe even a whole new house.

Our operative worldview is formed by three images that are inside every one of us. They are not something from outside; they have already taken shape within us. All we can do is become aware of them, which is to awaken them. The three images to be awakened and transformed are our image of self, our image of God, and our image of the world. A true hearing of the Gospel transforms those images into a very exciting and, I believe, truthful worldview. When we say Christ is the truth, that’s what we mean. Christ renames reality correctly, according to what reality honestly is, putting aside whatever we think it is or whatever we fear it is. Reality is always better than any of us imagined or feared; there is joy associated with a true hearing of the Gospel.

All together, we could put it this way: “What should life be?” “Why isn’t it?” “How do we repair it?” When these are answered for us, at least implicitly, we have our game plan and we can live safely and with purpose in this world.

Overcoming Contact Bias

March 4th, 2021

Brian McLaren and Jacqui Lewis, my conversation partners in the recent podcast series, Learning How to See, understand that Jesus’ model of acceptance, inclusion, and love for “the other,” helps us overcome and heal our biases. Brian describes what he calls “contact bias,” when a lack of personal and ongoing contact with people who are different from us causes us to fail to see them for who they truly are: 

When I don’t have intense and sustained personal contact with “the other,” my prejudices and false assumptions go unchallenged. Think of the child who is told by people he trusts that people of another race, religion, culture, sexual orientation, or class are dirty and dangerous.

You can immediately see the self-reinforcing cycle: those people are dirty or dangerous, so I will distrust and avoid them, which means I will never have sustained and respectful interactive contact with them, which means I will never discover that they are actually wonderful people to be around. . . .

In this way, the prejudice cycle spins on, unchallenged across generations. As prejudice persists, it becomes embedded in cultures and institutions, creating systems of racism and hatred, marginalizing groups who are stigmatized, dehumanized, scapegoated, exploited, oppressed, or even killed. . . .

But if we are willing to listen to [“the other”] and learn from them, we can break out of our contact bias, which opens us up to seeing in a new way. . . .

On page after page of the gospels, Jesus doesn’t dominate the other, avoid the other, colonize the other, intimidate the other, demonize the other, or marginalize the other. Instead, he incarnates into the other, joins the other in solidarity, protects the other, listens to the other, serves the other, and even lays down his life for the other. [1]

Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis, who leads what she describes as a “multi-everything” congregation in New York City, shares the gifts that embracing the other can bring. She views inclusion as central to the Gospel call to love: 

The one we follow into mission and ministry—Jesus the Christ—was an avowed boundary crosser, a reformer of the religious and secular culture of his time. We are in good company when we lead the way on radical inclusion of those different from ourselves. In some contexts that might mean a black church reaching out to Korean neighbors, a Latino congregation starting a ministry to immigrant families from North Africa, or a Chinese church hosting an afterschool program for African American junior high students. . . . We believe the commitment to inclusion and diversity is a high calling, issued to all who count themselves as Christians, no matter what our ethnicity or culture. [2]

The more we bump into the folks who are so-called “other,” the more we are stretched, the more we are pulled out of that bias and have new truths because we have tangible evidence of the beautiful, powerful creativity of our God who made all of this diversity for us to enjoy. [3]

Jesus and Bias

March 3rd, 2021

Learning how to see our biases is a psychological exercise, but one with immediate theological and social implications. It demands self-knowledge and the crucial need to recognize (1) when we are in denial about our own shadow and capacity for illusion; (2) our capacity to project our own fears and shadows onto other people and groups; (3) our capacity to face and carry our own issues; and (4) the social, institutional, and political implications of not doing this work.

If some Christians think that this is mere psychology, then they surely need to know that Jesus himself was a consummate analyst of human nature. He was really a brilliant psychologist and named many of the issues that we call today “denial,” “bias,” “projection,” and “the shadow self.” He also emphasized the necessity of inner healing of hurts to avoid continuing to hurt others.

Brian McLaren offers this perspective on why Jesus’ teachings were so effective in freeing people from an over-attachment to their own way of seeing:

When you aggressively attack people’s familiar ideas, they tend to respond defensively. They dig in their heels and become even more firmly attached to the very ideas that they need to be liberated from. . . .

That’s why Jesus, like other effective communicators, constantly told stories, stories that grabbed people by the imagination and transported them into another imaginative world:

. . . there once was a woman who put some yeast into a huge batch of dough [Matthew 13:33]

. . . there once was a man who had two sons [Luke 15:11]

. . . this man was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho [Luke 10:30]

. . . a woman once lost a coin [Luke 15:8] . . .

Through these short “imaginative vacations” to another world, Jesus helped people see from a new vantage point. He used imagination to punch a tiny hole in their walls of confirmation bias, and through that tiny hole, some new light could stream in and let them know of a bigger world beyond their walls. . . .

[Jesus] didn’t spend a lot of time repeating or refuting the false statements of his critics, and he didn’t counterpunch when he was attacked or insulted, but instead, he used every criticism as an opportunity to restate, clarify, and illustrate his true statements. He had, to use a contemporary phrase, message discipline, which drew people to his central simple message: an invitation to overcome long-held biases, to think again, and to see and live life in a new light. [1]

It’s so hard to be vulnerable, to say to our neighbor, “I don’t know everything” or to say to our soul, “I don’t know anything at all.” Yet Jesus says the only people who can recognize and be ready for what he’s talking about are the ones who come with the mind and heart of a child (see Matthew 18:3). The older we get, the more we’ve been disappointed and betrayed by life and others, the more barriers we put up to what Zen masters call “beginner’s mind.” We must never presume that we see “all” or accurately. We must always be ready to see anew.

Confirmation Bias

March 2nd, 2021

One of the phrases that has stayed with me from studying Latin in the seminary is “Quidquid recipitur ad modum recipientis recipitur.” This statement is not only kind of fun to say, but it has been critical to my understanding of how we process information. Directly translated, it means “Whatever is received is received according to the manner of the receiver.” Thirteenth-century scholastics such as John Duns Scotus (1266–1308) and Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) intuited this. It was early psychology before we thought we had psychology! What it means, in other words, is that we don’t see things as they are; we see things as we are. We see the things we want to see, the things that confirm our assumptions and our preferred way of looking at the world. [1] Brian elaborates today on how confirmation bias, which he believes is the most powerful, operates:

We all have filters, [such as] What do I already believe? Does this new idea or piece of information confirm what I already think? Does it fit in the frame I’ve already constructed?

If so, I can accept it.

If not, in all likelihood, I’m simply going to reject it as unreasonable and unbelievable, even though doing so is, well, unreasonable.

I do this, not to be ignorant, but to be efficient. My brain (without my conscious awareness, and certainly without my permission) makes incredibly quick decisions as it evaluates incoming information or ideas. Ideas that fit in are easy and convenient to accept, and they give me pleasure because they confirm what I already think.

But ideas that don’t fit easily will require me to think, and think twice, and maybe even rethink some of my long-held assumptions. That kind of thinking is hard work. It requires a lot of time and energy. My brain has a lot going on, so it interprets hard work like this as pain. . . .

Wanting to save me from that extra reframing work, my brain presses a “reject” or “delete” button when a new idea presents itself. “I’ll stick with my current frame, thank you very much,” it says. And it gives me a little jolt of pleasure to reward me for my efficiency. [2]

The Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis, who is Brian’s and my mutual friend, speaks of confirmation bias in this way:

“We are all wired by what we’ve experienced to be in search of a story with an ending . . . that feels like it has a completion. And the stories that we gravitate to are the ones that make sense to us, stories that fit, stories that feel like they have continuity, connection to the past, where we’ve been. . . . Those stories that we will follow are the ones that feel true, feel like they have continuity to our past and that resonate with the trajectory of our lives. So, we’re looking for the story that doesn’t necessarily change our minds; we’re actually looking for the story that confirms what’s in our minds.” [3]

March 1st, 2021

How Difficult It Is to See Clearly

Every viewpoint is a view from a point. Unless we recognize and admit our own personal and cultural viewpoints, we will never know how to decentralize our own perspective. We will live with a high degree of illusion and blindness that brings much suffering into the world. I think this is what Simone Weil (1909–1943) meant in saying that the love of God is the source of all truth. [1] Only an outer and positive reference point utterly grounds the mind and heart.

One of the keys to wisdom is that we must recognize our own biases, our own addictive preoccupations, and those things to which, for some reason, we refuse to pay attention. Until we see these patterns (which is early-stage contemplation), we will never be able to see what we do not see. No wonder that both Socrates (c. 470–399 BCE) and Saint Teresa of Ávila (1515–1582) declared self-knowledge to be the first and necessary entrance way to wisdom. [2] Without such critical awareness of the small self, there is little chance that any individual will produce truly great knowing or enduring wisdom.

Everyone sees the world from a certain, defined cultural perspective. But people who have done their inner work also see beyond their own biases to something transcendent, something that crosses the boundaries of culture and individual experience.

People with a distorted image of self, world, or God will be largely incapable of experiencing what is really real in the world. They will see things through a narrow keyhole. They’ll see instead what they need reality to be, what they’re afraid it is, or what they’re angry about. They’ll see everything through their aggressiveness, their fear, or their agenda. In other words, they won’t see it at all.

That’s the opposite of contemplatives, who see what is, whether it’s favorable or not, whether it meets their needs or not, whether they like it or not, and whether or not that reality causes weeping or rejoicing. Most of us will usually misinterpret our experience until we have been moved out of our false center. Until then, there is too much of the self in the way.

We all play our games, cultivating our prejudices and our unredeemed vision of the world. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) and other scholastics said that all people choose as objective good something that merely appears good to them, foreseeing the postmodern critique by 700 years. No one willingly does evil. Each of us has put together a construct by which we explain why what we do is necessary and good. This is the specialty of the ego, the small or false self that wants to protect its agenda and project itself onto the public stage. [3] We need support in unmasking our false self and in distancing ourselves from our illusions. For this it is necessary to install a kind of “inner observer.” Some people talk about a “fair witness.” At first that sounds impossible, but with patience and practice, it can be done and even becomes quite natural.

Recognizing Our Biases

CAC faculty member Brian McLaren has done thoughtful and helpful research about what makes us see things so differently from one another. He identified thirteen biases that we outline today. Being a former pastor and an excellent communicator, Brian found a way to make these complex ways of seeing simple and memorable. He writes: 

People can’t see what they can’t see. Their biases get in the way, surrounding them like a high wall, trapping them in ignorance, deception, and illusion. No amount of reasoning and argument will get through to them, unless we first learn how to break down the walls of bias. . . .

Confirmation Bias: We judge new ideas based on the ease with which they fit in with and confirm the only standard we have: old ideas, old information, and trusted authorities. As a result, our framing story, belief system, or paradigm excludes whatever doesn’t fit.

Complexity Bias: Our brains prefer a simple falsehood to a complex truth.

Community Bias: It’s almost impossible to see what our community doesn’t, can’t, or won’t see.

Complementarity Bias: If you are hostile to my ideas, I’ll be hostile to yours. If you are curious and respectful toward my ideas, I’ll respond in kind.

Competency Bias: We don’t know how much (or little) we know because we don’t know how much (or little) others know. In other words, incompetent people assume that most other people are about as incompetent as they are. As a result, they underestimate their [own] incompetence, and consider themselves at least of average competence.

Consciousness Bias: Some things simply can’t be seen from where I am right now. But if I keep growing, maturing, and developing, someday I will be able to see what is now inaccessible to me.

Comfort or Complacency Bias: I prefer not to have my comfort disturbed.

Conservative/Liberal Bias: I lean toward nurturing fairness and kindness, or towards strictly enforcing purity, loyalty, liberty, and authority, as an expression of my political identity.

Confidence Bias: I am attracted to confidence, even if it is false. I often prefer the bold lie to the hesitant truth.

Catastrophe or Normalcy Bias: I remember dramatic catastrophes but don’t notice gradual decline (or improvement).

Contact Bias: When I don’t have intense and sustained personal contact with “the other,” my prejudices and false assumptions go unchallenged.

Cash Bias: It’s hard for me to see something when my way of making a living requires me not to see it.

Conspiracy Bias: Under stress or shame, our brains are attracted to stories that relieve us, exonerate us, or portray us as innocent victims of malicious conspirators. [1]

Becoming Wise Fools

February 26th, 2021


Those who will lead into the future will have some hard-won wisdom. We might call them the “holy fools.” By the holy fool I mean what the Bible and mythic literature have always presented as the “savior.” They are persons who are happily, but not naïvely, innocent of everything the rest of us take for granted. They alone can trust and live the new work of God because they are not protecting the past by control (conservatives) or reacting against the past by fixing (liberals). Both of these groups are too invested in their own understanding to let go and let God do something new on earth.

According to the pattern, the wise fools are always formed in the testing ground of exile when the customary and familiar are taken away and they must go deeper and much higher for wisdom. As a result, they no longer fit or belong among their own. Yet paradoxically, they alone can point the way to the “promised land” or the “new Jerusalem.” Conventional wisdom is inadequate, even if widely held by good people.

I believe that there are two necessary paths enabling us to move toward wisdom: a radical journey inward and a radical journey outward. For far too long we’ve confined people to a sort of security zone, a safe “lukewarm” midpoint, which the Bible warns us against, as to the Laodiceans (Revelation 3:15‒16). We’ve called them neither to a radical path inward, in other words, to contemplation, nor to a radical path outward, that is, to commitment on the social issues of their time. We prefer to stay in a secure middle position, probably because these two great teachers, the inner and the outer way, both cause pain. Failure and falling short are the best teachers; success has virtually nothing to teach us on the spiritual path.

It is Paul, one of the “holy fools” of our Christian faith, isolated but enthralled by a vision of universal Gospel, who can say, “Make no mistake about it: if you think you’re wise, in the ordinary sense of the word, then you must learn to be a fool before you can really be wise” (1 Corinthians 3:18). The holy fool is the last stage of the wisdom journey. It is the individual who knows their dignity and therefore does not have to polish or protect it. It is the man or woman who has true authority and does not have to defend it or anyone else’s authority. It is the child of God who has met the One who watches over sparrows and fashions galaxies, and therefore can comfortably be a child of God.  They and they alone can be trusted to proclaim the Reign of God.

Moving beyond Conventional Wisdom

February 25th, 2021

Here are the three further “ways of knowing” that can allow us to access greater wisdom:

Images: Imaginal knowing is the only way that the unconscious can move into consciousness. It happens through fantasy, through dreams, through symbols, where all is “thrown together” (sym-ballein in Greek). It happens through pictures, events, and well-told stories. It happens through poetry, where well-chosen words create an image that, in turn, creates a new awareness—that was in us already. We knew it, but we didn’t know it. We must be open to imaginal knowing because the work of transformation will not be done logically, rationally, or cerebrally. Our intellectual knowing alone is simply not adequate to the greatness and the depth of the task.

Aesthetic: In some ways, aesthetic knowing is the most attractive, but I think it’s often the least converting. Art in all its forms so engages us and satisfies us that many go no deeper. Still, aesthetic knowing is a central and profound way of knowing. I’ve seen art lead to true changes of consciousness. I have seen people change their lives in response to a novel, a play, a piece of music, or a movie like Dead Man Walking. Their souls were prepared, and God got in through the right metaphor at the right time. They saw their own stories clarified inside of a larger story line.

Epiphany: The last way of knowing, which I’d think religion would prefer and encourage, is epiphanic knowing. An epiphany is a parting of the veil, a life-changing manifestation of meaning, the eureka of awareness of self and the Other. It is the radical grace which we cannot manufacture or orchestrate. There are no formulas which ensure its appearance. It is always a gift, unearned, unexpected, and larger than our present life. We cannot manufacture epiphanies. We can only ask for them, wait for them, expect them, know they are given, keep out of the way, and thank Someone afterward.

I have to imagine that Jesus’ consciousness was developed by all these ways of knowing. Scholar Christopher Pramuk describes how Jesus engaged his listeners and followers in ways far beyond their minds. He writes:

When Jesus of Nazareth prefaced his enigmatic sayings with the words, “let those with eyes to see, see, let those with ears to hear, hear,” scholars tell us he was speaking as a teacher of Jewish wisdom, appealing not just to the head but to the whole person of his listener: heart, body, mind, senses, imagination. Like a lure darting and flashing before a fish, Jesus’s words dance and play before the imagination, breaking open our habitual assumptions about “the way things are.”. . . To be “born again” is to break free of the stultifying womb of conventional wisdom. . . .