Archive for January, 2019

The Face of the Other

January 31st, 2019

Jesus: Human and Divine

The Face of the Other
Thursday, January 31, 2019

St. Francis of Assisi (1181–1226) brought attention to the humanity of Jesus. Prior to St. Francis, Christian paintings largely emphasized Jesus’ divinity, as they still do in most Eastern icons. Francis is said to have created the first live nativity. Before the thirteenth century, Christmas was no big deal. The liturgical emphasis was on the high holy days of Easter. But for Francis, incarnation was already redemption. For God to become a human being among the poor, born in a stable among the animals, meant that it’s good to be a human being, that flesh is good, and that the world is good—in its most simple and humble forms.

In Jesus, God was given a face and a heart that we could see. God became someone we could love. While God can be described as a moral force, as consciousness, and as high vibrational energy, the truth is, we don’t (or can’t?) really fall in love with abstractions or concepts. So, God became a person “that we could hear, see with our eyes, look at, and touch with our hands” (1 John 1:1). The Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Lévinas (1906–1995) said the only thing that really converts people is “the face of the other.” He developed this idea at great length and with great persuasion, if you are interested in going deeper. [1]

When we receive and empathize with the face of the “other” (especially the suffering face), it leads to transformation of our whole being. It creates a moral demand on our heart that is far more compelling than the Ten Commandments written on stone or paper. Just giving people commandments doesn’t change the heart. In the end, Christianity is not a moral matter until it is first and foremost a mystical matter. Commandments and laws may steel the will, but they do not soften the heart—or create soul—like one authentic I-Thou encounter will do.  Thus, we have produced an awful lot of “mean” Christians, which we must admit is Christianity’s present public image. [2]

So many Christian mystics talk about seeing the divine face or falling in love with the face of Jesus. I think that’s why St. Clare (1194–1253) used the word “mirroring” so often in her writings. We are mirrored not by concepts, but by faces delighting in us—giving us the face we can’t give to ourselves. It is “the face of the other” that finally creates us and, I am sorry to say, also destroys us. It is the gaze that does us in!

Now surely you see why a positive and loving God-image is absolutely necessary for creating happy and healthy people. Without it, we will continue to create lots of mean Christians who have no way out of their hall of negative mirrors.

Christ Is Everyman and Everywoman

January 30th, 2019

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Many of the early Christian mystics saw Jesus as a dynamic and living (“interactive”) union of human and divine in one person. They saw Christ as the living icon of the eternal union of matter and Spirit in all of creation. Jesus was fully human, just as he was fully divine at the same time. Dualistic thinkers find that impossible to process, so they usually just choose one side or the other.

Many who call themselves conservative seem to believe that Jesus is fully divine and we are barely human. Liberals and many non-believers seem to believe that Jesus is only human, and the divine isn’t necessary. Both sides are missing the major point of putting divine and human together! They both lack the proper skill set of the contemplative mind.

Matter and Spirit must be recognized as inseparable in Christ before we have the courage and insight to acknowledge and honor the same in ourselves and in the entire universe. Jesus is the Archetype of Everything.

One of my favorite Orthodox scholars, Olivier Clément (1921–2009), helps explain early Eastern Christianity’s understanding of Christ with some profound statements of his own:

How could humanity on earth, enslaved by death, recover its wholeness? It was necessary to give to dead flesh the ability to share in the life-giving power of God. He, though he is Life by nature, took a body subject to decay in order to destroy in it the power of death and transform it into life. As iron when it is brought in contact with fire immediately begins to share its colour, so the flesh when it has received the life-giving Word into itself is set free from corruption. Thus he put on our flesh to set it free from death. [1]

The whole of humanity, “forms, so to speak, a single living being.” In Christ we form a single body, we are all “members of one another.” For the one flesh of humanity and of the earth “brought into contact” in Christ “with the fire” of his divinity, is henceforward secretly and sacramentally deified. [2]

Unfortunately, at the Council of Chalcedon (451 CE), this view—the single, unified nature of Christ—was rejected for the “orthodox” belief, held to this day by most Christian denominations, that emphasizes two distinct natures in Jesus instead of one new synthesis. Sometimes what seems like orthodoxy is, in fact, a well-hidden and well disguised heresy!

Perhaps quantum physics can help us reclaim what we’ve lost because our dualistic minds couldn’t understand or experience the living paradox that Jesus represents. Now science is confirming there is no clear division between matter and spirit. Everything is interpenetrating. As Franciscan scientist and theologian Ilia Delio says, “We are in the universe and the universe is in us.”

Jesus: Human and Devine; The Jesus Paradox

January 29th, 2019

Jesus: Human and Divine

The Jesus Paradox
Tuesday, January 29, 2019

If we are humble and honest, Christians must acknowledge that most of our churches and leaders have not consistently read the Gospels in a contemplative way or with “the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16). Without contemplative consciousness, we severely limit the Holy Spirit’s capacity for inspiration and guidance. We had arguments to win, logic to uphold, and denominational distinctions to maintain, after all. Without the contemplative mind, humans—even Christians—revel in dualisms and do not understand the dynamic unity between seeming opposites. The Jesus Paradox (i.e., Jesus being at once God and human) was meant to teach and exemplify this union. [1] The separate self fears and denies paradoxes—which is to deny our own self, which is always filled with seeming contradictions.

“Unless the single grain of wheat dies” we see everything as a mirror of our separate and small selves, rather than whole. As Jesus put it, we “will not yield a rich harvest” (John 12:24). We are unable to comprehend that Christ is our wholeness (see 1 Corinthians 1:30)—set forth for all to imagine, trust, imitate, and comprehend. He is the Exemplar of Reconciled Humanity, the Stand-In for all of us. At this wondrous level, Christianity is hardly a separate religion but simply an organic and hopeful message about the nature of Reality.

I believe the world—and the West in particular—is experiencing a rapid evolution of consciousness in recent centuries. Only in the past few decades have Western Christians even had the capacity to think nondually! While mystics throughout history have recognized the power of Christ to overcome dualisms, dichotomies, and divisions, many Christians are just now realizing what this means. As Augustine said, we are being offered something “forever ancient and forever new.” It is revolutionary because it is so traditional and yet so hidden. This traditional teaching can still create a revolution of mind and heart—and history itself.

As Amos Smith writes: “My core truth about Jesus isn’t rooted in mainstream Christian tradition. It’s rooted in Jesus’ essence. It’s about the deep stillness of silent prayer and a theology big enough to give that blessed stillness words.” [1]

Jesus has always been so much bigger than our ideas about him, our readiness to surrender to him, and our ability to love and allow what he clearly loves and allows in creation. He is the microcosm of the macrocosm. He is the Great Coincidence of Opposites as St. Bonaventure taught. Only the Jesus Paradox gives us the permission and freedom to finally and fully love the paradox that everything already and always will be.

Jesus: Human and Divine

January 28th, 2019

One United Dynamic Nature
Sunday, January 27, 2019

For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ. —1 Corinthians 3:11

We’ve begun this year’s Daily Meditations focusing on Jesus. While the Christian faith is living and evolving, its foundation is still Jesus, the Christ. Such a firm clear centerpiece will allow us—indeed demand of us—that we move outward from there. But the pieces of the Rubik’s Cube that we must forever untangle anew are all firmly in place. The forever union of matter and spirit, of human and divine, of God with Creation, is revealed in human history as Jesus, and in the cosmos as Christ.

This pretty much makes any attempts at exclusion virtually impossible. Such wholeness at the heart of the universe is known by other names in various religions and fields of study, as we’ll see later this year.

Understanding how Jesus was fully human and fully divine at the same time requires nondual consciousness. That’s probably why it has often been best taught by mystics who spend much time in deep prayer. For example, let’s look closely at the Alexandrian Mystics (312–454 CE)—hermits, monks, and nuns living in the Egyptian desert. Some of these mystics are known as the Desert Fathers and Mothers. In general, the early Alexandrian school represents the more mystical and nondual tradition of Christianity, but it never dominated in the common imperial versions of the Gospel (either Roman or Byzantine), so it was completely lost by the time of the Protestant Reformation.

This period of early Christianity is largely unknown and of little interest to most Western Christians today. With the self-sufficiency and arrogance that has often characterized the West, we have proceeded as if the first centuries of the Christian church were unimportant or not a part of the essential Christ Mystery. So, bear with me as I share a bit more historical and theological nuance than I usually do.

Christian theologian and friend Amos Smith offers some very helpful context to help us understand these early Christians:

The Alexandrian Mystics were predominantly Miaphysite (one united dynamic nature in both Jesus and in us). Jesus is the Great Includer and we are the endlessly included. They were also hesychasts [practicing a form of contemplative prayer that focused on clearing the mind of all thoughts and sensory distractions]These monks and monk-bishops predate the split between Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy (1054). They also predate the Oriental Orthodox split that eventually followed the Council of Chalcedon (451), so they rightfully belong to the early Church universal. . .

Miaphysite is the non-dual awareness of Christ, who as Cyril of Alexandria put it, is “at once God and human.” If Jesus is at once God and human, that means as believers we cannot refer to Jesus as God without qualifying that: “God in human form.” We also cannot refer to Jesus as human only without qualifying that: “the human incarnation of God.” The legacy of Miaphysite theology is only well preserved today in the Oriental Orthodox Church (not to be confused with Eastern Orthodox). Miaphysite is the crown jewel of the Alexandrian Mystics. It is the center piece that holds the various strands of Mystic Christianity together. [1]

I hope I do Amos Smith’s scholarship justice in my brief summaries the next few days as we continue to explore how the incarnation is essential to our faith and how we, too, participate in this mystery of creation embodying the divine.

Reconciliation of Opposites
Monday, January 28, 2019

The dynamic union of opposites (humanity and divinity) that the Christ Mystery is surpasses, undercuts, and has the power to resolve so many levels of denominational argument and partisanship that have divided Christianity over the centuries. We did not realize how large and reconciling our own Christ was, despite being told that “God wanted all fullness (pleroma) to be found in Christ, and all things to be reconciled through him and for him” (Colossians 1:19-20).

Instead of the Great Reconciler, we made Jesus into a clannish god who then had to compete with other world religions (even with his own Judaism!) and with our very humanity—which made humanity hard to sanctify or liberate. As St. Irenaeus (c. 130–202) reflected, “That not taken up within the Incarnation, would not be redeemed.” [1] Without the dynamic terms of incarnation being absolutely clear, Jesus remained only Divine, and we remained only human, thus confusing, severely limiting, and diminishing the process of redemption. We missed the major point which was that God had put the two together in a dynamic way for all to see and trust, but we did not know how to even imagine that either in Jesus or in ourselves. Yes, we had the will and the desire, but did not trust the extraordinary incarnational method that God used, nor its Perfect Exemplar, Jesus.

Truly great ideas, like the dynamic union of humanity and divinity in Jesus, are invariably slow in coming, because the normal mind prefers to think in static dualisms. It allows us to take clean sides and argue from supposedly pure positions. Only contemplative prayer can overcome such splits and artificial separateness. Only inner stillness can absorb and comprehend paradoxes and seeming contradictions, which Eastern Christianity, at least in its early period, seemed to understand much more than the Western church.

I think Jesus was the first nondual teacher for the West, but the West has unsuccessfully tried to understand him with our usual dualistic thinking. Western theology adopted the Council of Chalcedon’s (451 CE) doctrine that Jesus was “made known in two natures.” As Amos Smith says, “If Christ were two natures he would not be God the Son incarnate, but only God the Son dwelling in a human. . . . [Christ’s] is a true mystical union, not a nominal union of ‘two natures, two wills, and two natural operations.’ How can there be union when everything is split in two.” [2]

These lyrics are a mix of Hold On and Let Go. Requires non dual thinking to unpack…………….

Following Jesus; Take Up Your Cross

January 25th, 2019

Following Jesus

Take Up Your Cross
Friday, January 25, 2019

Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” —Matthew 16:24

What does it mean to follow Jesus? I believe that we are invited to gaze upon the image of the crucified Jesus to soften our hearts toward all suffering, to help us see how we ourselves have been “bitten” by hatred and violence, and to know that God’s heart has always been softened toward us. In turning our gaze to this divine truth—in dropping our many modes of scapegoating and self-justification—we gain compassion toward ourselves and all others who suffer. It largely happens on the psychic and unconscious level, but that is exactly where our hurts and our will to violence lie, lodged in the primitive “lizard brain,” where we have almost no rational control.

A transformative religion must touch us at this primitive, brain-stem level, or it is not transformative. History is continually graced with people who somehow learned to act beyond and outside their self-interest and for the good of the world, people who clearly operated by a power larger than their own. The Nelson Mandelas of the world, the Oskar Schindlers, the Martin Luther King, Jrs. Add to them Rosa Parks, Mother Teresa, Dorothy Day, Oscar Romero, Cesar Chavez, and many other “unknown soldiers.” These inspiring figures give us strong evidence that the mind of Christ still inhabits the world. Most of us are fortunate to have crossed paths with many lesser-known persons who exhibit the same presence. I can’t say how one becomes such a person. All I can presume is that they all had their Christ moments, in which they stopped denying their own shadows, stopped projecting those shadows elsewhere, and agreed to own their deepest identity in God.

But it is not an enviable position, this Christian thing. Following Jesus is a vocation to share the fate of God for the life of the world. To allow what God for some reason allows—and uses. And to suffer ever so slightly what God suffers eternally.

This has little to do with believing the right things about God—beyond the fact that God is love. Those who agree to carry and love what God loves, both the good and the bad, and to pay the price for its reconciliation within themselves—these are the followers of Jesus Christ. They are the leaven, the salt, the remnant, the mustard seed that God uses to transform the world. The cross, then, is a very dramatic image of what it takes to be usable for God. It does not mean you are going to heaven and others are not; rather, it means you have already entered heaven and thus can see things in a transcendent, whole, and healing way now.

Following Jesus; Practical Christianity

January 24th, 2019

Following Jesus

Practical Christianity
Thursday, January 24, 2019

When the Christian tradition chose an imperial Christ, living inside the world of static and mythic proclamations, it framed belief and understanding in a very small box. The Christ of the creeds is not tethered to earth—to the real, historical, flesh-and-blood Jesus of Nazareth. Instead, this image is mostly mental abstraction with little heart, all spirit, and almost no flesh or soul. Sometimes it seems like Christianity’s only mission is to keep announcing its vision and philosophy. This is what happens when power and empire take over the message.

Did you know that the first seven Councils of the Church, agreed upon by both East and West, were all either convened or formally presided over by emperors? This is no small point. Emperors and governments do not tend to be interested in an ethic of love, service, or nonviolence (God forbid!), and surely not forgiveness unless it somehow helps them stay in power.

Mere information is rarely helpful unless it also enlightens and transforms your life. In Franciscan theology, truth is always for the sake of love—not an absolute end in itself, which too often becomes the worship of an ideology. In other words, any good idea that does not engage the body, the heart, the physical world, and the people around us will tend to be more theological problem solving and theory than any real healing of people and institutions. Ironically, healing is what Jesus was all about!

The word “healing” did not return to mainline Christian vocabulary until the 1970’s, and even then it was widely resisted, which I know from my own experience. [1] In the Catholic tradition, we had pushed healing off to the very last hour of life and called the sacrament “Extreme Unction,” apparently unaware that Jesus provided free health care in the middle of life for people who were suffering, and it was not just an “extreme” measure to get them into the next world.

You wouldn’t guess this from the official creeds but, after all is said and done, doing is more important than believing. Jesus was clearly more concerned with what Buddhists call “right action” (“orthopraxy” in Christianity) than with right saying or right thinking. You can hear this message very clearly in his parable of the two sons in Matthew 21:28-31: One son says he won’t work in the vineyard, but then does, while the other says he will go, but in fact doesn’t. Jesus told his listeners that he preferred the one who actually goes, although saying the wrong words, over the one who says the right words but does not act. How did we miss that?

Humanity now needs a Jesus who is historical, relevant for real life, physical and concrete, like we are. A Jesus whose life can save us even more than his death does. A Jesus we can imitate in practical ways and who sets the bar for what it means to be fully human.

The Creeds

January 23rd, 2019

The Creeds
Wednesday, January 23, 2019

. . . Born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate, . . .
—The Apostles’ Creed

If you worship in one of the liturgical Christian traditions, you probably know the opening words of the Apostles’ Creed by heart:

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended into hell; . . .

But have you ever noticed the huge leap the creed makes between “born of the Virgin Mary” and “suffered under Pontius Pilate”? A single comma connects the two statements, and falling into that yawning gap, as if it were a mere detail, is everything Jesus said and did between his birth and his death! Called the “Great Comma,” the gap certainly invites some serious questions. Did all the things Jesus said and did in those years not count for much? Were they nothing to “believe” in? Was it only his birth and death that mattered? Does the gap in some way explain Christianity’s often dismal record of imitating Jesus’ life and teaching?

There are other glaring oversights. The Apostles’ Creed does not once mention love, service, hope, the “least of the brothers and sisters,” or even forgiveness—anything that is remotely actionable. The earliest formal declaration of Christian belief is a vision and philosophy statement with no mission statement, as it were. Twice we are reminded that God is almighty, yet nowhere do we hear mention that God is also all-suffering or all-vulnerable (although it does declare that Jesus “suffered . . . , died, and was buried”). With its emphasis on theory and theology, but no emphasis on praxis (i.e., practice), the creed set Christianity on a course we are still following today.

The Apostles’ Creed, along with the later Nicene Creed, is an important document of theological summary and history, but when the crowd at my parish mumbles hurriedly through its recitation each Sunday, I’m struck by how little usefulness—or even interest—the creed seems to bring as a guide for people’s daily, practical behavior. I hope I am wrong, but I doubt it.

Both creeds reveal historic Christian assumptions about who God is and what God is doing. They reaffirm a static and unchanging universe and a God who is quite remote from almost everything we care about each day. Furthermore, they don’t show much interest in the realities of Jesus’ own human life—or ours. Instead, they portray what religious systems tend to want: a God who looks strong and stable and in control. No “turn the other cheek” Jesus, no hint of a simple Christ-like lifestyle is found here.

Belief or Discipleship?

January 22nd, 2019

Following Jesus

Belief or Discipleship?
Tuesday, January 22, 2019

I often say that we do not think ourselves into a new way of living, but we live ourselves into a new way of thinking. I’m not suggesting that theory and theology are unimportant; but I believe that faith is more about how we live on a daily basis than making verbal assent to this or that idea. In fact, my life’s work in many ways has been trying to move heady doctrines and dogmas to the level of actual experience and lifestyles that are an alternative to our consumer culture. In today’s reflection, Shane Claiborne—an Evangelical I deeply respect—invites us to quite literally follow Jesus:

Over the past few decades, our Christianity has become obsessed with what Christians believe rather than how Christians live. We talk a lot about doctrines but little about practice. But in Jesus we don’t just see a presentation of doctrines but an invitation to join a movement that is about demonstrating God’s goodness to the world.

This kind of doctrinal language infects our language when we say things like, “Are you a believer?” Interestingly, Jesus did not send us into the world to make believers but to make disciples [see Matthew 28:18-20]. You can worship Jesus without doing the things he says. We can believe in him and still not follow him. In fact, there’s a passage in Corinthians that says, “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3, author’s paraphrase).

At times our evangelical fervor has come at the cost of spiritual formation. For this reason, we can end up with a church full of believers, but followers of Jesus can be hard to come by.

One of the reasons that Francis of Assisi is so beloved is that he followed Jesus so closely. In Shane’s words:

Francis did something simple and wonderful. He read the Gospels where Jesus says, “Sell your possessions and give the money to the poor,” [Matthew 19:21] “Consider the lilies and the sparrows and do not worry about tomorrow,” [Luke 12:24, 27] “Love your enemies,” [Matthew 5:44] and he decided to live as if Jesus meant the stuff he said. Francis turned his back on the materialism and militarism of his world and said yes to Jesus.

People of the Way

January 21st, 2019

People of the Way
Monday, January 21, 2019

Church historian Diana Butler Bass has brought new light to forgotten or misconstrued elements of Christianity. Today I share some of her research on what early Christians thought it meant to follow Jesus:

Throughout the first five centuries people understood Christianity primarily as a way of life in the present, not as a doctrinal system, esoteric belief, or promise of eternal salvation. By followers enacting Jesus’s teachings, Christianity changed and improved the lives of its adherents and served as a practical spiritual pathway. This way—and earliest Christians were called “the people of the Way”—bettered existence for countless ancient believers. . . .

Christian defenders, such as Justin Martyr (ca. 100–ca. 165), used the example of Christian practice to make the case that Jesus’s way “mended lives”:

We who formerly . . . valued above all things the acquisition of wealth and possessions, now bring what we have into a common stock, and communicate to everyone in need; we who hated and destroyed one another, and on account of their different manners would not live with men of a different tribe, now, since the coming of Christ, live familiarly with them, and pray for our enemies . . . . [1]

To Justin, the old ways had passed; a new way opened in Jesus. Far from being divisive, Christianity was an inclusive faith that might bring diverse peoples together. However one interpreted the effects of the new faith, both enemies and defenders of Christianity understood that the new religion transformed people, giving even women, peasants, and slaves a meaningful ability to reorder their lives.

The way was based on Jesus’s teaching recorded in Mark 12:28-34. An unnamed questioner asked Jesus, “Which commandment is the first of all?” and Jesus responded with what is now called the Great Command: “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Loving God and neighbor was, according to Jesus, the way of the Kingdom of God and the path of salvation. In the account of this teaching in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus adds, “do this, and you will live” (Luke 10:28). . . .

Jesus’s followers took these words seriously. In many cases, and unlike contemporary practice, the process of becoming a Christian took several years, an extended time of teaching spiritual inquirers the way on which they were embarking. Christianity was considered a deliberate choice with serious consequences, a process of spiritual formation and discipline that took time, a way of life that had to be learned in community. . . .

In many quarters Christian communities are once again embracing the ancient insight that the faith is a spiritual pathway, a life built on transformative practices of love rather than doctrinal belief.

New Wineskins
Sunday, January 20, 2019

Jesus said, “People do not put new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise the skins burst, the wine spills out, and the skins are ruined. Rather, they pour new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.” —Matthew 9:17

Christians have often preached a Gospel largely comprised of words, attitudes, and inner salvation experiences. People say they are saved, they are “born again,” yet how do we really know if someone is saved? Are they actually following Jesus? Do they love the poor? Are they free from their ego? Are they patient in the face of persecution?

It’s not enough to talk about some kind of new inebriating wine, some new ideas. Without new wineskins—changed institutions, systems, and structures—I would argue that transformation cannot be deep or lasting. As Dorothy Day (1897–1980) often said in her inimitable Kingdom style, “Nothing is going to change until we stop accepting this dirty, rotten system!” Personal “salvation” cannot be divorced from social and systemic implications.

It’s easier to talk about the wine without the wineskins, to talk about salvation theories without any new world order. Unfortunately, Christianity has not always had a positive impact on Western civilization and the peoples it has colonized or evangelized. So-called Christian nations are often the most militaristic, greedy, and untrue to the teacher we claim to follow. Our societies are more often based not upon the servant leadership that Jesus modeled, but on the common domination and control model that produces racism, classism, sexism, power seeking, and income inequality.

That’s not to say our ancestors didn’t have faith, that Grandma and Grandpa were not good people. But by and large we Christians did not produce positive change in culture or institutions that operated differently than the rest. Christianity has shaped some wonderfully liberated saints, prophets, and mystics. They tried to create some new wineskins, but often the church itself resisted their calls to structural reform. Take for example the father of my own religious community, Saint Francis of Assisi. He was marginalized as a bit of a fanatic or eccentric by mainline Catholicism, as illustrated by no Pope ever taking his name until our present Pope Francis.

Even today many Christians keep Jesus on a seeming pedestal, worshiping a caricature on a cross or a bumper-sticker slogan while avoiding what Jesus said and did. We keep saying, “We love Jesus,” but it is more as a God-figure than someone to imitate.

The Path of Descend

January 18th, 2019

Jesus: Wisdom Teacher

The Path of Descent
Friday, January 18, 2019

Guest writer and CAC faculty member Cynthia Bourgeault continues exploring Jesus as a wisdom teacher.

Jesus teaches the art of metanoia or “going into the larger mind.” Underlying all his teaching is a clarion call to a radical shift in consciousness: away from the alienation and polarization of the egoic operating system and into the unified field of divine abundance that can be perceived only through the heart.

But how does one make this shift in consciousness? It’s one thing to admire it from a distance, but quite another to create it within oneself. This is where spiritual praxis comes into play. “Praxis” means the path, the actual practice you follow to bring about the result that you’re yearning for. I think it’s fair to say that all of the great spiritual paths lead toward the same center—the larger, nondual mind as the seat of personal consciousness—but they get there by different routes.

While Jesus is typical of the wisdom tradition in his vision of what a whole and unified human being looks like, the route he lays out for getting there is very different from anything that had ever been seen on the planet up to that point. It is still radical in our own time and definitely the “road less traveled” among the various schools of human transformation. Many of the difficulties we run into trying to make our Christianity work stem from the fact that we haven’t realized how different Jesus’ approach really is. By trying to contain this new wine in old wineskins, we inadvertently missed its own distinct flavor. In Jesus, everything hangs together around a single center of gravity, and we need to know what this center is before we can sense the subtle and cohesive power of his path.

What name might we give to this center? The apostle Paul suggests the word kenosis. In Greek, the verb kenosein means “to let go,” or “to empty oneself,” and this is the word Paul chooses to describe “the mind of Christ.”

Here is what Paul has to say (Philippians 2:6-8):

Though his state was that of God,
yet he did not deem equality with God
something he should cling to.
Rather, he emptied himself,
and assuming the state of a slave,
he was born in human likeness.
He, being known as one of us,
humbled himself, obedient unto death,
even death on the cross.

In this beautiful hymn, Paul recognizes that Jesus had only one “operational mode.” Everything he did, he did by self-emptying. He emptied himself and descended into human form. And he emptied himself still further, “even unto death on the cross.” In every life circumstance, Jesus always responded with the same motion of self-emptying—or to put it another way, descent: taking the lower place, not the higher.