We are Chosen and Loved

 IMG_2184    Paul is now getting to the heart of the matter. He tells us we are God’s chosen and beloved people. God has chosen us; we are meant. I find this so much more valuable than a program or laws telling us how we are to act and interact. This is the heart of the gospel message we can take to heart and to live. If we truly believed and experienced what it means to be God’s chosen, God’s beloved, how differently would we live our lives? When John Baptized Jesus in the Jordan River he heard a voice telling him that he was the beloved Son. Here Paul is telling us that we too are the beloved of God. We know how this revelation changed Jesus’ life. Afterwards he immediately went off to a quiet place to pray and think about what just happened to him. And what it would mean for his life. What does it mean for my life, your life?
It is knowing we are loved and in loving others that holds together tolerance and forgiveness of one another. Because we know we are loved, we are capable of love. This is the richness of the gospel that makes us wise. That Paul encourages us to share with one another.
Paul tells us we are also forgiven by God. Now we must in turn forgive others. This is where we find peace. When we put down the greed, the anger, the bad temper, spitefulness. These are all the ways we hurt others. And when we do we hurt ourselves. This behavior is the behavior of the ‘old self’ Paul talks about. But now we have a new self.
The new self is the Christ-self. The Christ-self that is compassionate, kind, humble, gentle and has patience with others as well as with ourselves. I sometimes feel that when I am none of these things, it is because I have put such high expectations upon myself that it makes me irritable that I have not achieved what I wish to achieve. But if I can remain mindful, instead of mindless, of the Christ that lives within me, I can relax and trust that all will work out as it should.
It is love that is the crown of all these behavior. It is love that is at the heart of all these behaviors. And it is this love for one another that dissolves all barriers. Barriers between Greek or Jew, free or slave, those who keep the law or those who do not. Paul is setting out only a few of the barriers we set up between ourselves and people who are different from us. In each person there is no distinction. In each person is Christ.
And the next (famous or infamous part, depending on how you react to Paul) part, then cannot be from someone who is a misogynist. In fact a closer reading shows that it is respect and love that Paul is encouraging between husband and wife, children and parent, masters and slaves. Here Paul is neither condemning nor condoning these roles. For they are roles in the society he lives in. Givens. His entreaty is as it was a few sentences earlier. All our relationships should be governed by love.
In whatever role or work we are given to do (because people in Paul’s day were born into their roles or status and could not easily change them) Paul says to put our hearts into it. Do our jobs or live out our roles with integrity and not halfheartedly. Whatever it is we do we do it for Christ. The only law is to Love. The only rule to invite Jesus Christ to rule our hearts and our lives. To be other Jesus Christ’s.

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A New Way of Being

 IMG_1562       As Paul concludes his letter to the Colossians from his imprisonment in Rome, he wants to set the course, the way, to live a life fully as a Christian. Which means becoming fully human. In Christ he says we are something new. We are a new people, new persons.  Now there is a new way of being available to us. A new way of being ourselves. And this new way is something that can continually be renewed in the image of the Creator and through which we come to know God.  And I believe what this means is that we have within us the capacity to become fully human. Becoming fully human means knowing that we are also sacred.

What strikes me here as the full blossoming of spring is upon us is that our human nature is not static. We grow; we are constantly becoming ourselves, learning who we were created to be. Just as Jesus showed his followers, and us, most fully who he was at the resurrection. Because what Jesus taught and what he did by coming back to life is the pinnacle of the transformation process. In coming back to life he personalize and universalized the process of change inherent in human nature. Just as the Father Creator designed a world in which nature is continually in the process of change. Jesus’ resurrection is the authentication on his life. The renewal of his human nature into a sacred nature demonstrates fully for us what we too can become. Paul is saying that living in Christ makes this transformation possible for all who follow after. For all who put their faith in Jesus the Christ.

For all of Jesus’ teachings and sayings and his resurrection are about changing. Changing our hearts. Changing how we practice what we believe. Changing the way we live our lives. Changing our behavior, especially toward others, as Paul so often is telling his audience, who are meeting the challenge within themselves of living something new; and especially the challenge from without from those who criticize and disparage their new way of being.

Recall the many people who believed Jesus was just plain crazy. Even his family came at one point to take him home because they thought he’d lost it. Probably they did not want to see happen to him what eventually did happen to him because his voice was being heard very openly, very publically.

Wisely, Paul did not set out a program for what it means to be more fully human. Rather it is a way of living. This is the secret self that is ours to discover and become. It is the way we come to know ourselves and to know God.  Self-knowledge is God-knowledge. Even in 1st century Palestine, without psychological gurus and spiritual mentors, without all the advances we have made in understanding what it means to be human, Paul understood that we are continually renewable human beings and have within us the capacity to become the persons we were created to be. This is a sacred trust. The secret and reality of Christ that he writes about. He knew this, not in any school, but in his experience of the risen Jesus. In faith it is this experience that is possible for us as well.

And like the Creator God who keeps this world in motion and more especially breathes into us the god-life at each moment of each day, we too are ever advancing within ourselves in what it means to be a uniquely created person, myself. To be human, to be sacred, to be meant. For each of us it is the secret of who we are that only we and God know, that only we can discover and grow. The eternal Spring, the ever blooming garden of the Self.

The next Post will explore what Paul has to say about how we come to this fully renewable human nature.

 

Put Down Your Nets

Scholars are divided as to whether or not Paul’s letter to the Colossians was actually written by Paul or one of his companions that he mentions often in his letters. Whichever is the case, the letter has at its core Paul’s resounding call to the infant churches he has established to live in Christ. It is a call to transformation. From the old self that was bound to our lesser natures, to the new self, the new creation that we are in Christ. Paul describes what this old self behaves like in the last part of the letter, Chapter 3 verses 5-9. He has enumerated this behavior before in other letters. His point once again becomes more pointed and it seems to me, more clear.

Paul speaks of knowledge a few times in this letter as well. (The gnostic religion at the time was based on knowledge as the source and key to understanding the sacred life. It could be that the author of this letter, if not Paul, shared some of this philosophy with the Gnostics.) It sums up what Paul spoke of in Ephesians about the hidden self growing strong. Let the message of Christ find a home in you. This is the message of love and peace. The message that when we discover our hidden selves, we will have found Christ there, who is, as Paul says, all in all. It is this new self, the new way of being, that recovers the image and likeness of God. The fullness of God in us, that has been planted on the love of Christ.  The image and likeness Paul intimates was lost when we left the Garden of Eden. But now the people God created for himself is fully restored in how we live out our faith in Jesus the Christ. For Christ is our sacred self.

The self is the source where the sacred in-forms, and can transform, our very being. The self is  locus of value and meaning. Jesus embodied the deepest meaning in his life. It is via our own self-realization that we too make real the deepest meaning of our lives. The sacred Self that when fully known brings us to the fullness of God. That is a very powerful statement by the 13th apostle.

The totality of God finds expression in and through the totality of the human person. In becoming more conscious (conscious of one’s self as sacred and our growing consciousness of God, what Kierkegaard called god-consciousness) we come to the realization of our inherent, native divinity; we realize the design that we are was not lost when we left the garden; in this realization we become fully Christ’s, fully whole, fully the person we are meant to be from the beginning.

This too is the heart we put into all we do; the heart of Jesus’ life and his message, the message of Christ a Paul refers to. By his life, death and resurrection he is everything to us. All in all. The message himself.

In whatever time-bound, unfree, dis-eased state we find ourselves, physically or spiritually, Christ trumps it. He is the triumph once and for all over death and ever-accessible reality of our lives now.

The Christ life is now our life. In us he is the image of the sacred Self, the hidden self, that we are tasked with a lifetime of giving birth to; of calling forth from the tomb into the springtime garden of new life; where, with each turn of the sunrise and sunset, in each step into this new future, with each new day, in each whispering moment, he invites and waits for us to put down our nets and follow him.

 

The Greening of God

It is in Christ that the fullness of the Godhead dwells embodied.

In him you are brought to fulfillment. 

                                                                                  Colossians 2:9-10

This is the season of the greening of the world. The landscape rolls in vast hills graced in green, the trees coming back to life in shades from the soft spring green rising to the horizon, timidly making their advent across the barren landscape of winter, evolving into chartreuse, from jade to emerald, the tree line voluptuous in sap, hookers, the olive green yielding the depth of contrast, and the ever-verdant grass green, with undertones of terre verte finishing the spring palette.

Out of the infinite blue vastness we call ‘God’, Christ, the Word, present from the beginning in the dance of the Godhead, breathed forth the reality that now surrounds us called time.  And the stuff of God came to be. A small, brown seed planted in the universe of matter and mortal.  Like the coming of Spring, in the seasons of the human heart, the seed that was always there, begins to bud, to take on a new dimension of life and grow in its greenness within us. St. Paul, once so intent on the destruction of that budding seed, who would experience one of the most dramatic conversions in all of Christendom, comes to reveal the central truth at the heart of the gospel and of the Christ-life he now preaches: to the extent that we live in Christ, we already have the fullness of God in us. Just as God was in its fullness embodied in Jesus as he walked the greening hills and valleys of Galilee, so too, now the life that is his as the Christ of God, is ours as well. I am the stuff of God and God is the stuff of me.

In Colossians this is no future hope.  The greening of God within us is not contingent upon anything other than our lives in Christ. He is the ever-present, evergreen life that we are raised to with his raising from the grip of death.

In the fullness of the endless season of  Christ, Paul echoes again the invitation, the call to each of us, over the ages, before the Christ he encountered on the Damascus road became a doctrine or dogma, an ‘ology’, to live in the fullness and know the fulfillment that is ours now in Christ in our lives. Paul’s is the ever present reminder that what was dead within us has been ‘nailed to the cross’, as he puts it, and a cross long since rotted to make mulch, covering over and protecting the new beginnings of spring, the deadness of our winters, forgiven and forgotten on that lonely  hillside where the cross gave way to the manger and to the Spring that is the ever emerging greening of God within us.

 

The Writing Life, The Prayer Life

Forty Days With St. Paul

IMG_0231  As I read Paul talking about prayer I know I have often struggled with how to talk about the reality of the practice of prayer, more so, the experience of prayer. As a writer, and reading letters written by Paul, who reached his audience by writing, it occurred to me that prayer and writing are a lot alike.

The writer’s life is much like prayer life: one is always in the throes of doubt. Out of the depths I cry to you, God hear my prayer. One lunges ahead, in the dark, no voice answers, we can’t see the next word. Both require unstinting faith. In life itself, to be in-spired given over to the process, alive only in that moment to which all other life moves toward and away from. Both require a certain amount, no a fierce amount, of fearlessness and faith. Faith that if you show…

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Christ: Gardener of Our Souls

At this moment the garden is all expectation.  The green shoots have pushed through the earth softened by the spring rains and the peonies are ready to pop. The irises leaves reach for the sun, tall green sentries guarding the lavender phlox creeping about the base of the flowering crab tree that stands just outside the garden walls. The crab tree has relinquished its bloom and fragrance, that first delight to the senses that greets the spring. Its red berries unfold into white flowers, a spring snow fall that arrives and fads more quickly than the rest. At the moment the garden is perfectly poised at the threshold of its becoming.

Having just traversed the stepping stones of Lent, we too might have a sense that we are on the threshold of a new becoming. Another Easter renewal taking root in us.

I have come to Paul’s letter to the Colossians at the seemingly appointed moment as well. Colossians is the perfect post-Easter missive to us. Like the garden that is all readiness, a bourgeoning promise, Paul’s letter from a Roman prison is bounding with the treasures of his thoughts, jewels of wisdom and knowledge, hidden as it were in God’s secret garden, ours for the picking.

Jesus found Mary in the garden when he came out of the tomb back to life.  She thought him the gardener. Yet, he is, as Paul speaks of him here, the gardener of our souls, the gardener of our very lives. The apostle to the world is describing in the poem of verses 15-20 the Cosmic Christ. The Christ who always was, from the beginning. He is the beginning, our beginning. In him we have our beginning, just as the world, the heavens and the earth, every garden in it, came to be, because he is. Just as the earth we tend reflects the mystery and majesty of the Creator, so too, Christ reflects the image of the unseen God, Paul writes. Jesus also said, when you see me you see the Father.

He is  the Christ of all the earth. He is its unity. He is our unity. He holds us together. We have been planted in him, rooted in his life, as Paul says repeatedly. It is not just a metaphor for Paul or for us. It is the living reality of the Christ life that has walked out of the tomb, beyond the garden gate, into the real world to make his claim upon it and continues to make his claim upon our lives. You are mine. The source of our lives from the boundless beauty of Christ incarnate.  Our undying rhizome.

Just like the garden in this moment of its becoming, he too is the becoming thing in us. His becoming in us knows no season. It is in every season, every day, in each moment that we take breath. Our last breath will be the first of the eternal flower that we become in the light of his countenance. In his sure and loving gaze, that even now sustains and is working toward our ‘perfection’, our wholeness, the hidden garden of the self that is rooted in his love and life, and grows to the perfect perfection that is the Gardener of our souls, of our very being. He is the becoming things in us from which our lives take rise and toward which we journey to the wholeness that is him. His breath in us. His face the reflection of our face in the river carrying us to the garden gate.

The Kingdom of Love

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In this Eastertide, we have cleared away the dross of the winter, renew our gardens with mulch and feed the flowers that are blooming there. As Paul begins his letter to the Colossians, writing still from his imprisonment in Rome, he too is writing about new growth.  This new growth is our inner growth, a growth that he hears is spreading all over the world. In spite of his circumstances he is able to dispatch messages of love and applaud his fellow-believers at Colossae. He calls them ‘saints’. By the very nature of their faith he embraces them in the company of the sanctified, the holy, those who by the nature of their lives in Christ have become sacred human persons. They are blessed already in their very ordinary earthly lives, with the future hope and current blessings of the kingdom. For Paul it is the kingdom of the heart, the kingdom of the Son God loves. Pretty great company to be in.

You can sense Paul’s own happiness and rejoicing in these opening lines because news has reached him of the love the Spirit has awakened in you. It is this Spirit of love that is the mark of the sacred reality they live now through their faith in Christ. So the good news is spreading like a bountiful garden throughout the world, and enabling a sacred people to come to understand God’s grace, his life within them and what this really is, what this really means in their lives. Again Paul harkens back to the idea of knowledge he spoke of Ephesians, the knowledge of God that comes from being planted and rooted in the love of Christ. It is not only knowledge of God, but most especially the fullness of him as the sacred reality that feeds and fuels our lives, enriches it and makes all things possible. To bear all things joyfully.

And Paul in prison is doing just that. Because even though his physical freedom is restricted the news he receives and his ability to continue to dialogue with the people through his ‘brethren’, his fellow apostles, is the source of joy to him and thanksgiving. The message of the true gospel has borne fruit, which is the love that the people of Colossae have for all their fellow saints, in other words, each other. Like spring flowers this love spreads across the field of faith, and has brought light out of the darkness. Freed from sin, freed to love. It is this light as well that shines on their new growth providing enlightenment of a knowledge that Paul does not define but knows himself to be grace, an experience that often escapes words, a lived reality, a knowledge that is lived in the reality of their lives each day, and like a flower reaching toward the morning light, draws us irresistibly to the love of Christ Jesus.

It was from a garden that we were put out upon this path and it is in a garden that Jesus came back to life, to us,  to make his love the ever renewing spring time of the kingdom of love, where each day we are called to blossom in that Love.