He Paid Attention

St. Paul isn’t the only one who understands the nature and meaning of the resurrection.

My youngest sister has three daughters. She and her husband are very conscientious about telling their daughters the bible stories from an early age. My sister will preface the story by saying to the girls, now pay attention.

One Easter the family was assembled for Easter brunch at my sisters. In order to show that Ashley, age three, knew her bible stories and the meaning of Easter, Ashley was asked What did Jesus do at Easter? In front of the family audience, Ashley thought hard for a minute and then proudly piped up He paid attention.

Out of the mouths of babes. He paid attention, indeed. Attention. Resurrection.

Ashley was on to something in her answer. Jesus did pay attention.

He paid attention to who he was. He paid attention to the faith in which he was born and raised. He paid attention to the social, political and religious world that he was born into. And he paid attention to the longings, hopes and dreams of the people he encountered during his life. He paid attention to his ‘calling’, to his life work. He paid attention to the story of Israel and then he paid attention to how he might go about gathering together the dispersed tribes of Israel. He paid attention to those who could help him in his work by calling them to follow him. He paid attention to not only his friends, but also to his enemies. He paid attention not only to the high born, but also to the lowest in his society. He paid attention to the will of his Father as he understood it. And when it seemed that his paying attention got him the wrong kind of attention, he attended to a way not of political power or the sway of the sword, but attended to who he knew himself to be.

So that now perhaps we can chime in with Ashley and say that in the lengthening light of each Easter day and beyond Jesus continues to pay attention, he pays attention now to us.


He comes to us as one unknown…

Paul had more than one revelation of the risen Christ. Whatever those experiences were I get the sense that he gropes and grapples for words to convey what those experiences were. They seem to be experiences that are beyond words. But they are mostly likely the locus of his passion for preaching the risen Christ. He continually prays that we too might enter into the mystery and the revelation, the reality of Christ. Yet, too, as with all mystical experiences, they are first and foremost for the receiver. For reason that only he or she knows. They are impetus. And they are not bound by words.

Paul’s prayer for us in Ephesians, where he prays that our hidden self grown strong and the love of Christ which is beyond all knowing, seem enigmatic, a reality shrouded in mystery. Hidden for us to uncover. Treasure buried in a Self that we are meant to discover.

In the next two letters, Philippians and Colossians, Paul also used similar language:

…now the life you have is hidden with Christ in God. Co 3:3

He speaks of the infinite treasure that is Christ. Why the mystery? Why hidden?

In the past few decades, which began with Albert Schweitzer, there has arisen what is called the search or quest for the historical Jesus. It’s not a search so much for what Paul calls the reality of Christ, but to go back to the historical documents and try to uncover the real (historical) Jesus. This is not a search into the mystery or the reality of the Christ of faith.

Perhaps its our all-to-human tendency to set things in stone. To nail down that which refuses to be nailed down. Our tendency to codify, dogmatize and decree what is living, organic, supple and transmutable. The human person and the human spirit in the never-ending process of becoming. Becoming oneself. Becoming God’s. The journey to an identity that is the journey of transformation. From one way of being to another. From a half life to the fullness of life.

Seek and you shall find. It seems to be human nature to be on a discovery mission. To search the mystery. It is the seeking that seems to be part and parcel of the human experience, the way in which we are to go about finding not only ourselves, but the sacred reality that impinges upon our awareness as it both beckons and eludes us. In Philippians Paul likens this process of discovery as a race. Paul too wants to know Christ. To know the power of his resurrection. He says he has not gotten there yet. He is still running, trying to capture the prize for which Christ Jesus captured him. In this same context he says we are called to be ‘perfect’  (to be whole and achieve well being in Christ). Then in this passage he advises to keep going on the road…

Like Israel and Jesus before us, the realization of our identities and the simultaneous revelation of God come to us on the road, on the journey of life. We are meant to search out so that we can make these realizations our own. I suspect that  in that way, what is hard won, or ferretted out in life, are those things that stay with us.

 A living process of searching out our own depths and dimensions, how we are meant to achieve and realize the hidden self, yet always sense the mystery just ahead, over the next horizon, the beckoning beyond of something illusive, the Someone who wants to be known, not in formulas or definitions, but in the lived experience of relationship. Known more in the biblical sense (i.e. intimacy) as an encounter with  the sacred Other who is invitation. Our search is our practice and march toward eternity. Toward becoming fully human. A knowing not of the head but of the heart.

At the end of his search for the ‘real Jesus’ Schweitzer had this to say:

He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of hold, by the lakeside. He came to those (persons) who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same words: ‘Follow me’ and sets us to the task which He has to fulfill for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal Himself in the toils, the conflicts, the suffering which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience who He is.


The Christ-self

This, then, is what I pray, kneeling before the Father, from whom every family, whether spiritual or natural, takes its name:

Out of his infinite glory, may he give you the power through his Spirit for your hidden self to grow strong, so that Christ may live in your hearts through faith, and that, planted on love and built on love, you will with all the saints have the strength to grasp the breadth and the length, the height and the depths, until, knowing the love of Christ, which is beyond all knowledge, you are filled with the utter fullness of God.                                                                                                                            Ephesians 4:14-19

 The hidden self that Paul prays will grow strong within us is the Christ-life as the center, source and sustenance of our lives. Paul sees it as hidden, as something that we come to realize the more we come to know the meaning of Christ’s love for us. To know its breadth and length within us. To experience the height and depths of its presence in our lives, in our very beings. It is the hidden life of Christ that is waiting to enter into the garden of our lives so that we might know the extent of his love for us. The love he demonstrates now for all time from the once and for all fall into the incomprehensible abyss of God’s absence, the long day’s journey into a night in which God is sequestered in the hearts of humanity waiting to be called forth from the tomb, from exile into the abundance of the hidden self that now awaits the fullness of his life within. Known in the love of Christ as it shines forth from his final meal with his friends until his love’s triumph over darkness and death.

It is ours to become more aware of his life within us, as this awareness becomes stronger, more present to us, the gracious and freely given gift of the love of Christ that is planted deep within us from the beginning, that brings us to the fullness of knowledge and awareness of his love as the most encompassing realization in our hidden depths. Our hidden self that is the sacred self. The embrace encompasses not only the kingdom of all that is sacred and whole but along with it, all that is dark and broken, limited and wanting as Good Friday reveals. It is this inclusiveness of the sacred self that is its healing embrace of the totality of who we are, where we find the unconditional embrace of the sacred incarnate there.

What we come to know are the gifts and abilities to heal and to become whole, to not just survive but to thrive, to achieve and live beyond betrayals into the eternally renewing creative spirit that is our never-ending hope. The never-ending hope that is rooted in our attention to the presence and love of Christ which Paul says is beyond all knowing. The eternal round of growth and decay is the province of the sacred and hidden self as well, it’s enduring rhizome sustained beneath the flux and final flower of each season. In Christ Jesus the sacred and human have become indistinguishable. It is the love of Christ, the fullness of the God-life within us that is our ever-present horizon of being waiting to be discovered, grow strong, within the precincts of the hidden self.

God’s Work of Art

Ephesians in its brevity encapsulates the best of Paul’s message. It is a message of peace, grace and as always encouragement in the Christ life. Paul’s passages in Ephesians are the phrases I want to keep in my head and heart, mindful that as we move to the new day of Easter, we might also think of moving to the new day when the positive message of the gospels and of St. Paul find renewal in our churches, academies and our lives. As we make our way to the renewal of Spring, I want to look at Paul with fresh eyes and be mindful of the changes and challenges inherent in his valuation of the people of God then and today.

Unfortunately, when Christianity became Roman, it also adapted (corrupted) the message of (especially) St. Paul to its own need to rule, dominate, setting the Church on a course that was legalistic, devalued the ‘flesh’ and women. Apparently the early church ‘fathers’ overlooked and/or discarded the message of Ephesians and Philippian. This is what Paul does not want for his converts. Not to live by rules and decrees. But to live in Christ.

Although, by now it should be evident that the totality of Paul’s message needs to be read in a new light, a more critical light, read and understood in its totality so we too can experience true resurrection, liberation from anachronistic readings that promote not the actual gospels themselves but a status quo we are still at pains to free ourselves.  So that we might once again not think of ourselves as sinners, but see ourselves as sacred and meant and know God the Father in the Christ Jesus who asks only one thing: to put our faith in him. To live our lives according to the Christ we have received. To have a new life in Christ through the great love with which he loves us.

We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus to have life in abundance from the beginning as he meant us to live. (Ephesians 2:9-10)

To have life in abundance. When people query God’s will, this is what he wills for us. Life. Life in abundance. Our well-being, the grace and gift of God. Partakers in Christ of the God-life that we are meant to be. A sacred people. We are original and uniquely created, with the hand of God shaping us from within and without. He breathes his life in us and sustains us in the Spirit of Christ. We are meant to live a good life, in the God who turns everything to the good. In the beginning he saw that what he had made was good. We continue to be good. And when we fall short of the God-life within us we can be assured that we are still loved, the mystery of the Christ life is abundantly within us and available to us.

We are God’s work of art. Our abundance, the infinite treasure of Christ.