Jesus the Christ

footprints

The drama and tension that runs through all the gospels is at their core the question of Jesus’ identity. Between John the Baptists, who proclaims the coming one, and Paul, who proclaims the meaning of the one who now has come, Jesus stands. Awash in the waters of the Jordan River, beyond its shores Jesus himself became the message swirling about the Mediterranean in the questions Paul’s converts raised about this Christ Paul asked them to follow. By a dramatic turn of events, Paul would call him Christ and range far wider than any of the evangelists in his proclamation of Jesus’ identity, the nearness of God and saving sovereign for all who believed in him. The gospels and Paul’s letters, read in tandem today can orchestrate for us the mosaic of Jesus’ life and person.

Rising out of the waters of the Jordan he became a magnet to those searching for a better way, a better day. But we do not have the physical presence of Jesus to draw us to him. What sensibility quiets the clamor that seems to reign today? How do we enkindle the flame so our hearts burn within us when we hear his voice, hear the stories he told retold to us today? This is no small challenge. Our desire must be great. Our imaginations open wide. Our searching hearts undaunted by the secular world’s hold, sway and pull on us. And yet we live in the midst of our world, the way in which Jesus lived in and moved about in his world, awash with its own profane and materialistic determinations.

Woven about the person of Jesus, like a shroud that had begun to unravel over the years, over the centuries, are stories and legends, the fact and fictions of his life. He became draped in the mantel of Israel’s hopes. Soon enough, those hopes dashed, he would wear the royal purple of Rome and then become the Roman Empire’s standard bearer, cooped by a king, to be a King.

His life is a mosaic of those who loved him, those who followed him, those who believed he was their savior. His life story was even shaped by those who feared him. But the voices of those whom he had touched won out. Those are the voices that remain to carry his story forward for future generations, for us.

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The Coming of Light and Love

menorah

Winter is fast approaching. The days are longer and darker. Christians are in the second week of Advent. Waiting for the light. It is also the first night of Hanukkah. The Festival of Lights. The reclaiming and rededication of the Jerusalem Temple. We are all together attending to the season, recalling miracles of light. Light coming into the world. A light that when lit, did not go out. We Christians carry this idea of the Light of the World in the person of Yeshua of Nazareth.  Even materially, commercially, it is what the season is about. Light. The gift of birth and rebirth. An energized season where for a time we are more hospitable, generous, more open in spirit and friendship. More light hearted.

So this is another opportunity to spend forty days (more or less) with St. Paul. To continue the Christ-self discourses begun here. To look at the Christ life, not as a concept or doctrine, but as a lived, personal reality with its potential to transform, challenge and accompany our lives. The light our darkness and take us back into the Temple. For some of us that Temple remains in the Christ that we follow. The Temple of stone has crumbled and given way to the Temple of the heart. The place where we attend to the light, to keep it burning, burning in a light that will spread throughout the world, like the stars in the sky, the promise that the children of Abraham would take that faith and spread it to all the  nations of the world. And in many way, if you think about it, we have. Because we are all children of Father Abraham. Even though this promise has taken different forms and rituals. We have put different words to the same music.

Today we are the ones crying in the wilderness. What light can we light that will not go out? What can we birth within ourselves that can remain alive throughout the dark days and the horrific events that are taking place before our very eyes. Perhaps it is the light of Love. The only light that will last. That can unit. That can heal. That can take us back into the holy of holies and there to find an old couple holding a baby in their arms, while the light continues to burn at his dedication.

 

The Rose that is Forever in its Advent

                 last rose of summer  We are on the threshold of Advent, and yet in the heartland flowers are still blooming. We are having a very long Indian summer. The impatiens are leggy, but still have color, and the petunia, who will last even when the snow falls upon them, have turned their faces, yellow, orange, purple, violet, to the rising sun each morning. The roses rival the autumn leaves who have gone from their vibrant reds and oranges to a dull russet while the rose bush continues to bloom. That flower associated as the penultimate symbol of love flowers on beyond its appointed season. If you wanted to name a perfect flower it would well the rose.

I am thinking of Advent differently this year, with St. Paul’s letters in mind. It seems to me that Paul brought another kind of Advent, the coming of Jesus as the Christ into the world and into our awareness.  Paul brought to awareness the living presence of Christ Jesus to a whole new sector of the Mediterranean population. Paul’s main theme is that we are brought to new life, a new birth, in faith in Christ. Christ becomes the highest and most perfect symbol of all that is human and sacred. His living, dying and rising makes that god-life available to us, not in some distant future, but now. For Paul it was always now. In Christ God’s life is born in us now, not as a baby in a manger, but in the manger of our hearts. One adult to another. One fully human and sacred Person to another human person who has within him/her the possibility of bringing the sacred reality that we are to the fullness of life, into full bloom. For Paul it was the coming of whatever vision or sensibility that came to him that inaugurated the advent of the Christ. The incarnate God ever available to us now in Him.

In Advent as we put on Christ, we put on the undying, timeless, perfect rose. Who continues to bloom even in the midst of winter’s darkest days, amidst the snow, in spite of the cold, the rose reminding us too of the life-blood that flowed from him onto the earth to mark it forever with his beauty, grace, life and love.

 

Writing Joseph

It occurred to me yesterday that the Sunday sermon comes up short at the altar rail unless the preacher has the ability to incarnate the person of Jesus there in our lives. If his or her words cause Jesus to come alive to us, so that Jesus walks out into the sanctuary, down the aisle and touches the lives of those sitting there hoping for a word, something to take home with them so that the Christ life might enliven their own lives. That’s what Jesus did. He walked right out into the mess and muddle of everyday life, to ordinary people, to touch, heal, teach and love. We ministers of the Word need to school ourselves beyond scholarly and academic considerations. Unless the gospel lives for us, we cannot hope to make it, Jesus, live for others.

This is what Joseph does. In his story he walks out into our lives, so we can journey with him. So we can learn what it means to be fully and authentically human. He shows us how to navigate the pitfalls in life and become wise and heroic.

The narrative of Joseph’s life comes alive because it resonates with each of our own lives. Before I can say a word about Jesus, I had to begin by saying many words about Joseph. Jesus will carry the story of Israel within him. As the last patriarch Joseph stands for that story. Where the Hebrew people will go, Joseph has been. Joseph goes before each of us, shepherd, dreamer and savior.

For me Joseph was the place to begin, because all the rest of scriptures hang on understanding the final chapters of Genesis. I did not want to rush and make him a Christ-figure. Or prefiguration. He isn’t. What he is is a person much like you and I. ‘A man with his moments. Moments of being loved. Moments of being betrayed. Moments of dreams and moments of stark reality. Moments of blessings and moments of loss. Moments on the way to becoming himself. And in between all these moments is a life. A life of wandering and work. A life spent trying to piece together all the scattered moments of his life in order to give them meaning, in order to come to know himself and the sacred Reality at the heart of all the moments of his life.’ (From Page 1 of the Preface to I Am Joseph, Shepherd, Dreamer, Savor.)

All the writing, quotes, artwork and photography in this blog, fortydayswith stpaul, are the work of the author unless otherwise stated. Scripture readings are from the Jerusalem Bible.
This work, including its contents, may not be used, reproduced, duplicated, displayed or distributed without the express written permission of the author.

Imagine the Possibilities

Pentecost red ribbons  Pentecost redeems the Tower of Babel. Many languages were being spoken out there on the streets beneath the upper room on that Pentecost day where a great wind caught twelve plus anxious men and women in the grips of something that changed not only their lives but the way we view the world and mark history.

We are in the season of the Holy Spirit. And in all truth, since the day of that first Pentecost, when the world was lit by the fire and language of the Spirit, Pentecost is the ever-present reality of our lives each and every day, no matter what church or natural season in which we find ourselves.

This Spirit is the Spirit of Christ. St. Paul tells us that it is this Spirit that has come to make its home in us. In his letter to the Romans Paul characterizes the essence of the spirit as freedom.  He interchanges Spirit of Christ and Spirit of God in this letter. But they are one and the same Spirit. The נשימה that breathed over the waters at the creation, the ruach which in the Hebrew Scriptures can be variously translated wind or spirit or breath.

One of the Hebrew names for God is Ruach Elohim. The first impression of those assembled in the upper room was of a wind. A wind that overtook their sensibilities. A wind that brought the fire of the spirit. In that moment we became lit with the Spirit of Christ moving in our lives. In that upper room a window opened to eternity. To divinity. To the sacred possibility within us. Opens us to the Spirit of One made whole, human and sacred showing himself fully alive, alive to the Ruach Elohim and now fully alive in us.

When Jesus showed himself risen he carried the Ruach Elohim to us. In him Spirit and Body became one indivisible reality of the human person. He crushed the head of dualism. And in him the Ruach Elohim came to its fullest expression in the human person. The Word breathed over the waters at Creation became flesh. And when the Word became flesh, as St. Paul would say, we became a new creation.

Like Mary seeded by the Ruach Elohim at Jesus’ conception, we are now in Christ, seeded with the limitless possibilities of his Spirit. Each day is a little pentecost. We are his first-fruits. The bounty of his becoming in us. In his Spirit, in the emerging pentecost of each new day, we rise to a new harvest, a new way of being, which holds the limitless possibilities of our humanity, now in him, made whole. Human. Sacred. Meant.

Dream On

  night sky  In St. Paul’s letters Christ is the images of a person human, whole and sacred. To live in Christ is to live in one’s depths, in one’s creative depths. To live In Christ is to activate the creative energies of the spirit. Then to  live within the Reality that is the Christ-self that Paul says ‘hides’ within us is to come into the environment of grace, the environments of the spirit of Christ. As we come to this awareness in our lives we are paying attention and enabling its growth within us. Jesus as the Christ is our image of the sacred self. The sacred self that we are. That we all have within us. We have only to tap into it in order to make its presence known in our lives. One place we find the sacred self in our dreams.

We have invented language, some say we have invented God, But we cannot invent our dreams. They invent us. Like the stars and moon, the sacred self, that becoming thing within us, shines out from our nightly dreams, pointing the way, with the promise of inner harmony, synthesis and integration. The Self has a passion for wholeness, inclusion. In dreams it gives inklings of what can be realized, a hope for that which is not yet seen: one’s true identity. By the promptings of the dreams, we embark upon the adventure of self-discovery and trust the leadings of the sacred self, both as guiding spirit and goal of our becoming. It is the task of each individual to become who one is meant to be. To discover oneself as both sacred and human, and shrink from neither. We do this with the resources bestowed upon creation, and forge into consciousness our unique identities in the world.

This is what is truly worship. A life devotion to the whole-making energies within us. Paying attention to the sacred self, the Christ-self, within. Writing or musing over one’s dreams is a way to enter into the dreams as the language of the soul. Just like the stories of the scriptures are the language of the soul; the way we read them today so that we might enter into the sacred ground. A devotion to the sacred self as it is ever emerging within us and as it comes into view before us. If we can but attune ourselves as it shows itself  in the world of nature and other people. We just need to be paying attention. It is a life worth worthy of all our attention.

 

 

Becoming Healed, Whole, Sacred

  rhizome    When we speak of Jesus paying attention in the same breadth we are speaking of creative spirituality. A creative spirituality that Jesus lived. Jesus was about healing others. By a touch, a glance, a story, by acceptance and even by his very essence, his spirit, that could be accessed by just touching the hem of his garment. Jesus’ healed to make room for something new to be created in them. Free of whatever dis-ease keeps us from living into the fullness of life, achieving all that we can be.  In Jesus’ life we see the God who wills our well-being. When we want to discern God’s will (a tricky subject!) we need only ask ourselves is this life giving. Creative spirituality is about living in concert with the sacred that wills our wholeness and well-being, creating what gives life.

Jesus is the definition of what it means to be whole. This is what is meant by ‘salvation’. For Paul this is achieved in Jesus as the Christ. We don’t need a predictable cardboard cut-out of Jesus. He refused this kind of idolatry in his life. We will never be able to fully find the real Jesus, who walked the dusty ground between Galilee and Jerusalem. But what we have now is life in his Spirit, the endlessly creative spirit/spirituality of the Christ life.

Something in each of us wants to be healed. This is the sacred in the depths of our being that wants to bring us to well-being, wholeness. This thing that impels us toward becoming whole is the god-life within each of us. This is the workings within the province and sovereignty of the sacred self. As our growing awareness admits into our lives the counsel of the unconscious as it shines forth in our dreams and in the stories, symbols and images that come to our attention, we enter into the ever-expanding circle of the sacred self as it takes within its embrace all that will be healed and reconciled within us.

Lent is dark. It’s time of year is in that no man’s land between the harshness of winter and the first buddings of spring.  Here we are on the cusp of new life, in an as yet uncreated space. But creative spirituality uses the darkness, it embraces our brokenness, what is limited and wanting within us, and makes new life from it. Up through dirt comes the flower.  The bud needs the darkness of the earth to spring to life. Even in our own dirt and darkness we find the healing embrace of the sacred self, the unconditional embrace of the Christ-life. In the garden nothing is excluded, all is used. This is where the sacred and the human become indistinguishable. In this uncreated space, like the first dawning of creations, we are ever on a journey of self-discovery so that we might come to know the ever-present horizon of our being. We are ever in the process of becoming.  Becoming  healed, becoming whole, becoming sacred.

Out of the Mouths of Babes

IMG_0417  …And Jesus Paid Attention

From an early age my nieces were told bible stories. (One thing I’ve come to realize over the years is that whether you are part of a faith community or not, it is important that our children hear the bible stories. The rest will take care of itself.)

My nieces were told the bible stories from an early age. My sister always started off the stories by saying to the girls ‘now pay attention’. One Easter, my sister was showing off a bit, as parents do. She asked then three year old Ashley “what did Jesus do at Easter?” Ashley thought hard.  You could see her little mind working. Then the little light bulb came on and she said “he paid attention.” Well, it sounds like resurrection doesn’t it.

At Easter Jesus paid attention. St. Paul would agree. Attention  is defined as to wait upon, to take care, to minister, to serve. Isn’t this precisely what Jesus did. He paid attention to who he was; he paid attention to God as his Father and his relationship with him; and he paid attention to the needs of the people around him. He cared, he waited upon and ministered to them. Listened to them. Told them stories. (Guess he figured the rest would take care of itself as well.) And as a result it would appear that at Easter God paid attention to him. Throughout Paul’s letters he is asking his audience to pay attention to who they are because then they are paying attention to the Christ-within. Paying attention to oneself, ones’ community and to the Christ-life is to live life in Christ.

This might be a good definition of faith as well. Paying attention – focusing our hearts, minds and imaginations on how Jesus paid attention to who he understood himself to be. Jesus paid attention to the greatest human need: to be loved. That love took many forms. If we can see ourselves reflected in his life and love, to care about and for others, then we incarnate Christ in our lives today and to others.

As Jesus carried his cross up the dirty, rock littered road, he was paying attention. To his life and to those he loved. To us. The attention Jesus paid turned the cross from a sign of death to the tree of life.

A Forever Valentine

All things are eventually redeemed in the heart of God.

 It’s Valentine’s day. It’s also four days before Ash Wednesday. Today is that one special day of the year we celebrate love and let those we love know it.  Red hearts, roses, chocolate, special dinners, cards expressing our love for each other, perhaps even love letters, the ways we show those we love what they mean to us. On or before that day we go out of our way to find and give some expression of our love for another.

God too went out of his way to show his love for us, his valentine to the world, in the person of Jesus.

In Jesus there is a real, human heart, that flowed out upon a ground stamped with the very opposite of love. The opposite of Life. Jesus’s heart is not just a symbol, but the very real, that great cosmic heart that is still beating today.

Love is the envelope in which Lent arrives. It is at its beginning and at its end. At the end of Lent is the celebration of Jesus’ love for us, his undying gift of himself to us.

Lent is the journey in love to Love. The path of love for forty days. In Christ’s sacred heart is the Real, human love of God for us.

At the close of Thessalonians Paul once again encourages the people to turn their hearts toward the love of God.  This is a love that never gets overlooked, doesn’t forget to be mailed, doesn’t end up in a drawer or eventually tossed in the trash. It doesn’t melt, nor does it fly away like a red balloon headed for the heavens. It’s edges don’t turn yellow or the words fade, becoming unreadable. This is an enduring love that once sent remains. Is always readable. A remembered love. An ever present love. A Present this Love. A love that stays with us. Ours simply for the asking. Our simply by breaking open the seal of our hearts. To find another heart waiting there.

Love needing to become tangible, flesh, alive, beating, even at the risk of breaking. A Love that became the world. It’s little and large messages everywhere we look. In the smallest farthest star, in the gritty speck of sand, in the imprint on the leaf and the petal of a flower. In the oldest tree and the newest baby. In a stranger’s smile and the eyes of each child. In the playful kittens and the dog’s insistence to roam. The essence of things is a broken off piece of the Creator’s heart. In each person is the breath and beating of that heart. In that  love we become Real. We are made Real.

Like the skin horse said to the Velveteen rabbit, ‘Real isn’t how you are made…It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’

And its forever.

HAPPY VALENTINES DAY!!

 

Creative Spirituality

Pentecost red ribbons   In spite of the vast and varied array of interpretations that have been lumbered on St. Paul’s letters, let me suggest that we also see the importance of his letters as they portray the creative process. For it is the cream rising to the top after we sort through the behavioral cautions and his perplexing treaties on the Mosaic law.

From Genesis we know that we are created in image and likeness. Being created human means we are sacred and we are meant. Something within us looks like the God who created us. For Paul living in Christ is the completion of the creation process.

Spirituality is living in the Spirit of Christ where Christ is the epicenter of our spirituality. This spirituality is creative because in it we come to the fullness of life, more truly who we are and are meant to be.  It is the life of Christ that animates our being. It is a new way of being that we can never exhaust. Here we live beyond mere existence. In a creative Christ-centered spirituality we grow and become; we discover that this life is the most real part of who we are, without which we are just walking bodies.

Creative spirituality is living in our depths. And in our depths is the sacred. This is the hidden self we endeavor to bring into awareness. The hidden self as the Christ-self, the realization that within us resides not only the life but the love of Christ. Discovering this and being changed because of this awareness is at the heart and soul of a creative spirituality. This is the discovery that Paul made on the Damascus Road. It would fire his whole life. He set out to share and to create a way of living that not just resembled, but re-assembled us into the person of Christ. This way of living is about transformation. The Way of becoming whole. (I am the Way, to the Truth, that gives Life.) A way of becoming fully human; experiencing the fullness of the God-life within us.

Creative spirituality is also the realization that like Jesus we are human, and like Jesus as the Christ our lives are ever being renewed, resurrected. Creative spirituality, like all creative endeavors, is open, attentive, flexible, alive and the willingness to participate in mystery and be surprised by what is forming in us. In a Christ-centered creative spirituality we are ever in the process of self-becoming. The Christ-self as the coming to be of the sacred in our lives. A transformation that is ever at work within us.

In creative spirituality we are both forming and being formed. Shaping and being shaped.  It is the genesis in solitude of awareness, attention, receptivity and trust, to trust oneself and ones instincts, which are the cornerstones of the creative spirit. Creative spirituality is the expression of one’s own soul as it forms, finds and keeps to the deepest center of one’s life. It is the ability to become whole, to discover and be discovered by a sacred purpose and allow oneself to be led by the creative spirit as one makes one’s way into the heart of divine existence and the sacredness of oneself.