The Earthed Spirituality of Christ


 footprints    Recently my twelve year old grandson said something rather profound. He wasn’t going for profundity, but rather was instructing his grandmother on the art of football. He said that in football never let your feet leave the ground. That’s when you get hurt. He explained: Don’t jump over people or jump on top of the other guy(s). My grandson knows whereof he speaks.

Seems to me this can apply to life as well. We often associate the spiritual life with living in some airy fairy world that is above or even beyond our all-too-real lives. That it floats above us in some rarified atmosphere that we must jump through hoops to access. That spirituality is something over and above human life, real life.  It seems Pentecost is saying something different. That the Spirit of Christ that comes to us is that of a real person who embodies both the human and sacred. His Spirit endows us with his image and likeness. With his humanity as well as his sacredness. This spirituality is a grounded spirituality. Grounded in Christ. Grounded in our very real and often difficult lives, as it was in his.  It is my experience that unless we have your two feet firmly planted in your life, God cannot put his two foot there either. And when we do and he does, nothing we do can separate us, as Paul says, from the love, the experience, the presence of Christ Jesus.

Paul talks about modeling ourselves on the lived example that Christ embodied. Paul often too refers to the mind of Christ. The mind of Christ seen in his actions. What we observe first and foremost is a man living an authentic life true to who he knew himself to be. He was in solidarity with others; celebrating their marriages, eating and drinking with his friends, for which he was roundly criticized, tending to their physical and spiritual needs, standing between himself and evil spirits, and talking to those who began to follow him, telling them stories about another way of being which he called the kingdom. He sought to give others sight, and new ways of looking at life, and at his Father, whom he said we could see in him. So why is the way we look at God, so very different from how we see Jesus? Or at least how he is represented in the gospel accounts of his life. He wanted others to hear, not the old ways, which obviously were not only not working, but were causing people more difficulties than intended. And what he intended, what he wanted for his followers, was a different kind of peace, a different way of living the faith of Israel, which he now embodies in his Spirit.

It is this Spirit, his Spirit that has been given us. One that gives life. One that is real, earthed, and is an abiding presence, the awareness of which he tried valiantly to bring to our attention by his very life and humanity, a presence that would was not, is not, deterred by those killing his body. The man who walked the Road to Emmaus and sat by the sea shore cooking breakfast for his friends, was again, showing us that the realm of heaven, of the eternal, of the sacred, is one with this world of flesh and blood, earth and sky, road and seashore, which nothing can deter, restrain, contain or destroy. For his Spirit is absolutely the Spirit of freedom. The Spirit of love. The Spirit of an abiding presence that is as close as the wind on our faces, as real as our heart beats and as available to us as our believing it is so.


Transformation – Revisioning Paul

      my-digital-pix-338.jpg   Throughout history the narratives of faith of all people are essentially journey narratives of identity and the transformation of those identities in the experience of the sacred.

The story of Israel is one long journey narrative, the journey to a transformed identity, a changed understanding of a God who journeyed right along with them, shaping, changing who they were and whose they were. And that story continues in the gospel narratives.
In one of the opening scenes of St. John’s gospel, Jesus changes water into wine. After John’s beautiful poetic Prologue and the challenges to both John the Baptist’s and Jesus’ identity, there is a transformation. It may seem that it is a miracle story bolstering Jesus’ identity, but it is John’s way of signaling that what follows is going to be a gospel narrative about change and  transformation.
Luke’s gospel begins with the infancy narrative. The birth of Jesus. Again, Luke is making sure that his audience knows that Jesus was born in the city of David and is in direct line to Israel’s first shepherd-king. We all know that the birth of a child is a life changing event. The birth of this particular child would be a world-changing event.
Paul’s first letter was to the Thessalonians who he said at the beginning of the letter had been ‘converted’, change so that they might follow and serve the real, living God.
There is only one transformation in the New Testament that is greater than Paul’s experience on the Damascus Road. His was a most radical transformation of a person. From persecutor to champion of Jesus Christ. He tells he had the experience of the risen Lord. It is this risen Lord, this Jesus of Nazareth that changed everyone he touched and came into contact with.
Paul’s letter to the Romans is a gospel of transformation. And at the heart of all his letters is transformation. Not as an idea, a doctrine, a set of tenants, decrees, laws, regulations or rituals. But as a lived experience. The lived experience of the risen Christ, the Christ-self within and available to each of us.
It would be Jesus’ transformation from death to life, the resurrection that would be the great transformation, the transformation that is at the heart of all transformation. One that Paul says we too can and do take part in.
So, the whole of our sacred writings, both Testaments, have one thrust. The radical alteration of human life. The transformation of what it means to be human. And the impetus and center, the energy of the spirit driving this change, is the Christ-self. Paul’s ‘hidden self’. The Self that is a possibility within those whose lives are lived in Christ.
It is the Christ-Self within us that the gospels and Paul’s letters are trying to bring us to awareness, the sure knowledge and lived experience of how we may – where we may – participate in the life of God.

The Christ-Self as the lived experience of the sacred. Of our sacred humanity. A sacred humanity that in Christ opens everyone to its possibility. The possibility of that which can become itself in God.

The End if the Beginning

As Paul proceeds through to the close of his 2nd letter to the Corinthians, he extols a rather lengthy ‘apologia’. It is a defense of his ministry in light of the challenges he faces more from those inside the faith they share than outside it. But as he moves toward this impassioned close he prefaces it by saying that everything he says and does has one goal. To win people over to faith in Christ.

He encapsulates this message owning that when he is away from the believers he can be a bully and when he is with them he is humble with the patience and peace of Christ.

In the final chapters of the 2nd letter to the Corinthians Paul says what he has said before, just more nuanced. And more Pauline lengthy. More Pauline boastful. More Pauline profound. And yet beneath all the bravado is a humility heard when he finally says God’s grace is enough. We can see that it is God’s grace in Paul that sees him through. Keeps him going. He goes on without giving up, bolstered by God’s grace, and Paul’s love for the people he has brought to faith in Christ. He knows that they are vulnerable at the outset. It’s a vulnerability he carries within him as well. By opening himself up to his own vulnerability, he is also opening himself up to further intimacy with those to whom he went to preach Christ risen. That is partly why he rises to a level of so-called bullying. He wants to encourage them in the face of their questions, doubts and the challenges they will face from non-believers. Beyond that to clear away the obstacles to further intimacy with God in Christ. He will do whatever needs to be done, expend himself in any way so the Goods News lives and flourishes in his newly formed believers. He does this with a demanding urgency believing that they too will soon experience the risen Lord who he believe will come again in his and their lifetimes.

Perhaps the crux of the matter is this: On the one hand Paul is affectionate and passionately cares for his converts when he is with them. However, when out of their sight, in the letters he addresses to them, he rises to his full powers when confronted with those who do not yet reflect the Christ life. He arms himself with a righteousness, (which is his own sense of being saved by Christ, where it is done on earth as it is in heaven) knowing himself to be one with Christ and with the absolutely certainty of the Christ he preaches, especially when faced with the challenges that met him as he brought the ideas and reality of the new faith, the new way of being one with God, to nonbelievers.

Challenges even from other apostles. The dilemma of those who are posing to preach Christ but have other agendas in mind. It is not just an lst century Palestinian problem. Then there are those who apparently have also hurled at him the charge that he did not go around with Jesus himself. Did not know Jesus in the flesh. Perhaps his message is skewed as well. Paul continues with an unrivaled confidence. Because he says over and over it is not from himself but from God that his mission comes. For that reason Paul often acquiesced for the sake of the gospel and for fellowship within the one message and one body in Christ which is so all important to him. Even to remain in fellowship with the other apostles costs him dearly.

But perhaps that too is part of the plan as well. Paul knew and experienced Jesus Christ in another way. It appears perhaps in a more intimate way. Perhaps even in a more profound way, because he experienced the risen Lord. Paul, why are you persecuting me? This certainty, this passion, the strength of his belief and experience will father the faith that will come to be known as Christianity.

Before the gospels were written, Paul preached Christ to others personally. He did not compose a story of the Christ-event. The gospels are very important. They are significant chronicles of the Jesus who walked Judea and through them can walk into our hearts and lives. Paul encountered the risen Lord. He went to the people. He knew Christ in a singular way without having the experience of Jesus of Nazareth. And it is in this way that we too know and come to the risen Lord as well.