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.

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The Garden Gone Silent – Transformed by Experience

 

Day Lily open    This past week I’ve spent as much time as possible drawing and photographing the day lilies as they’ve come and gone in the garden. Trying to get as many different views, angles, shapes, gestures and colors as I can before they finish blooming. It occurred me to that this is what the evangelists, and Paul, were doing when they began to write about the experience of Jesus of Nazareth and the experience of the risen Christ. Each began with experiences, experiences told and retold. Brief encounters with a man who would change Western civilization, whether he intended to or not. So, Paul from his experience on the Damascus Road wrote letter after letter (there are more than likely more than we have which have been lost) trying to convey that experience and how it transformed his life and inviting others to see that living in Christ, could possible change their lives as well. You don’t retell or image an experience or event unless it has had a profound and positive effect on your life. The evangelists, like me trying to capture the beauty and experience of the day lilies that wouldn’t be here very long, also took the stories of the experience of Jesus and each in their own way began to find shape and contour to the Christ-event and  what that experience looked like.  Reading through the gospels you come to see that what is conveyed in each instance is an encounter with someone that made such an impression, and often made a profound difference in their lives for the better, that they wanted to tell that experience with others. They wanted, I believe, to give that experience to anyone who would listen.

We will all be changed Paul says. Changed from sin to being alive in God. From the old written code to the new life in the Spirit. From flesh (as that which is fleeting) to Life according to the flesh in the Spirit. From rejection to acceptance. From evil to good. From captivity to freedom. From weakness to power (power as the ability to act for the good). From being servants and workers to growth and empowerment. From class and hierarchy to equality in Christ. This is not a Christianity as a burden but as a freedom. As a presence, something, Someone living we can be touched by.  A faith as the experience of Someone who touched others, ate with others, prayed with others, spoke and went about with others, and had a love so strong that his being dead could not keep him from his own. We are all his own.

Lately there is a lot of chatter about the state of the churches. People are leaving the churches. The body is in danger of dying. The lamenting is loud. The doctors have been called in. Prescriptions written. Two thousand years of the church not getting it right – oh, the list is long – is in part summed up by what I said previously. Being a Christian has been presented primarily as a burden rather than a blessing. Reading St. Paul turned into picking only the parts that served the agenda of a Roman Empire whose institution of religion was much like the art it made: derivative, without imagination, staid, a pale copy of the real thing. And you can go as far back to James and Peter in Jerusalem and how they ‘altered’ some of Jesus’ examples – like ceasing to have table fellowship with ‘outsiders’  – being chief among them. So the church became who’s in and whose out. Who’s called and whose not.

Carl Jung says one of the problems with Christianity is that it’s all out there. All ‘going to church’ with little attention to our inner lives, without any sensibility of the experience of Christ.  Kierkegaard said that we are in the soup we are in because Christianity changed into doctrine. He would go on to say that we need to ‘compel the age to take notice, to teach the age what it is to become Christian.’ To attend to the person and experience of Christ Jesus. Because that is what transformed all who encountered him, what transformed the evangelists and St. Paul, who through their writings are trying to give us the experience of an encounter with a Person.

What would our lives be like if we had the experience of the risen Christ? What would our lives be like if we experienced for just a brief moment the Christ-life in us and all about us? We all know how it feels to be in love. To want to be with and near that person as much as possible. The way suddenly the world seems to revolve about that person. In first century Palestine people were drawn to him. Men and women loved him. And they knew he loved them too. Crowds followed him. The needy sought him out.  St. Paul says nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. We now need to have the experience of that love.

The church may need to die. Jesus did. He got into the hands of the wrong people. If the body today is going to be resuscitated then perhaps it is by breathing the lived awareness of the love and the experience of Christ back into our every day and in our hearts.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Good Friday

The sword that pierced Mary’s heart

was the sword that would pierced her son’s side,

their hearts the saving symbol of the heart of God

intent upon loving the world from the manger to the altar of the cross,

where worship is no longer only a mother’s song but the very body

and being of her son.

Mary’s first prayer will be Jesus’ last.

As he prays to his heavenly Father

in the garden at Gethsemane before his death,

Jesus utters let it be as you would have it. 

As Mary accepted his life,

he too will accept his death,

 from mother to son,

the faithful surrender to God’s design for their lives.

As Jesus took his last breath,

a lone centurion stands beneath him,

see the man, seeing the truth of him,

his first Roman follower,

worshipping him in the place

where a voice has gone silent.

In one, silent still moment

birthed on Calvary

the heart of God and

And the heart of humanity

hung together.

In the womb of the world

and the embrace of his Father,

arms reached out to the world

where God came home

and humanity is no longer homeless.

 

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.

The Power of Love

  IMG_0840    Chapter 8 of Romans is one of the most powerful and instructive writings in St. Paul’s letters. In these (almost) forty verses Paul no longer circles around the Christ-life available to us through Christ’s death and resurrection, but comes to the heart of the matter as he focuses on our life in the Spirit. The spiritual endeavor. Our spirituality.

That the spirituality Paul writes about is life-giving means to me that this is a creative spirituality. The task of a creative spirituality is to discover who we are, whose we are. The spirit is life itself. But often who we are is wounded. In Christ we have a new identity, an identity via the understanding of the meaning of suffering, where not even death can deter the divine possibility in our lives.

We know that life is fragile. We are reminded daily of just how fragile and fleeting our lives can be. Like creation itself life carries within it its own vulnerabilities. It has a power to wash us ashore, leaving us wearied and wondering before it. We can never fully imagine, grasp or set in stone the changing splendor of life, each day’s newness, just as we can never shore our hearts up against the suffering that also comes there. The search for meaning is always a search to make sense of that which is often senseless. Holy Week becomes then an opportunity to enter into our vulnerability. To lay our hurts and sufferings at the foot of the cross, so that the God without stretched arms might turn/transform everything to the good.

We are practiced to celebrate life and conditioned to shun its suffering. And yet, we see the unrelenting, indomitable spirit of humanity grappling with suffering and evil like Job in each new age. In Christ’s death and in his raising back to life, we triumph through the trials by the power of him who loves us. Love is a power stronger than death. Paul knows this. Paul has experienced this. I want to keep reminding myself of this.

For Christ’s love for me is more powerful than anything. Those words ring across continents, cultures and eons. In Paul’s letters we come to understand the sacred design present in the Spirit of Christ as the ever-available source of new life within us, the god-place, our sacred centers within as our truest, deepest, constant and most faith-filled self, ever emerging and becoming even in the midst of the void and chaos of this life, even in death. For in Christ’s resurrection we know that death is not the end. It is only the beginning of our life in the Spirit that is human, enfleshed, our souls, spirits, psyches embodied in the temples that we are.

In the Christ-life we become one with God (justified) who is continually in the process of bringing all things, the created world and the creature world, into his life, his embrace, his kingdom. It is the gathering grace, the generative love of God for his world, for us as his children, who have become sisters and brothers of Christ.

Paul includes all of creation that is in the process of groaning in one great act of giving birth, to fulfill the sacred design that God set in place in the beginning. We are reminded that the essential human gift was not lost when we left the garden. In the Spirit of Christ it continues in complete, unhampered choice, in the freedom to choose oneself, to become oneself and to choose God. A presence, yes. A meddler, no. The final gift of creation, the freedom to name oneself, to be oneself, no matter what external contingencies prevail against us. This is the meaning and the message, the promise going out from the first pages of Genesis, culminating in the writings of St. Paul who too would remind us of one unrivaled truth: We make our way in the freedom of the Spirit through suffering and loss to ourselves and to God. And as we do the world opens to us, like a tomb giving forth the lifeless, finding us as we find ourselves recreated in image and likeness, now the likeness of Christ, as we are endowed anew with the awareness that we remain children of God.

The Gypsy-God

Have you ever spoken to someone who thought it was incomprehensible that someone would die as Jesus did for others? We, who have been born into the Christian faith, take this, I think, as a given, for granted, without question. But there are times when I myself look at this wonder did it have to be that way? Surely, God being God, what God did in Jesus could have been accomplished without Jesus having to die, and die as he did?

It goes back to the image of tent that was yesterday’s topic. It’s about the God who pitches his tent among us. The God who signifies himself as a tent-dweller, journeying with his people as they made their trek through the wilderness. The Son too, who St. John says is the Word become flesh, the still living God, pitches his tent among us. In Jesus God continues to dwell in a tent, to journey, to suffer and die AND bring us back to life.

God is saying to us in Jesus, in the Word that become flesh, Jesus shows us the way. The way in this too; because it is the way of all flesh. Jesus’ way of dying precedes his rising, his coming back to us. The living God’s Yes in the face of humanities worst, in the face of death’s no.

He is the God of All Things, good and bad. And the badest is death. In Jesus’ death God is saying “I got this.”

Death changes everything. Jesus’ death was very human, very public and got a lot of people’s attention. But his reappearance in three days got even more. In fact his reappearance, changed the way people thought of his death. It changed the way they thought of life and living. It changes us. It changed the Western world.

Jesus’s death then was the beginning. Not the beginning of the end. But the beginning of a new way of life. Life reinstated. Life rethought. Life relived. A new way of being. A new way of becoming.

God is saying Stay tuned. This is only the beginning, the beginning of the next stage of a journey that began long ago, when I too was a wandering, tent-dweller. I made my home with you then, saved and kept you for myself. In Yeshua I continue to love, to care, to save, to go with you. He too saved you from death, saved you for life. I have saved you for myself. He changed water into wine. I change death into life. Because I not only got this, I got you.

In the Twinkling of an Eye

As Paul concludes his lst letter to the Corinthians he takes up the subject of the resurrection. Certainly there were people then as there are now who doubted or flat out did not believe that Jesus could have come back from the dead. How was this possible?

It might be easy to doubt the resurrection accounts from the gospels. I read someone who said that who the people saw was really Jesus’ brother, James. But when you listen to Paul you can have no doubt that Jesus was raised to life. (However, in the gospels he appears first to Mary in the garden. Then it says he went to Galilee, meaning to his mother.) If you do the math, Paul was alive at the same time Jesus was alive. It is likely that he may have even encountered Jesus when he was alive or at the very least heard of him. But without a doubt Paul, after he recounts all the people Jesus appeared to after he rose from dead, Paul attests to his own experience of the risen Christ. And at least for me, it is Paul’s witness that dispels any doubt.

So, what would he have looked like? What will we look like? These are the questions put to Paul that he addresses at the conclusion of this letter. He uses the metaphor of the seed again. We are seeded with human bodies, he says. This is what we come with, this is what we ‘sow’. But what is resurrected, what comes back to life is like what he and the others saw in the resurrected Jesus. It is a spiritual body, the human body transformed into a life-giving spirit that can be seen and experienced. This is how Paul images the resurrected body, the embodied spirit.

what is sown is perishable but what is raised is imperishable; the thing that is sown is contemptible but the thing that is raised is glorious; the thing that is sown is weak but what is raised is powerful; when it (our human bodies) is sown it embodies the soul, when it is raised it embodies the spirit.

After my parents died, being the eldest, it occurred to me I could be next. There was now nothing standing between me and heaven. It gave me pause. Sometimes I tried to imagine what it would be like, this thing called death. But the ending of Paul’s letter has taken way any trepidation or fear, for the most part. What Paul says is a reassurance and comfort because Christ has conquered Death, even our deaths. Just as death had no victory over Jesus, so too it will not have victory over us. It will not have the last word. God will. Paul faces it square in the face and asks Death where is your sting? Jesus’ death was humankinds ‘no’ to his life, to life itself, but his resurrection is God’s ‘yes’ to the life of Jesus and to ours as well.

The first followers of Jesus, like Paul, took some of the things Jesus said to mean that they would see him return in their lifetime. Paul describes the second coming as coming in the twinkling of an eye, when the last trumpet sounds. As Paul talks about sowing the seed that is raised as Jesus was raised, I thought of a passage in Rilke’s Letter to a Young Poet. For both Rilke and St. Paul are speaking of the same reality, the coming of Jesus and the coming of Christ. In the letter he writes just before Christmas to the young poet, who is having doubts about the reality of Christ, Rilke asks the young poet:

Why do you not think of him as the coming one, imminent from all eternity, the future one, the final fruit of a tree whose leaves we are? What keeps you from projecting his birth into times that are in the process of becoming, and living your life like a painful and beautiful day in the history of a great gestation? …these days of your transition are perhaps the time when everything in you is working at him…and think that the least we can do is to make his becoming not more difficult for him than the earth makes it for the spring when it wants to come.