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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We are dissipative structures

Ever since God created the world, his power and deity, however invisible, has been there for the mind to see in things he has made. Romans 1:20

footprints       When St. Paul talks about the hidden self in Ephesian, he is talking about transformation. It is the transformation of our inner selves into an awareness of the Christ-self that is alive within us. It is the possibility that we might become who we are meant to be.  It is a becoming that is grounded in what Jesus and what Jesus as the Christ stand for in life. In that knowledge comes the ultimate transformation of the person into what Paul calls the fullness of God. It is this fullness of God which is our ultimate destination on our journey of transformation.

Paul knew something that science  has just caught up to. A theory in science that has long been mirrored in the human person. Something that has to do with the transformation process that is at the heart of his writing and at the very heart of the dynamic of our physical, psychic and spiritual lives.

 In 1977 Ilya Prigogine received the Nobel Prize for his theory of dissipative structures. When I first heard about this phenomenon it struck me that we humans are dissipative structures. My simplistic understanding of this theory is that in living systems there is continual growth (energy) going on. And inherent in this growth is the idea that as growth and change take place we slough off (dissipate) what has died, or we no longer need, what is dead and decayed, in order to make room for and give rise to the new. At the center of this dynamic, for Prigogine, is chaos.

 At the outset of his letter to the Romans Paul talks about the way in which God created the world. Ever since God created the world, his power and deity, however invisible….has been there for the mind to see in the things he made. (Romans 1:20)

 In the created world we can see the (invisible) workings of the Creator. If we look closely enough and understand well enough the world of nature all about us, we will come to know something about God and about ourselves as well.  We have only to look around, look into ourselves, to see that change is inherent in all living systems. How we work. What we are made of. How our lives are reflected in the seasons and cycles of the universe from the smallest seed to the largest globe.

 And it would seem that this is one of the realities that we are to see in both our outer and inner lives.

 I believe that Prigogine’s theory of dissipative structures applies to human spiritual development as well. Even in the realm of spirituality we can see that in the inner workings of our human nature we are dissipative in nature. We are continually in the state of flux. And we know that it is also out of chaos, the difficult times that we often make the most progress in self-awareness and spiritual transformation.

 It was Carl Jung who said something to the effect that as science advances making new discoveries it will find that spirituality has already made it over the hill, ahead of it. What took science almost 1500 years to articulate, St. Paul saw this dynamic working in the transformation of a radically changed human person. Perhaps science and faith might be more congruent than we first thought.

 Throughout Paul’s letters he keeps coming back to this idea of transformation, how our lives are changed as we begin to live our new lives in Christ. (Romans 5:6-11). He writes that the Spirit of Christ is the Spirit of transformation, transforming us. (2 Cor. 3:18) There is no growth without this dissipating, the sloughing old of the old skin for the new.

 My geraniums have been blooming wonderfully. But today I went out and the blooms are off the stems. I will have to pinch them back. I always dislike doing this because for a few days there will not be as much beauty. However, I know, that in a few days, they will be blooming even more bountifully. We are not only dissipative structures we are knowing beings as well. The experience of living in the world of nature speaks to us about the nature of our souls.

Eventually all will fall away as we fall into the lasting embrace of the sacred. But before we do, we make our way, clumsily and with effort, straining and sometimes sprinting ahead, but always, always, sloughing off the old, that which we of necessity must let go because it no longer serves, that which we cannot take with us into the light of that new day. We mirror the universe, our lives and our art, imitating nature, dying and rising with each spring, the God who created the world seeding it to seek and find, grow and transform, out of the dark void, up from chaos, until we have achieved to the fullness of that sacred seed.

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.

 

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 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.