Poetry’s Morning

PainterLadyH_0
The bible is a work of art
with the power to transform
in-gathering self and soul.
A presence, both beautiful
 and terrible
where you long to go
               and
fear to tread at the same time.
Where you learn to hold the paradox
            or perish.
Its magnificence winds its way
into your being
threads image and likeness
into your becoming.
Then.
     Snap!
cuts you lose from the
inexorable sweet moorings of the multitude.
rights you
word by word.

 

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You Gotta Have Soul

Reflections  Photograph by Cathie Horrell

Another mark of creative spirituality is that it resists being packaged or codified. I think there is a deeper message in the fact that the stone tablets were broken. The life of the spirit lives in the heart. The law is that which is written not on tables of stone, but on the heart, the heart that can be carried with us wherever we go.

Each age discovers itself a new, as if for the first time. Because for us it is the first time. As we journey to self-understanding and self-realization, to our life in Christ, to the Christ-self, we remember and honor what has gone before. We honor it by recreating it, giving it new life, new insights, new dimensions. Our history is never so fixed or stayed that it cannot rekindle within us our own creative fire which lights up what has been given, gone before us on the path.

The artifacts and literature of our ancient and not so ancient worlds live on as our cultural heritage, the rainbow visible in the present as it marches into a future only darkly perceived. And yet, we can test its wisdom against the wisdom of the ages as it makes its path into our souls and hearts and makes its own legacy in art, literature and song.

The Soul then is that unlimited reservoir of revelation, insight, meaning. It is the inner house of the Self. It has depths and dimension, faculties which can reach to the height and depth, length and breadth which it alone can attain as its sacred roots and ground reach deep, even as it gives one the ability to reach higher, to become all that we can be. In its reach back beyond our personal time, it reaches into the bowels of the earth where the layers of history lie encrusted there. It is capable of rising with our spirits into the cosmos and with it we are able to touch the face of God and also experience the sacred embrace in our depths, in our hearts and souls.

For the Love of Christ

 

couple on bench watiching sunset   Lent is on the horizon. I will be spending another forty days with St. Paul. (I have just finished the Advent series in this blog entitled The Birth of the Word in the Soul.)

Paul wanted to bring Christ to the world. He wanted to bring the world to Christ. His letter are love letters, written to the Christian communities he established and cared passionately about. There were no half measures with St. Paul.

Paul’s Letters to the budding Christian communities were centered on Transformation. Transformation in Christ. A transformation that was life-changing for Paul and is life-changing for all of us, for all those who put their faith in Christ. The following prayer from Ephesians is at the heart and soul of what that transformation was, and remains for  us today.* This prayer then is the summation of St. Paul’s Letters. The goal, as I see it, of his work and our lives.

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

Isn’t this the goal of Christian life. To come to realize the  fullness of God within. And in our very ordinary and daily lives. This fullness comes to us in the love of Christ.  This is what Paul wants us to know-the love of Christ. This love is within, hidden in our inner most being, in our selves.

The hidden self is the Christ-self. The Christ  who is within each of us, waiting to be discovered, inviting us to follow him, to grow strong in his life and love, and lead us into the fullness of God, the One he called Father.

  • Ephesians was most likely written by one of Paul’s companions. However, it truly reflects Paul’s prayer for the Christian communities and may have been prayed, heard and then transcribed by one of his companions and incorporated into this letter.

The Coming of the Christ-self

  Autumn berries    Advent approaches. We await the coming of the Christ child. We celebrate religiously the advent of something, someone, new in the world. Even materially, commercially, it is what the season is about. Light. Gifting. An energized season where for a time we are more hospitable, generous, more open in spirit and friendship. Paul too is writing about something, Someone new coming into the world.  The coming of the reality of Christ, who he was and what faith in him meant. 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. A Real Presence. Born in a stable two thousand years ago, it is this same Jesus born in Bethlehem who is the Christ that Paul and the season celebrate.

This can be a difficult time for many when the darkness and deprivation, stresses and losses, loneliness and lacking, come in stark relief against all the holiday hustle and bustle. But it is here too in the telling of the infancy narratives we see the true meaning of the holiday, apart from the glitter and glitz, of a Savior come in the cold, darkness of winter, to poor and humble beginnings, who would remain marginal and excluded, but was seen to bring hope to the poor, the oppressed, those much in need of his saving presence and love in their lives. And at heart this too is where we live. Perhaps not materially impoverished, but certainly we all have within us some darkness, something needy and some part that is impoverished, alone, limping along through life, needing to reach out to touch even the hem of someone who can heal and save us. Someone who cares and loves us no matter in whatever circumstances we find ourselves.

All theology is anthropology. To speak of the divine is  to speak of the human person. If you look at the human person in his/her depth you will find the sacred center that is at the heart of all life. Whether we realize the sacredness of humanity, within each of us, as a religious phenomenon or not, it is there−a sacred Self within each us whose advent begins to impinge on our lives as we grow in our ability to apprehend and embrace this as our most essential Self. St. Paul calls this our ‘hidden self’, the Christ-self. The Christ who lives in our heart by faith. (Eph. 3:14-19).

This religious/sacred venture is not something that occurs outside our selves. The Christ-self is our lived experience of the sacred, of God, by whatever name we call our God. We can talk about our very beings as the kingdom of the Self.  The birth of the Word in the Soul then is told as the birth of the infant, Jesus of Nazareth, the Word become flesh. This is how the Christ-self within us begins. Coming as a child, small, vulnerable, dependent, apart from the traps and trappings of the world. And yet, the symbols of the nativity are powerful stars charting our way to what the coming of Christ within us signifies. It is a gift to us, it requires shepherding, it brings what is lowest and highest together in the paradox we call living.

The Christ-self is the becoming thing in us.  In Jesus the Christ we are ever in the nativity of the nearness of God. And all the shining symbols of the season say this to us.

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.

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 Call

I left off yesterday talking about identity. Paul’s identity, how he sees himself in God’s plan. And Jesus’ identity, both with their roots in Judaism. The quote from Ephesians on my Home Page, I believe, is my favorite passage from Paul, and I go to it often as a reminder of my identity and my call. It represents, I believe, the sum total of everything Paul lived, preached and wished and prayed for us. The hidden self to grow strong so that Christ may live in our hearts…..

The forty days of Lent are meant to remind us of the forty years the people Israel journeyed through the wilderness to the land of the promise. That journey was one of identity. Becoming Israel, the people of God. Through that wilderness experience they came to know who they were, what it means to be in covenant with Yahweh, whose they were. It was not an easy journey. The Exodus has been called the formative journey of the Hebrew people. It was transformative for a nation.

When the gospel writers began to chronicle Jesus’ life, they wrote about Jesus also going off for forty days in the wilderness. He had just come out of the Jordan, the same river the Hebrew people would cross as they went into Canaan, into the Promised Land. Jesus too had temptations during those forty days. But I suspect that those three temptations, came under one heading: praying and pondering the work that was before him. The work he certainly must have believed he was sent by his Father to do. What some would call his vocation. Not vacation. Vocation. What we believe to be our call or calling from God.

Paul is asking his infant churches to live according to the call they have received. The call to have faith in Christ Jesus who died and rose again. And this call is to all. There are no distinctions for those baptized in Christ. In that famous passage in Galatians that there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female for now in baptism we are clothed in Christ. And it’s available to all.

By now you have probably discerned that I am a lay person. But I hesitate to use that term, for it implies a hierarchy, one I do not see Paul advancing and certainly that Jesus did not. Without going into a long treaties on what the various roles we each play in building the Body of Christ, which Paul too will address in his next letter, it is simply (!) this: We are all called. We are called into a life in Christ; we are called to be in a relationship with God. We are all called to search out the identity of our hidden selves so that Christ may live in our hearts through faith…so that we are filled with the utter fullness of God.

The theme of my earliest writing explores what it means to be human. Following closely the Joseph narrative we discover we are God’s design, and by God’s design we are both sacred and meant. Just as Paul will make the case to the new initiates who have faith in Christ, we are heirs to the promise made to Abraham, the promise kept in Jesus. Eventually the ongoing promise of creation extends to all, all the world as it was by God’s design from the beginning and that we are all called, with whatever talents and abilities, with whatever desires and interests, via whatever career/life choices we make to discover our identities, our hidden selves, and chart the course through the wilderness, however we see it, in Christ.