The Soul of Christ

St. Tim's stained glass window

There is an ancient prayer called the Anima Christi. Which begins Soul of Christ, sanctify me. It’s a beautiful prayer penned by St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits.

What is the ‘soul of Christ’ Ignatius addresses.

It is the true inner self. What I experience as the substance of all that remains with us from his going forward. It is what is not seen, what is hoped for and yet lived out in his spirit in our lives. It is what we live and have our being in, our souls joined with his even as it seeks him, ever illusive, yet like his life and his spirit that remains with us, just beyond the horizon and yet touching us, inviting us onward to his love and his life, searching out his message for that treasure and touchstone by which to live our lives.

God’s language is the soul. His medium is the soul: imagination, dreams, fantasies, longings.

Religion is the soul’s voice; it is the soul’s language. Every faith has it. Every faith speaks it. Every faith has realize it and tried to capture it in story, art, poetry and ritual. The rituals through which we might, just might, enter into the soul of sacred that lives in all of us. The routines and rituals in which we touch soul. Where it becomes known and accessible to us. We carry it with us. Convey it in the way in which we live our lives.

Spirit animates; soul is its depth. The deep sounding of our inner lives, where more is going on than we perceive at first glance, or hearing. It is the sounding in silence of that still small voice the scripture speaks of. The place where the sacred is housed, the tabernacle of the heart, mind and soul that is Christ’s and is ours.

 

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The Spirit Bears Christ to Us

Our dreams are written on the heart of God.

Our dreams are written on the heart of God.

When I write I don’t use what you might call ‘churchese’. All those words like atonement, salvation, redemption, repentance.  There is nothing wrong with those words, its just that they have lost their meaning. They have been so overused, we have turned a deaf ear to what they are pointing to. And if they are not pointing to living our lives in Christ, pointing to Jesus and his life, then they don’t mean anything to me any longer.

Even that word ‘sinner’ seems to be much to much in the vocabulary of preachers that, I don’t know about you, but it blocks out anything else anyone has to say. That’s not who I am. That is not to say that I haven’t made missteps in my life, I have and I am sure I will again. But I don’t focus on not being a sinner or even telling my ‘sins’ to anyone. That is between me and my Creator, the Creator who made me good. Like the psalm says ‘I am wonderful’. I trust you say that about yourself today.

But when we are seen as sinners, we aren’t seen at all. Perhaps that is why the churches are hemorrhaging people today. As a culture we have become more healthy. Psychologically, spiritually, socially and environmentally. My sense of it is the churches have not kept up in this regard. That’s why I always return to the scriptures to find my way through these things. To see what it was/is that being a believer, how to live a healthy faith-life is really about.

I find that Jesus did not see people as sinners. He never called anyone a  ‘sinner’. (His saying your sins are forgiven is not the same thing.) He saw them as human persons. People needing his teaching, his help, his healing, his hand to stand, a heart to love them. He gave everyone a sense of their own worth; a worth that the world often denied them. And those were the people who followed him. It wasn’t the priests or the Jewish leaders or the Roman authorities who followed him. They were secure in their worth (i.e. their power, status and standing). Those who were devalued, he valued. Those who were down trodden, he lifted up with hope and with real substance, the real substance of his very self. That’s what feeding the multitude means. We have a multitude within us. Conflicting needs, pulled in different directions, many voices calling out to us, asking for our time, our resources, our attention to others needs and problems. Balancing work, home, family, schools, churches. The list goes on and on.

Jesus walked right out into the midst of all this. Through the crowded market places, into the synagogues brimming with those who wanted to hear what he had to saw, hoping he would touch them both with his words and hands, so his words and his hands would heal them, transform them, renew their lives, their well being, their health, their worth.  And I believe that if we touch the Word that it still has that power to change our lives, bring us to health and spiritual maturity. For his Spirit, through the living Word, bears Christ to us yet. We can still follow him through the corn field, down to the turbulent sea shore, across still waters or up the steep hill side and even across the rocky landscapes of our lives and he will see us and touch us and let us know in one way or another that he is there.

And then we too can go off to that lonely place to pray.

 

 

Mindful for Lent

 

Ash Wednesday 2015

 couple on bench watiching sunset This morning I talked to my sister Mary. She has decided to keep a spiritual journey for the next forty days. She called and wanted to explore where our ‘spirituality’ came from. It was an interesting and often funny conversation about our early religious schooling (Catholic nuns!). The conversation then turned to the faith of our grandmother. As we talked I had to say that my own faith journey began because of our grandmother. She was deeply religious, a convert to Catholicism. She was also a very creative person. She loved music and to sing. She could play any song she heard on the piano – without sheet music. She loved cats and kept a sweet little kitchen garden under a small tree just outside her kitchen door. I recall how lovingly and carefully she attend each Spring to picking out the pansies or marigolds that she planted. She loved cats (seemed to favor her cats more than her grandchildren) and Brandy Alexander’s. She was also a wonderful baker. She had lived over the bakery with her first husband who as a baker. She always had some baked goodie when we went to visit. I guess like all families each of my siblings has a different view of who Anne was. (She was a very young grandmother. She had had my mother when she was fifteen years old, so we were not allowed to call her ‘grandma’. We were to call her Anne. My father, her son-in-law, preferred to call her by her given name, Myrt (short for Myrtle). There’s probably a story there too. For whatever reason my grandmother did not endear herself to all my siblings. She and I were very close however. I was her favorite. I think this hurt my sisters, especially Mary, when we were growing up. This did not foster a warm fuzzy feeling for our grandmother on their part. We could not recall what prompted little Mary one day to lock our grandmother in the small bathroom just off the living room and even though we laugh about it today, Mary was high tailing it out of the house when grandma was let out. The irony here also is that my sister Mary inherited more of Anne than any of the rest of us. She loves cats, has beautiful gardens, plays the piano better than any of the rest of us and is a great cook and baker.

Eventually we got around to the topic of Lent and spirituality. She asked me where the idea of giving something up for Lent had come from. She thinks the idea ludicrous, since after Lent what have you achieved in spiritual growth by not eating chocolate or drinking alcohol. All I could say is that it was the old way of the church. That penitential view of Lent. Thankfully things have changed.

By keeping her spiritual journal during Lent she wants to become more mindful. Giving up the hours on the computer or the mindless morning television shows. I do that too. Let those hours eat up my day. She’s addicted to Pinterest. I play too much solitaire. I think it keeps my mind sharp! Probably not doing much for my soul though.

Isn’t that what St. Paul was writing about in his letters? Staying mindful of who they were.

Perhaps this Lent you might want to keep a journal. Find something enlightening to read and write about it. Or just reflect on how you got where you are today. Your path to who you have become. Where is the sacred in that journey? What do I need to do or to be to become more mindful during each day? Thanks, Mary, my friend and sister.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

The Christ-self Discourses

IMG_2206   Before continuing on to the remaining letters of St. Paul I wish to pause. I want to take a summer interlude to explore one of Paul’s primary themes: the Christ-Self. To live in Christ is the resounding phrase that permeates all of St. Paul’s letters. It is this hidden self of Ephesians that I understand to be the Christ-self. Paul is paradoxical, complicated, contentious and contradictory. Because of this he is often misunderstood. It is this misunderstanding of his writing both by the earliest purveyors and shapers of the budding Christian faith and contemporary audiences that has distracted us from hearing true meaning, wealth and richness of Paul’s message. There is a depth and breadth to his single-minded devotedness to faith in Christ I’d like to see salvaged from the ruins of two thousand years of institutionalization of his writings.
However, I trust that reading all of Paul’s letters, chronologically and within the context that they were written to the people he cared fiercely and passionately about, has provided a better understanding and appreciation of what Paul was about.
To that end, I want to write a series of blogs now that focus on the centrality of the Christ-self in his letters. And how to understand this – not as a concept – but as a lived and living personal reality, that has the possibility, to the extent we are aware and make ourselves available to it, of informing and shaping not only our faith-life, but the totality of our lives, physically, psychically, spiritually and emotionally. In other words, the totality of our being. Because this is the Christ-self.
This series will follow something like this:
Transformation
In Christ
The Christ Life
Spirituality as Creativity
The Sacred 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.

Love is…

1 Corinthians 13-14

None of our gifts come to much if they are without love Paul tells us; they fall flat or unstainable without having love as their primary motivation. Again Paul emphasis that it is not works but faith in Jesus the Christ and love for ourselves and our neighbors that comes first. Is paramount. We are to act in the spirit of Christ, the Spirit of love. And, of course, it naturally follows, that if we are first motivated by love that what we do will follow and it will be ‘good’ – i.e. be life giving. When faced with tough choices, the one criteria I bring to these and ask others is does it give life. Will what I choose be life giving or life negating?

Just as Paul speaks of the new life, the new creation, the new self that we become in Christ, it is the Love of Christ, through the great act of his death and resurrection that brings us this life. To a renewed way of being. Paul keeps reiterating that we do not have to do anything, except have faith and love. Have faith in the Christ who lives in the other person, who died for that person who is homeless, who is in jail, who drives you crazy, who just caused you to lose your job, your hormonal teenagers, or your needy parents. Each reach for you, each awareness that assaults you, each recalcitrant in your midst, and the unruly world that cannot be organized to your will, is the reach and invitation of Christ in God to love. To believe more in the power of Jesus Christ than our own.

You’ve most like heard it said “Let go and let God.” I know it’s not easy. I’m a first born. Letting go hasn’t always been easy for me. It still isn’t. I explore and pursue every possibility, option and resource at my disposal before I thrown in the towel. But there comes a point when you realize, like Job, you are powerless before much of what life throws in your path. Especially the big things. We are often certainly powerless over others, even to help, heal or lift up sometimes. It is only the power of God that can bring miracles, open  hearts and minds, healing, awareness, and forgiveness into your lives and that of others. The paradox being, that it is easy. In believing trust and trusting belief, over and over again, the God of life, tends the life he has created and sustains. We just have to turn it over to him. I have a really big prayer I pray a lot. It’s this: BE GOD. To God I am saying do what  you do, be who you are. You know better than I how you will be, how you are being in any given situation. Then one day you realize that it is all grace, the Christ-life within us. Paul counsels to pray, pray always. I believe that Paul’s pray always is not just living on our knees, but the prayerful awareness of the Christ-life present in each moment of our waking and sleeping. And this awareness is can be fed by dedicated prayer time, but it is surely to go about one’s day with attentive awareness to the Real Presence and to the presence of the Spirit of Christ praying within us always.

Eventually all gifts will fail, Paul says, even knowledge. Even faith seeking understanding will sidle away as faith seeking love grows into being known as we are known. For in love imperfect things, knowledge, ways of being and teaching will come to an end, when perfection comes. Perfection meaning being whole, to be whole as God is whole.. A wholeness that we strive for now, but will be fully realized when we see face to face. When perfection comes, all imperfect things will disappear, Paul assures us. But the greatest of these, the gift that endures and does not come to an end is Love. Love is this wholeness that we can have now. As he speaks of spiritual growth and maturity with all childish ways put behind him, the thought moves on then in that wonderful passage, the love is passage that if often read at weddings. His thoughts build to a spiritual maturity, and that even now having put away the things of a child, comes to a spiritual maturity, which still is a dim reflection of what we will see – what we will know – know in love. To know as we are known by God, to love as we are loved by God. Paul says

Love is always patient and kind

Love is never jealous

Love is never boastful or conceited

Love is never rude or selfish

Love does not take offense

Love is never resentful

Love takes no pleasure in other people’s sins (faults or failures)

Love delights in the truth.

 There is no eloquence, understanding, knowledge or even faith, no sacrifice of body, soul or possessions that counts for anything without love.

Love is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope and to endure whatever comes.