I am doing a short study of the Letter to the Ephesians on this lovely Sunday morning, and have had time to absorb some of its amazing insights. Paul, or whoever wrote it, says that the exact meaning of the cross is that “Jesus destroyed in his own person the hostility” between groups (In fact, he repeats it twice in both 2:14 and 2:16) Jesus did not take sides with his Jewish religion against the pagans, but instead he did a most amazing thing, which we have yet to comprehend. The author says that he destroyed the hostility “THAT WAS CAUSED BY THE RULES AND DECREES OF THE LAW”. In other words, the very identification of his group (or any group) with its own customs and practices is what justifies their hostility toward another group, and maintains their own superiority system–which is always violent in maintaining itself.
Is this not the core historical problem that continues to justify most hostility to this day? My group versus your group thinking? We do it this way and you do it the wrong way? Think of the genocides of the last century, which were usually in Christian based cultures, to realize how we have missed the message. Ephesians says that Jesus “killed” or “destroyed” the very ground of this hostility by himself being killed “under the law” (with the blessing of both religion and state), and thus revealing the limitations, blindness, and often complicity in evil of what are usually nothing more than cultural customs passing for divine law. Our “sacred order” is usually maintained at someone else’s expense. This is so much of a surprise that most of us still refuse to be surprised–and also disappointed in our capacity for missing the profound revelation from the cross of Jesus. Ephesians goes on to say that Jesus is trying to “create one single New Humanity” (2:15). We are still waiting for this new single humanity. It could still change history, and it eventually will, but probably we have to hit bottom first–and see how our sacralized beliefs and customs are themselves much of the problem.
As I grow older, I find more and more people, in all fields of life, who seem more and more trapped and unfree. They seem unable to adjust to their own growing truth. The price is just too high, and so they choose security over honesty. In my field, I see bishops, priests, and ministers, who in moments of private honesty, reveal they do not really believe this or that any more, but they have to pretend to believe it to be faithful to the persona they built and created in their first 40-50 years. After a while, they actually think they DO believe it, but their lack of enthusiasm, commitment, or joy shows you that they do not. It is so much easier to repeat formulas and keep everybody–and your own soul–at bay. I would say this pattern represents the norm not the exception, at least in the church. So many are split personalities. And why wouldn’t they be? In fact, it would seemingly be predictable with the mystery of God always unfolding and leading us to ever further depths. If you do go to the depths, the price of speaking your honest truth from that level is just too high. Imagine all the people you would upset! It will call your job and self image into question. Plus, it is like throwing your previous life script out the window and admitting that much of it was mistaken. But that should be a given–if we are at all growing! THE STEPS TOWARD MATURITY ARE NECESSARILY IMMATURE.
Hold onto your first half of life agendas with a light grip, or you may never get to your second half of life–at least spiritually speaking.
This has become clearer to me in the many daringly honest conversations I have had with older people since the publication of FALLING UPWARD, on “the two halves of life”.
Yes, we must write ourselves a life script. We have no choice, but do not make it too public too certain and too superior, or you might just find yourself trapped there forever–defending the immature and indefensible position. Could this be what Jesus means by the necessity of “dying to the self”? The same is, of course, true for politicians and all public identities. Many of our politicians are more eager to be loyal Democrats or Republicans than honest about their own human experience. Image wins out over substance far too often.
Well, today is a wonderful turning point in the 25 year history of the Center here in Albuquerque!
As of our web announcement today, we are moving from an internship and conference
based education center, to a year long school curriculum, ecumenical and interfaith, that will start next year after I turn 70.
Franciscans do not retire as such, but I can at least stop traveling–and let that itself be part of our message.
None of us are necessary, surely not me. If it is truly God’s work–and represents the Perennial Tradition–it has a truthful and wonderful LIFE of its own.
The Center for Action and Contemplation plans to make use of the wonder of webcasting and on-line education to both teach students here in New Mexico and simultaneously to stream all of those classes worldwide–in a certificate program that an ordinary person–anywhere–and with limited means can still access. If only Jesus would have had such technical possiblities! Our webcasts from the last 4 years reach all 50 USA states and usually 30-40 other countries, from isolated people in Cambodia to aware South Africans, and from sophisticated theology students in England to working women in Belize. This is a new kind of open education possibility for our world, and no denomination, seminary professor, or church prelate can any longer limit the truths that are now being validated by science, cultural studies, psychology, and the revelations of history. We are inviting a cadre of “master teachers” who can put these things together, and will join me in presenting the Perennial Traditon, the “alternative orthodoxy” that Franciscanism has always represented, and frankly many clear elements of the Gospel that denominations never seem to get around to. We hope it can be both
academically quite serious but also emphasizing practice and lifestyle–all with the trained contemplative mind that seminaries do not seem able or willing to teach.
Our whole staff and Board are so excited, and we hope you will be too. Check it out at our website: cacradicalgrace.org, or just cac.org But mostly pray that we can do “something beautiful for the Gospel”, to slightly paraphrase Mother Teresa kind phrase.
The Catholic Bishops of America have initiated a two week campaign to fight for religious freedom in America. It is called a “Fortnight for Freedom”. It strikes a large part of the population as crying wolf when there is no wolf. Probably no population in human history has had
more religious freedom and more religious support than the present population of the USA. (I myself, as a Franciscan vowed to common purse, pay no taxes. Nor do our local parishes or institutions.) It feels like entitled people wanting more entitlement.
How different from the early Christian martyrs, whom we piously venerate, who became holy and courageous through the limitations imposed on them by empires and emperors. Too bad Sts. Perpetua and Felicity could not sponsor a fortnight for freedom from their prison cells. Now we suffer no limitations or constrants, refuse to dialogue fairly or up front, and just complain that “our freedoms are being taken away”. The final irony is this was initiated by an issue that 98% of Catholic women do not even believe in–contraception. It really feels like bishops are shooting themselves in the foot by trying to divert attention away from our own problems and sins. Christian spirituality has always first sought spiritual freedom, inner freedom, freedom from self, freedom for love, and never did we expect governments to supply our “freedom” by any political mandate whatsoever. Our dear bishops are beginning to look like “the Republican party at prayer” more than men of the Gospel of Jesus.
This line (In Matthew’s version of the Our Father) has never made sense to me, although I continue to say it since this is the way it is usually translated; but I cannot really appeciate it as is. Sometimes, it is translated “do not put us to the test” (In Luke’s version), which still seems strange and problematic. Why would God “lead” us into temptation or “put us to the test” to begin with? Is human life an obstacle course, a testing ground? Are we all on trial? I thought God’s usual job was to lead us away from temptation! Why would we need to ask God to NOT lead us INTO temptation? Does he?
Here is the way I can make sense out of the common translation, and then you do with it what you wish, which includes ignoring it if it is not helpful.
I think Jesus is saying that we are BURDENED WITH FREEDOM, life is a constant decision, and thus it is always a “temptation” to choose the wrong thing or to believe that we have ever perfectly done the “right” thing. Free will itself is our constant temptation. Even when we choose the supposed good thing, it is seldom the perfect thing, and usually has many unwanted effects. We seldom do good things for totally pure motives. Maybe the only big temptation for religious people (who are the ones who would say such a prayer!) is to think that we, in fact, DO perfectly good things–for pure love of God and neighbor–and with clear motives? Do we ever do that? It is the illusion of people in the first half of life and of religion.
With this interpretation, the final line of the Our Father now makes perfect sense–”at least, keep us from actually doing evil”! That is almost the most we can hope for, and indeed should be our honest and humble prayer (Similar to the Doctor’s principle, to at least “do no harm”!) I think the prayer was to keep religious people humble, honest, and unpretentious–and fully conscious of their own mixed motives and confused actions. Maybe it would best be translated “Lead us away from any illusions about ourselves, and at least keep us from doing downright evil” and calling it virtue. That is perhaps the best that we weak humans can hope for, it seems to me. At this point in history, far too much evil has been done by Christiian people who are absolutely convinced they are doing “God’s holy will”, when they are clearly doing their own. The Our Father, thus understood, was meant to keep us all self critical and truly open to another “Kingdom coming” instead of just our own. Remember, prayer is something that “religious” people do, and that is who he created it for. Jesus was not creating a prayer for the likes of Al Capone or Heinrich Himmler! Let’s give Jesus credit for the immense subtlety and attention to audience with which he taught. The major “temptation” that religious people fall into is illusion–and the outright evils done in its name.
St. Bernard (1090-1153) said that there are four ascending degrees of love:
1) Love of self for self’s sake (a good start).
2) Love of God for self’s sake (most early stage religion).
3) Love of God for God’s own sake (No reward in view. Presumes you have lived experience of God’s goodness).
4) Love of self for God’s sake! (I bet this one surprised you! It did me, but it implies overcoming all resistance to love especially where I have the most contrary evidence–in myself!
I find this analysis truly brilliant and confirming of my own experience. Finally, I can only love MYSELF IN GOD and GOD IN MYSELF, and then ALL the loves are one big and free gift.
Paul Tillich, the brilliant Protestant theologian, points out that Jesus says to “the woman who had a bad name in town” (Luke 7:37), “Your sins are forgiven” (47) and “Her sins, her many sins have must been forgiven her or she would not have shown such great love “. He does not say, as most presume, “I forgive you” (Note that she never says a word. She has been silenced by her life experience and only weeps). Somehow this woman “with a bad name in town” had already experienced absolute and divine acceptance! The distinction is important. The woman had already realized a foundational acceptance, a radical forgiveness for who she was beforehand, and that is what allowed her to boldy enter this judgmental company of men. It is not our seeming repentance that leads us to love and change, but it is being absolutely loved despite our inadequacy that leads us to grow, risk, and change. We always put the cart before the horse, for some sad reason. Absolute, divine, and free acceptance is what Jesus came to announce: Love is the deepest law of all Being, he seems to say, and this foundational Love will always lead to further love.
Rejection of who we are–from God, from others, or from ourselves only leads to stronger ego boundaries of self protection–but not the outpouring of vulnerable love that we see in this woman. We are all hostile and resistant toward any rejection, even from God. Thus it is only absolute and radical forgiveness that ever transforms people deeply. Tillich wisely says that we have largely destroyed the healing power of divine forgiveness by making it “because of” instead of “in spite of”! Divine forgiveness is always in spite of our inadequacy–never because of our perfect realizations, repentance, or response. Such grounding, unconditional, and absolute acceptance from God could still change most peoples’ lives! To help people ACCEPT THAT THEY ARE RADICALLY ACCEPTED is the only real task of Christianity. Without it, low self esteem sems to be polluting just about everything.
The Fourth Split: Acceptable Self from Unacceptable Self
The final split is the split of the acceptable self (persona) from the unacceptable self (shadow). What this split tries to accomplish is allowing us to identify with an idealized, more acceptable image of ourselves. We identify with what our group or tribe says is admirable.
For the Franciscan mystics, there is no idealization of the self. Francis wore a habit with many patches and said, “I’ve got to wear patches on the outside to let everybody know what I’m like on the inside.” Now that’s a facing of the shadow. He’s saying, “There’s no disguising that I’m a weak person, and I don’t want you to think I’m better than I really am.” That translated into an identification with the poor, the marginalized, and those on the edge, not those on the top. Once God is found at the bottom, not at the top, and you stop idealizing the top, your politics change. Your identification with your place in society is very different.
Until and unless you’ve overcome the four splits, you live a life divided. You see the difference between who you want to be and who you really are. You see the difference between your mind and your body. You see the difference between yourself and other selves. And you see the difference between life and death. Karl Rahner, who understood inherent grace like few in the modern era, recognized that if Christianity does not discover that it’s basically mystical Christianity, it’s no alternative to anything. It’s just a reflection of the larger system. Our deepest self is where we find the greatest mystery, so the transcendent is no longer transcendent, but within. So let that rearrange your mind and your heart, and I promise you it will make the spiritual journey a very, very different kind of journey.
This teaching anticipates a Conference on Franciscan Mysticism Fr. Richard will offer in October 2012 in Santa Fe, NM. If you missed earlier installments of this series, you may read them here: Part I Part II Part III
I am presently teaching European jail chaplains in Romania, the poorest country in Europe. Seeking some guidance and consolation amidst the historic and present suffering of these people, I had an afternoon of prayer and took to reading T.S.Eliot’s FOUR QUARTETS. In “East Coker” he says that “our only health is the disease” and that “to be restored our sickness must grow worse” and even “the whole world is our hospital”. It gives me some strange direction amidst this tragic communist experiment, the state of politics in the USA, and the daily Vatican meltdown as it continues to try to regain some control and authority by condemning things in every direction.
We are clearly in a very strategic period of history where people are grabbing for power because they do not know how to heal, restore, or bring life. You would think the Pope and bishops should know better, yet they only need to look to this part of the world to see what imposed and authoritarian change accomplishes–which is nothing and worse than nothing. The push back, the alienation, the cynicism lasts for centuries, as I see here in a former Communist state. I am afraid, as T.S.Eliot says “our sickness must grow worse” to see how sick we are, and “our only health is in the disease” itself–to bring the poison to the surface so none can deny it. The Roman Church and the US Congress are both showing a very sad misuse of their power, which is no longer a power for good or for the common good. The Catholic church has become its own worst enemy and does not need atheists or agnostics to undo its mission. Like St. Peter himself, it is denying and destroying its own message. The sadness I see here in Romania is the sadness of power totally misused in the name of “reform”. I am afraid it is a prophecy for the future of the Roman Catholic Church.
The Ego’s Four Splits, Part III
(This teaching anticipates a Conference on Franciscan Mysticism Fr. Richard will offer in October 2012 in Santa Fe, NM.)
The Third Split: Body from Mind
The Third Split is that we separate our body from our mind. The mind is given pre‑eminence in almost all people. It might take different cultural forms, but this little machine called the mind starts steering and judging, analyzing and fixing, controlling and dominating. Most people think they are their thinking. That’s what contemplation aims to resolve; to let you find the deeper self that exists previous to your thinking about it. The self prior to the judgments you make, the preferences you have. It doesn’t matter what you think; your thinking doesn’t make it so. You are part of something bigger than your thinking can even hint at. Perhaps it’s easier for us to see this in our children with mental handicaps or Down’s syndrome. We can see the divine image in them so easily, almost because they’re not their minds.
I’m sure that so many of the problems we have—addiction, obesity, anorexia—they’re all this rejection of the body; a result of feeling the body is not good, not holy. I’m sure sexual addiction also is just a body trying to compensate; feeling so unloved, so disconnected, it tries to connect in False Self ways that don’t really work.
There’s no point in hating this—which Jesus never does. Jesus shows tremendous compassion for what we later called “the sins of the flesh.” Jesus is only hard on what we call “the sins of the spirit”: arrogance, pride, hypocrisy; these are the sins that really destroy the soul. Jesus is not localizing sin in the material universe (sins of the flesh or sins of weakness). Sins of the spirit and the mind—these are the sins that really separate you from God. So the alternative orthodoxy that’s emerging is orthopraxy instead of verbal orthodoxy: adopting an orthodox, gospel-based way of life instead of just saying the right words and thinking the right thoughts.
If you missed the previous two posts in the series, you can find them here: Part I Part II