Monday, June 11, 2012

Christ the Master

Christ the Master

Icons are wonderful ways in the Christian tradition of communicating spiritual realities without the mediation of conceptual thought, using visual image instead. To gaze upon the icon without analysis or discursive thought can be a way to receive a more direct intuitive contemplative communication.  In a recent retreat I used two icons written by Brother Claude OSB of Mt. Angel, Abbey in Oregon.   One of the icons is a representation of the ancient Christ Pantocrator image and illustrates Christ pointing with his right hand to the heart and holding the Torah in his left. Together the gestures speak of the origin of spiritual authority, Divine Love in the Heart of Christ.

The Heart in the tradition speaks to what is essential, what is the true Spirit within us, the life of God within us.  And for us it is the Heart of Christ who manifests the Heart of the Divine. For Christians the Heart of Christ is the anchor and source of authority. The Heart of Christ is the Life of the Master, and it is the Heart of Christ that guides us and holds us accountable to the authority of Love.  In relational life all of us need to be held accountable to an authority that is higher than our own ego, and we need a Life and Power that is ultimately trustworthy. In the spiritual life we need to find our only sure guidance and a refuge to which we can fully surrender. Certainly if we’ve lived long enough we have learned through bitter experience and error that our own ego-mind is not a very good guide in life.  We also need a personal experience of God to encourage and support us and open us to the power of love in the spiritual life.  Both of those aspects of Christ the Master and Christ the Companion are manifested in my altar icons and are central to the Christocentric character of Prayer of the Heart practice.

Breathing Yeshua- Actualizing Christ
I’d like to share some thoughts with you about Prayer of the Heart practice and these aspects of who Christ is in our journey into God.  I’ll start with a basic understanding of what the language of Prayer of the Heart practice is.  Practice here means “praxis” and that means to actualize, to express what is real, what is ontologically real, to actualize it in our humanity and in our human life.  So the Prayer of the Heart practice is an actualization of the essential truth of our human life and its ontological unity with Divine Life.  It’s very important to think beyond any notion that this is a kind of method or technique.  Prayer of the Heart practice is an actualization, manifesting and making real, what is already a hidden truth. Prayer of the Heart is a Way, a path, and we are people of the Way.  Whatever we do as method is simply a "way" to become accessible to what is, to the "Isness" of the "I AM." For Christians Yeshua the Christ is this Way.

For a Christian the Divine mystery is revealed both in the personal and the individual historical Yeshua and in the risen and mystical universal Christ.  The nature of God is  both intensely personal and intimate, and oceanic and all encompassing.  Both are true.  We are human and in a human face we find the ultimate mystery approachable. In Christ our mistaken illusion of a barrier disappears and we enter into the life of the Trinity, the Christ life, consciously and intentionally in this human life.  Our praxis of the Prayer of the Heart, therefore, is uniting our life utterly with the life of Christ so that our humanity is wholly infused and alive in Christ, a state of complete and utter receptivity and self-gift in love.  This is the consecrated life that Yeshua reveals to us and invites us to.  The Prayer of the Heart is the actualization then of this consecrated life of communion in Christ.  It’s not just sitting down in silence for 25 minutes once or twice a day.  It’s every moment and every breath of every day.

The next question may be, “That's well and good, but how do we live this life, how do we make it real?”  One way to express this directly and without abstraction or analysis is maybe to hold our two hands out in front of us.  When we do this, the palms are outward and upward, open and empty, and they release everything in their grasp.  They are ready to receive the gift of God’s own self, the Christ life.  They are ready to offer in Christ our human life.  This simple expression, this simple metaphor, this simple actualization, is the meaning of our existence.  It is the meaning of the Eucharist that we celebrate ritually.  This is the ontological reality we live, and we can live this reality consciously and intentionally in the praxis of Prayer of the Heart. 

Prayer is this same release into Divine Reality and the receiving of the Divine Reality into our life.  Like the woman at the well we are invited to awaken and to receive the gift of God and all we must do is open and receive.  Yeshua said, “If you knew the gift of God, and who is saying to you, ‘give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” (John 4:10)  In the personal Yeshua we can approach the Giver and in His Life, the Life of the Christos, we are given the Gift of God. The universal and oceanic Living Water rises up within us, and infuses our human life.  Yeshua says again, “I am the true vine and my Father is the vine grower.  Abide in me as I abide in you.  I am the vine and you are the branches.”  (John 15:1) We are one, one plant, one being in Christ. The teaching here, in this and in all the metaphors we use in Christianity about the mystical body of Christ, is that each one of us possesses the potential to be a unique expression of the Life of Christ. 

The Nature of  Our Surrender
The teachings of Yeshua are simple but hard, and that’s why He called it the "narrow path," because most avoid it.  The ego-mind resists this level of trust, this level of kenotic self-emptying, this level of release from self-absorption and control.  In many different kaleidoscopic ways, Yeshua keeps pointing to a central truth. He proclaims: "Follow me…Give up everything…..Become as a child.. " He invites us to become simple, na├»ve, trusting.  "Love God with all of your being.  Love your neighbor as yourself."  In the Beatitudes Yeshua challenges us that in our letting go, in the diminutions of our ego-self and its layered attachments, we truly become free. 

In His example and His teaching He invites us to become gentle and release from self-absorption.  What He exhorts us to do is to follow Him, to let Him be the Master of our heart, and will, and help us relinquish from the bondage of the ego-mind.   We are taught  it is in our self-giving, in the relinquishment of the ego-mind, the consecration of our self to Christ, that we find ourselves and uncover our real freedom.  Yeshua invites us to come to Him and release from our heavy burdens.

There are the trials of life of just surviving.  However, the biggest portion of our burden is our own self-absorption and all the fear that arises. Yeshua says that uniting with Him is the way we lay our burden of separateness down. “Take my yoke (union) upon you and learn from me for I am gentle and humble of heart.”  He whispers to us that we will find rest, a rest that comes from letting go.  “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:30) Yeshua gives us a warm and intimate invitation. At the same time there is a caution there, that yoke or union with Him is a also a discipline.  It is a discipline to be accessible to God, to be given to Christ.  That inner work of kenosis has to happen.  To find this interior freedom an unburdening of self has to happen. 

Spiritual Authority
An essential task to even begin on a spiritual path and to stay faithful is to acknowledge and accept there is an authority, a Reality, a Life that is higher than our own ego-mind.  There is a Will to which our own private, personal will is accountable.  There is a Love to which we bow and give endless adoration and trust.  Without this we can go nowhere. Without adoration and trust our ego becomes a god unto itself, and we become entrapped in a life of hopeless idolatry and self-absorption.  This consciousness of separateness and self-idolatry is the source of suffering and every evil in the world.  The consciousness of self-absorption without limits and without submission and without accountability is what the modern consumer-prosperity-culture holds as an ideal. And it will bring only misery, evil, and suffering for all.

In the letters of Paul are frequent references to the teaching that Christ is Lord. We have to remember what a revolutionary statement that was in a time when only Caesar was deemed Lord. To embark on the consecrated transformed life we must continually choose a greater Life, a greater Love as sovereign over our life. For those who are on the Way of the Heart the Divine Beloved in the Person and Life of Christ must become the true Master. How do we let Christ be the Master in our daily practice?  This is the important question we ask ourselves.  His invitation is that we will find ultimate freedom, joy, and belonging in his yoke. And of course the other meaning of yoke is "joining" or "union." It is the yoke of self-relinquishment, the relinquishment of the ego-mind, and all its self pre-occupation, fear and grasping. The hand that offers in love cannot open when it is clenched.

St. Paul spoke of this Life of Christ within us as the "Great Kenosis."(Phil. 2:6)  Kenosis is the hand that opens, releases, extends, and offers. In our praxis of the kenosis of Christ we learn to lay down our weapons of self-defense and separateness. We may recognize them as our frequent rationalization, our reactive criticism of others, our avoidance of seeing the truth of our self-absorbed thoughts and actions. In kenosis we find the freedom to dwell in the Heart of Christ and find our belonging. In kenosis we find we are free and at peace, to receive criticism, to receive disappointment, and even to receive failure. In the freedom of kenosis we are free lay down our life, especially the habitual patterns of our conditioning. We are free to relinquish the life long conditioning, mental formations, and habit patterns that feed our self-absorption, and prevent us from opening to the Unconditioned Life of Christ that is our true Life.

The Open Handed Life
In the beatitudes Yeshua invites us to cease from grasping, to live the freedom of the open handed life so that we can receive mercy, peace, and fullness of life.  When the hand releases from everything, only Essence remains. And to open to Essence is to open to Christ and bring to our own life the reality Paul described in Galatians: "I live, not I, but Christ lives in me."  Christ is the Master who invites us to "Lose your life, so that you can find your (real) life." (Matt. 10:39)

In our practice of Prayer of the Heart we continually ask, "How do I let go of grasping, how do I release from the compulsions of the ego-mind? " This release into the freedom of Christ begins with our "cultivation of attention," to see when we are grasping with the mind, insisting on our rights, our opinions, insisting that our agenda in life be the first and only priority? This means seeing the thought forms in our minds and seeing the ego-self attach to them.  And in each moment of consecration we learn to release our humanity, our human thoughts, our human desires, and our human attachments, to the will of the Master. This consecrated attention becomes Presence and Adoration. Equally we bring our cultivation of intention to each moment of life.  We release from all motivations but one, our heart's desire to be one with and to ceaselessly offer all that we are in love and self-gift to the Master, Yeshua, our Beloved.

Endless Conversion to the Master
The life of open-handed offering to Christ is a life of endless, ceaseless conversion. In this offering we find an interior act of willingness to see the injuries we may inflict on our own souls and on those nearby. This ceaseless conversion leads us to return to Christ the Master to say "You know that I love you, help me to follow you." To receive and accept our sorrow and let it be the means of continual conversion is our yoking and "oneing" with Christ.

In the Christian path of meditation or contemplative prayer, unlike some other traditions, the only real master, the only true guru, the only teacher, is Christ.  This offers a tremendous safety to us. Tragic things happen in any religious tradition when persons surrender themselves in misplaced Faith to flawed human beings.  Terrible injury can happen.  Some persons are very skilled, trained, and holy teachers but no human being is without failing.  When Christ is our sole master and sovereign over our hearts, master of the soul, when Christ is our singular teacher, when Christ is our only true guide, then we have the genuine safety to fully give ourselves in trust.  Teachers in the Christian contemplative tradition can be companions on this road to Emmaus. They can encourage and point us back to the light of Christ in our own hearts. Christ alone is the Master. Together we know that the One we seek is the One who walks with us. And we may often only know his Presence in the burning of our hearts. It is enough. To give oneself ceaselessly and without reservation to Him is the joy of coming Home, to our singular Refuge, our singular Joy, our singular Trust.