Sunday, June 10, 2012

Christ the Companion

Christ the Companion

Paul Romans 8:38-39 " For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God, in Christ Jesus, our Lord."

The Way of Devotional Love
It is a great support to have a spiritual director or a contemplative teacher who helps us be accountable to develop a daily spiritual practice in our life, to keep showing up day in and day out. The truth is any relationship withers if we don’t give the gift of our time and the fullness of our attention and our intention.  If we really want to develop a friendship or a love relationship, what do we do?  We spend time.  We make a point to "clear the deck" and everything else is placed out of the way.  We create a sanctuary of consecrated space where we can just be with our beloved or our friend.  What we intend is this: "I'm just here.  I just want to receive you and give you the gift of my self, my presence."  This self-giving with God, is the communion we long for. In the same moment this total presence and gift of self requires a letting go in total trust.  In the previous chapter we discussed this word in the tradition for letting go, we call it "kenosis."  Kenosis makes us present and ready to walk with Christ, our life-long companion.

We have become a culture that is involved in narcissism to the nth degree.  In this consumer society we have come to worship the delusion that completion in life comes through a kind of private, personal fulfillment of possession or taking what we think we need from outside of ourselves. " If I just have this, if I just have that, if I just have the right relationship, if I just have the right job I’m going to be fulfilled." So one's life becomes a frenzy of getting the right kind of things, or the right kind of relationship, or the right kind of experiences. And heaven help anyone who gets my way!  That’s self-absorption, that’s narcissism; and that kind of pure self-idolatry is the source of every evil in the world. 

The spiritual author M. Scott Peck has called evil malignant narcissism.  What Yeshua is asking is just the opposite, not private, personal fulfillment, not self-fulfillment, but self-transcendence through self-giving love.  He invites us to go beyond the confines of this self, this illusion of a separate self. We do this self-release and self-offering with these empty hands.  The hands that grasp so tightly must unclench and release from the things that we cling to as God substitutes for our private, personal fulfillment.  Instead, Yeshua says, "Come, enter into the stream of Divine life beyond the confines of our self-made self." This is the Realm of His Heart, the Kingdom of His all- encompassing Love.  In doing this we don’t lose our true self.  We find our true self, we find our true spirit in the Heart of Christ.  In this self-offering the hand opens and offers all that we are in love, making us ever receptive, present, able to receive the gift of God, God's own Self in Christ, our life companion.  If we are frightened and grasping, if we're holding on, if we're self absorbed, we're not there.  We're not accessible.  And to be accessible to God's Self -Giving is the whole purpose of a spiritual practice.

In retreats I frequently place on an altar another icon drawn by Brother Claude. In the icon Yeshua is seated, extending his arms around the beloved disciple, John. John is extending his hands forward in a gesture of offering to Christ.  A blue color of divinity extends from Christ’s mantle and envelopes the shades of it around the apostle, John. The blue of divinity and red of humanity become intertwined in this embrace. The icon expresses a delightful intimacy.  Often in the Celtic tradition the apostle John is the apostle who is seen as possessing the authority of Christ because he listens and hears the Heart of Christ, his head on the Savior's chest. The beloved disciple is a symbol of ourselves who walk and live in the embrace of Yeshua. In this image we see our opening to receive Christ's divinity and the self-offering of our humanity.  Our self-emptying makes us receptive and accessible to receive the fullness of Christ, and to give the fullness of our life to Him. This is a life of companionship and intimacy with Him.

A Life of Companionship and Communion with Christ

Prayer of Consecration
In the Hindu tradition there is a stream of spiritual practice called Bhakti Yoga.  Yoga means connection or communion and Bhakti Yoga is the devotional practice of communion with the Divine. Devotional self-giving love for Christ is a powerful aspect of Prayer of the Heart. There are different ways of cultivating devotional love.  Among them is a daily prayer of consecration.  The Prayer of Consecration is a way that you express in words, your love commitment daily to Christ.  The essence of the prayer in your own words is " I love you, Yeshua, and I give myself to you."  This is not unlike the love commitments we renew with out loved ones when we say, "I love you." The words that you would use must be your words coming from your own heart and your own experience through your own expression.  It is both powerful and transforming at the very beginning of the day as you sit down to do your silent Prayer of the Heart, to say, “O, Beloved, Christ, I give myself to you.  Take my life and make it yours.”  It establishes us in our intention of devotional love. This praxis connects our Heart's desire to its true completion in Yeshua. To find intervals throughout the day where we can repeat that prayer re-anchors us in that intention.  Returning to our Prayer of Consecration grounds us again in our very motivation for living.  "Why am I here?  What am I doing?    What is all of this for anyway?" When we are in full harmony with our central purpose, our life becomes powerful and purposeful.  Our practice pulls us out of the unconscious inclination of the mind where we coast along the lines of least resistance and comfort; and it re-anchors us in aliveness in the Heart of Christ.

The Holy Name of the Beloved
Human beings have had a practice across traditions of a reciting the name of the Beloved One. This is especially true in the monotheistic traditions, Christian, Jewish, and Moslem. In the Christian tradition we personalize the name of the Holy One using the name of Jesus or Yeshua.  When you are really in love with someone in a relationship, powerfully in love, the name of the one you love is powerful.  It connects you.  So invoking the name of your beloved brings up the desire that you have to be one with him/her, to give yourself in love.  For that reason the ancients discovered that communion with Christ and transformation in Christ arose through invoking the name of Yeshua in silent prayer and in the midst of activity throughout the day. This invocation synchronized with breath became a central expression of Prayer of the Heart. It can find liturgical and joyful expression in chanting in groups or alone as well.

Icon Gazing
Another way to cultivate devotional love is icon gazing.  Icon gazing is not intended to be a way to engage the imagination and think wonderful thoughts about Christ. Rather it is a way to let go of the imagination and receptively receive the self-communication that Christ offers to you through the icon.  Icon gazing is an intuitive, receptive process, and naturally the communication will not be experienced the same for any two people.  We use the visual image of Yeshua to go beyond image to the transcendent experience of the mystical Christ.  In the Gospel Mary of Magdala, upon encountering the risen Christ, says, “Master.”  She is admonished to not cling to the form or the image.  Yeshua says, “Do not cling to me.”  He seems to be saying to Mary and to us,  " Who I am is much deeper and truer than this form."  The mystery of Christ is much bigger than our ideas of Christ, our images of Christ.  The mystery of Christ is Divine Life itself.  Therefore in this practice, like Mary of Magdala, we release from emotion and imagination to a sacred and empty receptivity to receive Christ’s self-communication to us through the icon.

Conversation with Christ
Another form of daily companionship is our inner conversation with Yeshua.  Sometimes it takes the form of words.  Often it is a wordless conversation.  We share the experience and the challenge of our daily life with Christ. We know we have a place of unconditional acceptance and wisdom where our life is brought daily and offered.

Sanctuary and Protection in Christ
All of us need to find inner safety and protection when we feel at risk, physically or spiritually vulnerable. How we find ultimate security when life is filled with threat or risk is an essential interior movement in the spiritual life. How we find protection from temptation and spiritual fears is how we take refuge in Christ our Companion. Prayer of the Heart is the growing discovery of the experience of inner sanctuary and protection in Christ. All of us have the need to experience protection because the world is often a difficult and dangerous place and there are forces and experiences that are injurious to our spiritual nature. Some prayers in the ancient Celtic folk tradition express this protection in Christ in that they are encircling prayers.  They speak of being encircled and shielded in the love of Christ.  Here is one about shielding others:

May those without shelter be under your guarding this day, O Christ.
May the wandering find places of welcome
O, Son of the tears of the wounds of the piercings
May your cross this day be shielding them

Here is an encircling prayer of protection for oneself:

My Christ, my love, my encircler
Be near me, each day, each night, each light, each dark
Be near me; uphold me, my treasure, my truth

These kind of prayers or just invoking the name of Yeshua or a short prayer of protection, such as, "O, Yeshua, you are my refuge and my strength. O, Yeshua, shield me from harm." are excellent forms of guard of the heart practice.  Guard of the heart describes an ancient practice of protection of our spiritual center. When we do spiritual practice of inner transformation in Prayer of the Heart in many ways we become much more sensitive to the world around us. We become more open to people around us, to the feelings, the thoughts, the energies around us.  Thus we have to take more responsibility to take care of our spiritual nature and to protect the heart from what is negative, intrusive, or violent.  Guard of the Heart  (Ryan, p. 84) is a needed aspect of Prayer of the Heart practice, and prayers of protection with Christ, our ceaseless Companion, are an essential aspect of our daily practice. 

Restoration and Consolation in Christ
 Yeshua said, “Abide in me." In other words, “Rest in me.  I am your refuge.  I am the one who will restore you.”  So give restoration time with Christ each day, of letting everything else go to be with Christ to restore your soul.  For some lighting a candle and reclining on the floor in your prayer space with the intention, “I want to be with you, I need to be with you,” will bring the peace and healing we need for the day, a peace the world cannot give.

Inner guidance with Christ
Most of us think that we have to know what we ought to be doing in our lives. We have to be in charge and competent all the time. We think we ought to be "on top of it" and we push our agenda about what is supposed to happen.  If we really want to be open to receive guidance, particularly spiritual guidance, we have to have something the Zen people call, “don’t know" mind.  A “don’t know” mindset means that you accept you really don’t know.  If you don’t know, that means you are open to be surprised.  It means you’re willing to let go of your agenda and surrender to the love and will of Christ.  I saw an older lady in her mid-eighties not long ago who thought she might be close to death. Later she was told that maybe she wasn’t close to death because her cardiac surgery was successful.  She said, “Darn it, I don’t know what to do.  I thought I was preparing for death and now it looks like it’s not going to happen.  What am I supposed to do?”  So I started talking to her about “don’t know mind” and she thought that was just great.  When we really want guidance, we ask because we don’t know.  We ask from receptivity, from trust.  Yeshua said, “Seek and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened to you, ask and you shall receive.” (Matt. 7:7) He didn’t suggest we ask and take the advice when it compares favorably with what you already have in mind.  So letting go of our agenda, letting go of our expectations is difficult inner work because of the mind's compulsion for control. The fullness of trust and refuge in the One in whom we abide and find our true Life is a different direction, a direction that takes us to surrender and Home.

Communion with Christ the Life-Long Companion
In this companionship the great, great blessing is that we are never alone.  We are never abandoned; we are never unloved; we are never rejected.  Christ is the Faithful companion who says, “I am with you always.” (Matt. 28:20) No exceptions exist here. He promises, "I am with you always."  Personal intimacy with Christ alone opens us to intimacy with Christ in all Creation.  "All things came into being through him and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being was Life and the Life was the light of the people. ´(John 1:3-5) It doesn't get any more intimate than this. Gregory of Nazaianzus says, “Christ exists in all things that are."  (Ryan, p.31) When we are personally intimate with Christ, we are in communion with Christ in all things.

Laurence Freeman O.S.B. the great teacher of Christian meditation says this about union with Christ in a lifetime of companionship, “The Kingdom which Jesus taught and embodied in his relationship with us liberates us from individuality as separateness into individuality as indivisibility. In the Kingdom we pass from psychological isolation to spiritual union.  It is the end of individual history as we imagine it.  The breaching of the wall of the ego is an eschatological moment and end of time and an entry into timelessness.  But we experience it in time and therefore it changes the way we live in time.  The sorrow inherent in knowing myself as being only and forever just 'me' yields to welcoming a new identity gained in a sharing of being.  On one side of the wall of the ego, individuality means merely separateness.  On the other side the meaning changes to union.  All relationships from the most intimate to the most impersonal are transformed by breaking through the wall of the ego. …. Here, through this aperture in our egoism, at this frontier of our identity, where the question, ‘who am I?’ becomes a pure experience of Reality.” (Freeman, p. 235)

We recognize the presence of the risen Christ is the experience of our true identity.  That unitive experience of awakening to the risen Life of Yeshua as one's own Life is an experience of being always home.  Wonderfully this experience of oneness with Christ is summarized in St. Paul to the Galatians (3:29): “You are all one person in Christ Jesus.”
Joyfully, amazingly, we are never alone.