Thursday, May 31, 2012
Healing from Spiritual Blindness
One of the most vital healings that must take place in our journey of transformation is the healing of spiritual blindness. The ancient Celtic hymn, "Be Thou My Vision" is an invocation and prayer for that healing. We ask that Christ be our eyes, Christ be our vision, that we come to see life and the world through the eyes of Christ.
One way that we come to this healing is that we *ask* for healed sight. In the story of Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46) we have an example of the healing of a physical sight, but with intimations of the opening and awakening to spiritual sight. This story has been used as a source for the longer form of the Jesus Prayer in the Prayer of the Heart tradition. ("Jesus, son of David, have mercy.") In the story Bartimaeus has an intuition of “seeing” and of the One who can help him "see." ” In his helplessness and Faith, he trusts the One who is greater than his own personal powers. He receives his physical sight, but we may read into the story that he has regained also his spiritual sight of the remembrance of God as the Source of life and wholeness. The awakening to the unified inner vision of Faith is the real healing and the occasion of the healing of his physical limit.
Another way we come to the healing of our spiritual sight is through life crisis. Crisis happens. In such a crisis our usual patterns are rendered helpless; we are “knocked from our high horse.” In the Acts of the Apostles there is a dramatic account of such an event in Paul’s awakening from blocked spiritual vision. (Acts 9:1) Paul has become a violent and brutal man, consumed and possessed by the demon of his arrogance and grandiose self -righteousness. He is possessed with an obsession for control to the degree he is willing to commit murder. His killing and persecution of others stems from a self-absorbed conviction and grandiosity that he alone possesses truth and no one may live, no one may be acceptable, who is not inside the circle of his pride. Paul is brought low; his physical vision is lost entirely. His spiritual blindness is metaphorically revealed in physical blindness. But he cannot open to spiritual vision until he experiences the crisis of his helplessness, and the healing of it in surrender to Christ. He must look outside the pride of own self-creation for help and resolution. His encounter with Christ as a lightning bolt knocking him to the ground becomes his salvation. Only then is he willing to look beyond himself and his pride for help, and the scales eventually do fall from his eyes.
Paul’s pre-conversion behavior may be a good example of what we are now seeing in our times as a symptom of the death throes of tribal ethnic religion, with the rise of militant fundamentalist and violent religious movements in nearly every continent and religion in the world, including out own. This mythic membership, tribal level of consciousness, as it is called by Ken Wilber in his books, (Anatomy of Consciousness, The Atman Project) is marked by the preoccupation of the believer with the question of who is in or out of "my particular circle," rather than the awakening to the Circle that encompasses us all. It has been thought the violence of 9/11 was an attempt to incite global war between the Abrahamic Faiths, and to some extent it has succeeded. In the long run we shall hope it will fail and result in greater desire for communion and understanding. Yet all of us are capable of Paul's exclusion, fear, and violence. Today all of us should hear Christ calling to us, like Paul, “Why are you persecuting me?”
For us what is the awakening of spiritual vision? What are the scales on our eyes? They are the filters of vision created by the self-made self. To be healed we must move from a self-absorbed narcissistic vision to a unitive Christocentric awareness of Love. Our beliefs and schemes will not heal our vision. Only the experience of the healing touch of Christ in our practice will heal our vision. John Main speaks the Way of the Heart in the praxis of Christian meditation in this way: “" Meditation is returning to your own center, and finding that it is the gateway to the Center of all." (Main, The Heart of Creation, p.29) When we find oneness in the Heart of Christ, our Center, we live in the awareness of our oneness with all things. St. Gregory of Nazaianzus says it this way, "Christ exists in all things that are." (Ryan, p. 31) The healing of spiritual blindness is the awakening to Oneness in Christ. It is the means by which the filters of vision of my self, my tribe, my gender, my opinions, my church, my culture, my language, my country, and my world are dismantled. I can then open to the Mystery of Christ who embraces all, and draws all unto Himself. This is our true awakening from spiritual blindness. "The day of my spiritual awakening was the day I saw - and knew I saw- all things in God and God in all things." Mechtild of Madeburg (Ryan, p.31)
The mind is the source of filters to our vision; the Heart is the seat of true spiritual “seeing” or awareness. Only by learning to observe the mind and disengage from its tyranny can we really let the heart expand and open to unitive love in Prayer of the Heart. Hadewich of Antwerp (12c.) says of this release from the mind's filters: “Tighten to nothing the circle that is the world’s things. Let the naked circle expand to encompass All.”(Hirshfield, p.100) The "naked circle" is the circle of Christ in the Heart. Our vision is one of either smaller and smaller circles, or larger and larger ones, until our vision is healed and opens to the Circle of the universal Heart of Christ which encompasses All.
Even the insight of Christians of the Mystery of Christ is always a limited one. Christ is not the exclusive property of those who call themselves Christians or of the Christian churches. Thank God for that! Christ, His Life, His love, His wisdom, communion with Him is accessible to all, regardless of what name they call Him, or under what concept His Reality is known. He is not an exclusion clause, but the Heart of the Universe, the Heart of God.
It is good to recognize the markers of our blindness, the fear, judgement, and rejection of the stranger. Our xenophobia, putting what the mind doesn't grasp outside the circle of Christ, that is our adversary with whom we struggle. We must recognize our grasping the comfortable and familiar "isms" and ideologies. We must be vigilant in seeing the “log” in our own eyes. Those "logs" are described aptly in the psychological defense mechanisms of rationalization, repression, projection, and denial. We can cultivate the dismantling and release of these ego filters in our practice of Breathing Yeshua. In our practice of the kenosis of Christ we bow and offer ceaselessly in our moments of helplessness, in our willingness to loosen the grasping hand of control, to yield our insistence on the world being the way we think it should be. In this disposition we can find ourselves healed both in the intuitive trust of Bartimaeus and in the yielding and helpless surrender of Paul. We can be healed to the Christ Vision of Unitive Love. A spiritual elder, mystic, and teacher of our times, Thomas Hand S.J. spoke this simple truth of the unitive vision of Christ in a contemplative talk in 1997 at Shalom Prayer Center. "The God experience is awakening to Oneness and fully accepting and living the consequences."
The world in which we live, all Creation, is translucent, filled and shining with the Glory of Christ. Because of blocked spiritual vision most of us don't see it. But we can be surprised. We can be opened to this glory unexpectedly. My lightning moment, being knocked off my high horse, or perhaps more appropriately, cut off at the knees, was the occasion of the sickness and death of my son. At the time of his cremation with my wife and my spiritual mentor, Doug, I sat in silent meditation in the crematorium. Within me was a great struggle as waves of anger, bitterness, and despair passed through my mind. The challenge of emptying and releasing was great. At a certain point when it seemed nothing was left, a peace arose in me of calm and quiet. Looking at one another that it was time, we rose together and left the room and walked outside into the light of a September day in late morning. The morning mist was lifting. I looked around at the trees and the brown hills of late summer. For just a moment the physical world suddenly disappeared and there remained a pure Radiance shining through everything, a Life, a Presence of Fire and Love. A wordless communication spoke from this Fire, "He is my beloved child, he is forever one with me and one with you." The Radiant Life has never left me and I have never left It. At that moment the scales fell for me and the circle of the Light of Christ became my vision.
The monk, Thomas Merton, describes such a moment of the healing of his spiritual blindness. He had long wrestled with his sense of isolation from the world, and his desire to find a unitive vision to reconcile the life of the solitary hermit monastic with the life of compassionate concern for the world.
"In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I was theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness. The whole illusion of a separate holy existence is a dream. … Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God's eyes. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed. I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other." (Merton, Confessions of a Guilty Bystander )
Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Healing from a Divided Life
“ Hear O Israel, the Lord, our God is One. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind, and with all your strength. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. This is the greatest commandment.” (Mark 12:29)
Throughout the Gospels Yeshua challenges us to be complete, to be undivided, to be wholehearted in our life of consecration to God. The first and primary of these is his invocation of the Jewish 'Shema'. And He affirms that to be given in love to God in entirety is the whole of the law and scriptures, including the love of neighbor. Other examples include the story of the rich young man (Matt. 19:16) who comes to Him seeking the truth of salvation. He tells the young man that he cannot hold back. He must give it all to be one with God. In the teaching of God and Mammon (Matt 6:24) Yeshua tells us we must choose between our misdirected desire for wealth and security and our true desire for God. We cannot do both, we cannot lead a divided life and still enter the Kingdom of unitive love. We cannot have God and god substitutes. We cannot worship God and idols of our construction. In the story of Martha and Mary(Luke 10:38) Yeshua admonishes Martha, not because she is serving by doing manual work, but because she is creating a duality in herself and is divided in what she is doing, and therefore envious and resentful. The "better part" that Mary has chosen is her undivided devotion, a devotional love that can be undivided in both activity and stillness.
One of the most intriguing narratives of the mystical life of communion in Christ is the story of the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well:
John 4:6- “ It was about noon…. A Samaritan woman came to draw water and Yeshua said to her, “ Give me a drink.” The Samaritan woman said to him, “ How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?”.. Yeshua answered her, “ If you knew the gift of God and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water. The woman said to him, “Sir you have no bucket and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob who gave us the well and with his sons and flocks drank from it?’ Yeshua said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water I will give will never be thirsty. The water that I will give them will become in them a spring of water gushing up in eternal life.”
What is the point of this story? Yeshua is telling us lyrically and metaphorically, 'If you want to come to completion in me, then give yourself entirely, and stop looking around for substitutes in different sizes and shapes of "buckets."
The True Spouse and the Living Spring
Beatrice Bruteau, the contemplative writer, gives a wonderful exegesis of this encounter. (Bruteau, "Living Prayer", July-Aug. 1995) She begins by noting that in the scriptures when the scene is dramatically introduced as "high noon" and has related incongruities (i.e. a single woman coming to get water alone at noon, speaking with a strange man), these are a distinctive red flags that what is coming in the narrative is not about historical record but is rather revelation of Mystery. High noon is the hour of tension when Truth is revealed. The facts of the story are stated in paradoxical fashion to set the stage for the revelation to follow. There are multi levels of meaning. A conversation about drinking water turns into a conversation about Ultimate Reality and mystical union. Buckets, wells, and springs are metaphors for the Inner life of the Divine. The Samaritan woman is "us." Like her we have undergone levels of failed or false espousal in our life. All of us have gone through the espousals of our soul or spiritual consciousness in the six levels of attachment and are seeking a liberation at last in the One who invites us Home, the One who is the Gift of God
In the course of a lifetime we espouse ourselves to what we think will bring us completion. The levels of espousal in our life are the spiritual developmental journey. Bruteau suggests this developmental process is analagous to the Eastern chakra system. Christ is both the true Spouse, the Beloved, who brings us to the final liberation, and the Font of Living Water of the “I AM” who flows freely within us poured out in eternal Self-giving Love. We can at long last give up our wandering and seeking and be Home in the life of inner Communion in Christ.
We might ask ourselves what are the false substitutes, the buckets, to which we have espoused ourselves? What must we do to be free to unite with the true Spouse? So often a seeker begins the journey asking "How can I fit a spiritual practice into my life?" As the journey progress the entirety of our life, all of our human development, physical, relational, affective, intellect, and intuition are integrated into a whole and holy offering of self in communion in Christ. This is the consecrated life. This is the real meaning of Healing or Salvation, the assimilation of our complete humanity, will and consciousness, into Christ, our True Spouse.
Our inner work then is to let Christ unite and heal our life heal of inner divisions. In doing this we must confront and free ourselves from what the Buddhist teacher, Joseph Goldstein, calls, "If Only Mind." Our mind thinks, "If only this were different, if only I had this bucket, If only I had this relationship. If only I had this role. If only these conditions were different." Much of our life we spend in "bucket consciousness": Love is limited, God is limited, and my own devices and strategies are my refuge." The only espousal then is to the objects of desire, my god substitutes, my self-created "buckets."
By contrast our practice must take us toward Living Spring consciousness: "Love is limitless and the Source is within me. Divine Life, the Living Water of Christ, is beyond my control yet I can open and be accessible to It." Entering the practice of Christ's kenosis of self emptying and self-offering, I become an empty and receptive vessel of the Living Spring of Christ's Spirit to suffuse my humanity and pour out into the world.
To expand and deepen the life of daily practice we begin by having sacred space for our prayer practice, our space of intimate communion with the Spouse. We invoke a prayer of consecrated intention before our silent prayer and at intervals in the day. (How different our world would be if every home had this sacred space at the center!) We return and anchor ceaselessly in our prayer word of Breathing Yeshua. If we are espousing ourselves to the Beloved, we call the Beloved by name and bring ourselves to the Beloved’s Presence. This we do in Breathing Yeshua endlessly. And we do this in every activity of life, consecrated eating, sleeping, relating, work, all of life, in activity and rest, becomes bowing in adoration and self-offering in love. In our self-offering we learn gradually to release from self-preoccupation and to become the clear and empty vessel of the Living Water of Christ. In us He rises to offer His Life of Love into the world in kindness, service, and life of inner communion expressed and actualized in every moment.
This is the true worship of God in Spirit and Truth Yeshua foretold to the Samaritan woman. This is the Mystery of the Eucharist in Christ's gift of Self to us as the Bread of Life, and our self-offering to Christ in the transformative consecration of the elements of our humanity. In this way our life's journey in following Christ is to become Christ, the consecrated bread and wine of our humanity. In this way our life is consumated in the true espousal with Christ and we fulfill the words of the Song of Solomon: "My Beloved is mine and I am His."
"Through Christ, with Christ and In Christ..
our humanity is lifted up
and consecrated in the Beloved;
thus entering the stream of the Beloved's Life
in adoration and self giving;
we sit at the Wedding Feast of Eternal Life."
Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Christ our Resurrection and Life
"Wherever you are on earth, you wish to perceive the Mystery that lies at the Heart of your heart.. 'Why be afraid? I, Jesus, am here; I am the Christ. I loved you first… In you have I set my joy!
..Recognized or not, the Risen Christ remains close to every person, even those unaware of Him. He remains there in secret."
(Brother Roger of Taize, No Deeper Love)
In the Lenten Liturgy we celebrate the Paschal Mystery of Christ. In my childhood years the only thing I understood was that Easter was a time for dressing up in fine clothes and families to take pictures. I never made the connection very well between the death and resurrection of Jesus and real life. So I've been reflecting on that every since. Yet in the Christian tradition we teach the death and resurrection of Jesus as the pivot point of Christian life. If this is only historic event, how can this be central to our own spiritual life?
I have come to understand the Paschal Mystery of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, is the mystery of *our* life and all existence. We celebrate this mystery in the spring of the year when there is the rising of new Life. In the spring the new life arises out of the death and transformation of the old life.
The rising of new life arises out of death, and the relinquishment of all that has gone before. New life is the developmental fulfillment of the life cycle. The butterfly in Easter Christianity is a potent symbol of transfiguration and resurrection. The caterpillar dies as it was before, and leaves behind the husk of its former existence so the butterfly can spread its wings and leave the bounds of earth. The old life has to be cleared away, so that there is space and room, for the new life to emerge. The season of winter is this phase in the rhythm of the seasons, so that spring can burst forth.
For us the meaning of resurrection, the invitation to join Christ in the Risen Life is not just about the resurrection at the end of physical life or the end of time. Resurrection is the potential that awaits us here and now to live the Risen Life of Christ in our own. In the tradition of Eastern Christianity we realize the goal of human life is Christification, to bring forth and manifest the Life of the Risen One fully in our own human life, in the uniqueness of our own journey and life development. Easter and Resurrection therefore are what we live more than just what we believe.
Resurrection is not something we do alone or of ourselves. It is the something we participate in; it is the way we unite our life to the Life of Christ in the way of the Cross, in the many deaths of self relinquishment and kenosis. We face these transformative movements most clearly in time of trial and loss. Living the Resurrection is the way we die to the former life we lived, and are given to the consecration of the Risen Life of Christ coming alive in our own life.
Gethsemane and Easter
Two visual representations of the Paschal Mystery are the icons of Christ in the garden of Gethsemane and the icon of Resurrection called Anastassis (raising up). The first shows the self-offering and surrender of Christ, while the disciples sleep. They show all those resistances in our humanity that don't want to face the truth of the way life is in our vulnerability and impermanence. These sleeping apostles in us resist by being unawake or unconscious or distracted. The Christ of Gethsemane is a vulnerable Christ, and we are not different. The self-offering of Christ, the kenosis of Christ, is what makes the second movement of Rising possible. And so it is also in our own practice of Breathing Yeshua each moment, releasing and offering. In our opening in the Heart and in the space of our surrender to Christ we are then joined to His Rising. We are lifted up and out of the deadness and stagnation of our habitual patterns, as represented by the Christ figure reaching into the underworld and lifting up the figures of Adam and Eve in the Anastassis icon. The discarded keys and locks in the icon represent the unbinding of our chained and oppressed condition. Christ is the liberator who frees us from death to live His Life.
Resurrection is a life long process of living out the Paschal Mystery. Gethsemane is part of the process, Golgotha is part of the process, and Easter is the fulfillment of the process in each of our lives. Years ago in presenting a hospice workshop a pastor invited to participate made the comment: "There are too many Christians who want the Resurrection and are unwilling to accept the crucifixion." In other words we come to participate in the Risen Life of Christ through our equal participation in His crucifixion in our own life.
Yeshua poses that same question to each of us when he says, " Can you drink the cup which I am to drink?" Our invitation is to drink fully the cup of our life and death, and to allow all those experiences of joy and sorrow to be the means of our redemptive, transformative work. (Mathew 20-21).
In the garden of Gethsemane we are presented with the vision of a Yeshua in his vulnerability. He is a human who sees the losses he faces, the pain of complete desolation, of abandonment, of aloneness, of not only the loss of his own biological life, but also the loss of the experience of union with the Source that all humans experience. In the Garden of our Gethesemane again and again our own human will cringes before the onslaughts to our vulnerability. In moments of crisis we come face to face with the physical and psychological vulnerability that is our humanity. Like Yeshua we may say, "Let this cup pass from me" We just don't want it. "Make it go away." The ego says, "I didn't bargain for this." And our time of trial arises as fear and despair grips us in small or big ways. The life of Faith can take us deeper.
Yet true freedom from fear only is resolved only when we give over our vulnerability in sheer gift of love and trust. Like Yeshua we have the capacity to loosen the fist of our hand and hold it out empty and offering our own humanity and emptiness to the Beloved. This giving, this choice, isn't one we make by ourselves It is our union with Christ that allows us to make that gift in Him. Christ chooses in us when we say, "I choose You. Let Your will be mine in this moment forward." Then we begin to move in freedom to accept that our life suffering and circumstances are the cross on which we can be fully given in love and transformed. The cross of "what gets in the way, becomes the Way." In this way we are united with the Cross of Christ in every moment, and every circumstance of life. This is the heart of Prayer of the Heart, to be fully given in love in Christ.
Luke 9:23- "If you want to become my followers let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, those who lose their live, for my sake will save it." It is in this emptying and relinquishment of all those things that we have identified with in this life, all our ideas of success and failure that we release from our false identity; we lose our life and therein find our True Life who is Christ. We must make room, make space, and give a whole hearted "yes" for Him to live in us.
"Unless a Grain of Wheat fall to the earth and die, it cannot bear fruit." (John 12:24) Falling is not a bad thing in the Gospel. The culture deems falling as failure. Yet falling is inevitable in life. The real question in our practice is how do we fall and what do we do when we fall. Can we learn to fall in self-relinquishment to Christ? Can we learn to keep going in our walk with Christ when we fall? Can we let our falls be the occasion of our deepening self-gift to Christ? Are we willing to take the next step in our falling?
Yeshua says: “ Be not afraid .. I am with you always.” (Matt. 28) This is the promise that we are never alone in our journey. And it may be in our falling that we are most accessible to Yeshua, most aware of our need and His presence as our Faithful companion in this life.
Our Daily Cross
How do we take up our cross daily, when do we do this? In our practice of Prayer of the Heart both in stillness and in the middle of life we cultivate the interior movements of presence and adoration. In our adoration we bow in self-offering love to Christ who is our Life. In the ceaseless invocation of the name of Yeshua we unite our human life to the Life of the Risen One and we enter the life of Resurrection.
Our cross of human vulnerability and impermanence, our cross of separateness, are the raw material of our daily bowing in adoration and self-offering in love. All of us, without exception come through life wounded, especially in the earlier years when we are most vulnerable and least defended. Our wounds, the wounds we often deny and run away from, can be seen as the sacred wounds of Christ. We may have hidden them in shame, or in fear. The way we defend our wounds and protect ourselves from further harm may keep us from loving more deeply. Yet it is these very wounds that are the way of our salvation. If we look closely in our journey, it is the way that we have been hurt or injured in life and our search for healing and strength that become our Way into Christ. For me the early injuries of insecurity and isolation, became the fuel for my finding true sanctuary and true belonging in the Heart of Christ.
The main purpose of God's redemptive work is that we may be restored to a life of participation in His Life in Christ. Hence true redemption, true salvation, is the healing of the soul's capacity to receive and manifest the love of Christ, present within us from the beginning.
Our Sacred Wounds
Our Wounds in the Paschal Mystery are the means of our redemption and opening to the Risen Life of Christ. Think of those times in your life when you are brought closest to your wounds, to your vulnerability as a human being. They are times of crisis, when the habitual patterns don't work, when the usual supports aren't present. They are a time of trial when the temptation is to dig a hole and climb into it, or lash out in anger or self-defense and fear. This is the moment when the cross of Christ is our redemptive path. In this moment when we allow Christ to choose, and say "yes"- that we are given in love, given in trust to love more deeply, more fully, more completely. That is a Resurrection moment. The beatitudes teach us that Resurrection happens only in our vulnerability when we really exercise Faith to take refuge in Christ. When things are going well, when the mind and psyche feel secure, we are comfortable in our habitual patterns and old husks. When things fall apart, through grace, the self of separateness can fall apart into the life of communion with Christ. Holding it together isn't always a good thing. When we fall apart into the arms of Christ, that is a good thing indeed and we break free from our husks into butterfly glory and flight.
The moment of trial, of doubt, in a relationship, in a human encounter, in helplessness can be the moment of death and resurrection. (And isn't what we fear the most helplessness?) Can I do this? Can I drink this cup? Can I give myself without reservation to the love of God in even this? That is our Garden of Gethesemane.
Think of your Cross in life, and the carrying of it, as the particular way we bring the wounds of our human soul, and the knot of separateness again and again to the healing and restoration of God. Christ is the One who carries the cross in us, the One who unravels the knots of isolation and separateness. He is the One who opens us to the choice of self offering in Him; and His love, again and again, ceaselessly opens us to Himself in the course of a life time.
Think of those choices you have made, when it was most dark, when you were most in trial, most in crisis. Think of when you were most willing to reach out with empty hands and ask for help in making the choice for what is most good, most loving, and most healing, regardless of the cost. In each moment, in the darkest moment, this is the cross of Christ which brings us to the death of the cocoon of our self absorption and into the flight of freedom to Love, as we are called to, as we were loved into existence to do.
In my marriage, in my life as a father, as a counselor to the emotionally and mentally afflicted, as a spiritual director, I have grown the most in love when I had to reach with empty hands and a sense of helplessness and inadequacy. I have opened the most when I asked for help to give of myself in love, the best I could. This is the opening to the Risen Life of Christ, coming alive in me and you. This is our death to the habit patterns and dead mental formations that keep us locked in bondage. The times of my seeming failure and helplessness, the death of my self-sufficiency and separateness, then become the opening to consecration in the Risen Christ. Brother Roger of Taize tells us about the nature of this Resurrection in Christ: " When Christ asks you, 'For you, who am I? Suppose you were to reply; 'Christ Jesus, You are the One who loves me into life that has no end.' " ( Brother Roger, p. 37)
Jesus said, " I am the Resurrection and the Life, those who believe in me, though they die, will live."( John 11:25) The way we come to that realization is through our humanity. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians (I CO 1:23) said that he came to proclaim neither the law of the Jews nor the wisdom of the Greeks but Christ crucified. No high minded philosophy will bring us to oneness with Christ, but only the cross of our life experience, if we let grace happen. He was talking to people about what is real, that life is tough, and you can't realize goodness by making rules or expounding lofty ideals; rather you come to love's completion through the hard things in life. M. Scott Peck said that life is a school for loving. And so it is in our relationships, they are a dimension of the cross, the school of our life, where we learn to love, fully and deeply
Stations of the Cross
One of the important devotional practices of my childhood was the stations of the cross. At some level in my earlier life they made a deep impact because I understood they are not about history, but about the mystery of living for you and me. Christ crucified is about our living and our crucifixion as well.
Jesus is condemned- We are condemned when the hurts and injustices of life, and when our losses and vulnerabilities catch up to us. Things may come our way that we think we don't deserve. Our diminishments, the works we have wrought, the relationships that have disappointed or hurt us, they condemn us as well. What we had placed our hope and security in vainly, condemns us. Impermanence and death intrude and condemn us. We are mocked and humiliated by the judgements of the culture around us and by our apparent failures.
Jesus receives and accepts the cross- We accept what life has brought us, and let it be the means of our transformation to learn to love as best we can, to learn to let Christ give Himself in us as best we can. We accept the unavoidable and let it transform us, rather than give in to blind resignation.
Jesus falls the first time, the second, and the third- We fall, we fail, we don't live up to what is best and deepest in us, Our weakness is revealed. The fall to the ground is acceptance of our humanity, our limitations. We learn a great wisdom, the acceptance, and above all, the faithfulness of getting up again and again and going on. When we fall seven times, the important thing is the eighth time we get up.
Jesus receives help- We are not self sufficient and separate, Christ carries our cross with and in us, and others walk with us on this journey of transformation in His love. We are never entirely alone or abandoned as Christ continually offers Himself as our companion.
Jesus is stripped of his garments- We are stripped and naked in our defenses before God, and our utter and complete dependence on Him. Our life arises in God, and remains ever one in God. The paradox is that in our nakedness we discover our essence in God and our ultimate security.
Jesus is Crucified-Yeshua is nailed to the cross of his death- We are nailed to the cross of our own losses, our own wounded humanity, and radical need for God
Jesus gives up His Life- We give up the life we have known in self-offering to God. The prayer of consecration of Yeshua is our prayer- "Into Your Hands, Abba, I commend my Spirit." For me this is the last chant, the last mantra of the day. And in the official office of the monastic tradition of Compline it is also the last chant of the day. It is the daily commitment that we give up the life we have known that Christ can live in us. And in our surrender the stone of our own separate-self life rolls away and the life of Christ rises to live fully in us. In that moment we are offered up, as the host in the Eucharistic liturgy, and are united in the offering of Christ.
Resurrection Life in Ordinary Life
As we deepen our practice in the Way of the Heart we come to live Resurrection in ordinary daily life. We experience not just crucifixion but the glory and joy of the Risen Life of Christ. Our Resurrection becomes our journey of singular refuge in Christ alone.
We find extraordinary joy in the ordinary life of walking with others, it is the road to Emmaus, eating, drinking, cooking the fish for others. We find joy in breaking bread; we sail on the sea of Galilee with Yeshua in the everday lives of service. Resurrection life is sailing with Yeshua in this way, in the ordinary life of ours. True enlightenment and mystic union leads to this state, of living ordinary life with exquisite and extraordinary joy and love. Resurrection leads not to separation but joining fully the unitive life of humanity and all Creation. In us Christ can love and serve our loved ones, our community, and the created world of all things around us. It is a life of consecrated love and concern for all things. The true measure of a life then is agape, unitive love, and its measure is the tender concern we bring to all we do.
Monday, May 28, 2012
Serving Christ in the Way of the Heart
Contemplative Life-Active life
I grew up in a time when religious educators made a false distinction between the "active life" and the "contemplative life." A person seeking to live the contemplative life had to enter a cloister and never be heard from again. The active life was one of outward humanitarian service, a domestic married life, a life of involvement in the world, whereas, the contemplative life was seen as outside of the "world." Nothing could be further from the truth.
To live the contemplative life is to enter into the depths of the world through a growing and expanding communion with Christ in all things. This communion with Christ leads us to love and serve Christ in the world, and not to try to leave the world. A beautiful picture, was given to my spiritual friend and partner in ministry, Sr. Antoinette Traeger. The picture presents three images of an expanding heart, and is based on a phrase from the Benedictine Rule, "With Hearts Expanded." This image speaks directly to the life and practice of Breathing Yeshua and is placed in prominence in the prayer room at Shalom Prayer Center. This is a life where the Heart expands in communion with Christ to encompass all of life. There is no place, no time, no condition where we do not breathe Yeshua, and serve Yeshua in our consecrated love. The mystics and teachers of the great spiritual traditions teach an important truth. The end of the spiritual journey in this life is not the mountain-top, but it is the return and service to the world.
My father, who recently died two days after Easter at the age of 79, was a recovering alcoholic. In the last twenty years of life in grace he and I had a healed relationship. My father had been deeply wounded and broken by both the disease of alcoholism and the violence of combat in World War II. As he grew and healed in recovery he found his calling was to be a healer, especially to veterans who had suffered like him from the violence of war and addiction to alcohol and other drugs. In the latter years of his life he was an alcohol counselor and community leader.
My father's name was Bill, like mine. Dad told me that a turning point for him in his ministry to the alcohol addicted happened early in his career as an alcohol counselor. On a visit to Portland, Oregon he stopped for a conference at the Hooper Detox Center. On this occasion he was ascending the stairs to enter the building. Leaving the building at the same moment was an older man on whose face was etched the ravages of many years of alcohol dependence. For a just a brief moment Dad said there was radiance that shown from the man's face and he could see the glorified face of Christ in this man. The Gospel words of Christ came to Dad: "I was hungry and you fed me, I was homeless and you sheltered me, I was drunk and sick and abandoned and you took care of me."
From that moment on there was never any doubt in my father that this was that path of service for him. The love of Christ became the prime motivation of my father's life, and he knew that same love took him into the middle of life, into the depths of serving his Beloved in other human beings."
Compassionate Service- the Fruit of Resurrection
We, who venerate the liturgy and sacrament of the Eucharist, as we mature in the spiritual life, come to a deeper understanding of Eucharist. We are the human elements of bread and wine, lifted up and consecrated in adoration and self-offering to God. We are consecrated and transformed into the living incarnate Christ in human form and community. We become the broken Bread of Christ's Life given to the world, in this human life. We become the consecrated wine of Christ's Love offered to the world. Like St. Paul we are "… poured out as a libation." (Phil. 2:1)
Our practice takes us to a living out of the Eucharist of the Risen Christ of Easter. And if we give ourselves to this Mercy then we become accessible to the grace that transforms our human wounds and brokenness into consecrated humanity, the vessel of Christ's Self- Giving to the world. For Bill, my father, his wounds became his sacred wounds, and the means of his serving Christ in the world through what he called his “apostolate" of healing with the alcohol and drug afflicted.
In my own life my parents divorced early in my childhood. My earliest years brought great instability, episodic poverty, and constant change and upheaval. This life inflicted wounds of insecurity and emotional turmoil. Grace led me as a young child to turn inward to find the source of inner stability and safety, to find my refuge in the Presence in my own Heart within. My sacred wounds through grace had led me to find a path to resurrection. Early in my life's journey my inclination was to try to avoid life's vulnerabilities. In the course of time and the transformative love of Christ I began to move from a life of avoidance and escape from the world to growing engagement, service, and communion with the world. One of my choices in my early twenties was to seek a career in mental health counseling, a sure avenue of immersion in human suffering. In the life of Breathing Yeshua we find, each of us, a way to actualize our own Prayer of the Heart apostolate. Our growing experience of personal communion with Yeshua bears fruit as we find a way to have a life of service and belonging in the Universal Christ in humanity and all Creation. Thus our practice brings a life long development of expanding the Heart, moving from our rigid and tightly circumscribed circle of the egoic self to the universal circle of Christ that encompasses all. In this way we become His broken bread given to feed the world.
The mystics teach the inner and outer journey are one. To discover the truth of one's being is to discover the Inner Christ, but this is just the beginning. Thomas Kelley, the Quaker mystic of the 20th century says:
" Deep within us all there is an amazing inner sanctuary of the soul, a holy place, a Divine Center, a speaking Voice, to which we may continually return. Eternity is at our hearts, pressing upon our time-torn lives, warming us with intimations of an astounding destiny, calling us home unto Itself.
In this Center of Creation all things are ours, and we are Christ's and Christ is God's. We are owned beings, ready to run and not be weary and to walk and not faint. The Inner Light, the Inward Christ, is no mere doctrine, belonging peculiarly to a small religious fellowship, to be accepted or rejected as a mere belief. It is the living Center of Reference for all Christian souls and Christian groups - yes, and of non-Christian groups as well - who seriously mean to dwell in the secret place of the Most High. He is the center and source of action, not the endpoint of thought. He is the locus of commitment, not a problem for debate. Practice comes first in religion, not theory or dogma. And Christian practice is not exhausted in outward deeds. These are the fruits, not the roots. A practicing Christian must above all be one who practices the perpetual return of the soul into the inner sanctuary, who brings the world into its Light and who brings the Light (of Christ) into the world with all its turmoil and its fitfulness and re-creates it after the pattern seen on the Mount." ( Kelly, "The Light Within," A Testament of Devotion, p.8)
With my own inclinations of the introvert, afraid to be fully in the world, my spiritual journey in many ways started as a retreat from the world. I wanted to find a way to be safe and invulnerable in the world. So what did I do? Paradoxically in grace I chose to be a parent and to be immersed in the suffering of the human condition as a mental health counselor. When I threw myself into the thick of life, and chose to have children, a little voice said, "You are going to be hurt more than you ever thought possible." And the voice was right. So where my inward journey of contemplation took me was a vocation of compassionate service as a mental health counselor and the relational life of husband and father. It became like the Zen koan, the Christian paradox, the Christian cross of love and responsibility. In my own way, I was trying to answer Yeshua's invitation, "If you want to follow me, pick up your cross daily." For me the curse of a painful fear of the world and desire to escape it led to a gift of sensitivity and empathy, and a vocation to the healing of others. What had been deficit over the past 30 years has become strength, and hopefully a gift poured out to others.
Breathing Yeshua in the healing process of counseling has been my daily practice, my daily service. To be with others in distress means full attention, a quality of presence, and a reverence for boundaries that recognizes the sacred Christ in another. It means the capacity to empty self of self, to release from any and every agenda, and to take full responsibility to release from the projections and defense mechanisms of the ego-mind.
This practice involves the kenosis of the humility of Christ, to learn from failure and mistakes, to learn from the stories and experience of others, to learn from the suffering of others, and above all, to learn to be with my own helplessness.
To Breath Yeshua in this service of Christ means confronting the evil of self-absorption both in oneself and in those who are being helped as it presents in the helping relationship. Many who came to me in my earlier professional years had committed crimes and compassion meant shining a light on their narcissism. To work in the field of mental health is to learn from life and death, suicide and tragic sudden death, disease and aging. Breathing Yeshua becomes the ground of our security, the sanctuary of our earthly consolation, the font of our service of loving-kindness.
The Cross of Responsibility
The life of following Yeshua is one of accepting responsibility, of acknowledging we are here with work to do. For what are we responsible? Just this, to offer the best of ourselves in love. To do this we must relinquish every presumption of control, and do the best we can in love, and know it is enough. We offer it daily on the altar of our consecration to Christ, and it is enough. In truth we are responsible also for the consecration of attention which grows into presence and adoration to Christ in all things. We are responsible for the depth and consecration of our intention, which grows into self-offering love. So that Christ can serve others in us, we get ourselves out of the way. We ceaselessly offer and release all outcomes to the Mercy of God.
In this process an important question to keep asking is this: "Who is helping? Who is serving? Who is being helped?" In this way we remind ourselves we participate in a flow of Divine love and mercy that encompasses all and is vaster and deeper than any personal agenda or compulsion for achievement that may intrude. Subject and object, actor and action, disappear into the Oneness of God's Love and Mercy. We are participants in the Circle of Christ's Mercy.
Breathing Yeshua in the Praxis of Helping-
The same essential practice of Breathing Yeshua in Prayer of the Heart applies to every form of helping, every form of service. We breathe Yeshua in service to our loved ones at home, to the most vulnerable and marginalized, or to the larger community in the form of work-livelihood we have taken. In this integration of Prayer of the Heart into activity and service we uncover utter simplicity:
-The first movement: Be there, fully with the gift of Presence and Adoration to Christ who is there.
-The second movement: Be there in the most loving, the most kind way we can be, releasing from every agenda and attachment to any outcome, offering our best effort to Christ who is there.
-Trust that whatever skills we possess or require will be accessible to us in the middle of our service.
Prayer of the Heart practice in the middle of life leads us to a continual process of inward bowing and inward offering of self to the Christ we encounter every day. It is enough to recognize, be present, and be given in love, to the Christ in another and to offer without expectation. Outcomes are not ours to decide. We can participate in the flow of Divine Compassion in the most loving way, just doing the very best we can to bring forth Agape, Christ' s Self-Offering to the world. This is the goal of all life.
Transformation happens in the middle of service, in the middle of relationships, with every choice we make to bring our thoughts, our emotions, and our behavior into harmony with a growing interior union with Christ. Through ceaseless practice we align our humanity, our life, and consciousness into this greater communion, into the Great Circle of the Divine where we find our belonging. We do this inner work of transformation in the middle of Life, in ceaseless bowing in adoration to the Christ before us, in ceaseless offering in love to the Christ among us.
Climbing the Mountain to Live and Serve in the World-
In my own journey I spent a year and a half in an extended personal retreat. I took a sabbatical from the "normal pattern" to be a hermit devoted to contemplation, while still in familial life, to rest and heal in the depths of communion in God. (I did domestic work and child-care for my wife and daughter.) My rest from the outer responsibilities of life helped me unravel into the Mercy of God and unitive experience. My mistaken desire at the end of this time was to try to build a fence around the heaven I had found.
God's Providence brought me from the mountaintop back into daily human life, where my first job was at Dammasch State Hospital in Oregon. I found myself immersed in the world of chronic and acute mental illness, of profound human suffering. My second professional position made me a geriatric mental health specialist where I was, and still am, immersed in the world of disease, old age, disability and death. I found that fences around the Mercy of God don’t work.
Bringing the Practice into Every Aspect of Life
I learned Brother Lawrence's simple wisdom applies to every circumstance.
No form of service is unworthy, every form of service is service to Christ, and can become prayer when done with the full attention of presence and adoration, and the full intention of self-giving love. Washing the dishes, chopping the onions, sweeping the floors, cleaning the toilets, treating the mental and emotional distress of others, are all worthy service.
Thus service to Christ is a manifestation of praying without ceasing, expanding the Heart of Breathing Yeshua. When we live the compassionate life of service, it is the Spirit of Christ who brings compassionate help, healing and presence through us.
Thomas Kelly says this of our ceaseless prayer, "We pray, and yet it is not we who pray, but a Greater who prays in us. Something of our punctiform selfhood is weakened, but never lost. All we can say is, Prayer is taking place, and I am given to be in the
orbit. In holy hush we bow in Eternity, and know the Divine Concern tenderly
enwrapping us and all things within His persuading love. Here all human
initiative has passed into acquiescence, and He works and prays and seeks
His own through us, in exquisite, energizing life. Here the autonomy of the
inner life becomes complete and we are joyfully prayed through, by a Seeking
Life that flows through us into the world of human beings."
** This "Seeking Life" is Christ's Life, serving all beings.**
Serving Christ in Peace and Justice
As our hearts expand in the life of Breathing Yeshua we find they expand to include also a prophetic voice for peace and justice. This can be the most frightening development of all. When Yeshua says, "Blessed are you when you are persecuted and reviled for my sake," it hardly makes us feel at ease. Yet the most needed expressions of service to Christ are for the most poor and the most afflicted.
I previously spoke about Thomas Merton's koan of being a monk while being of compassionate service in the world. What Merton discovered was that in his writing he was called to hold accountable to the Gospel of Christ the American society around him and its abandonment of the poor, its refusal to change the injustice of racism, and its obsession with military and violent solutions in the world of foreign affairs. (Are we called to any less in our time?) At the corner of 4th and Walnut Merton discovered there is no difference between the life of inner communion with Christ and serving and opening in compassion to Christ suffering in the world. He proclaimed that the gate of Heaven is everywhere and there is no such thing as an isolated life alone with God. For Merton contemplative life and prayer, and service in peace and justice are a seamless garment.
Merton understood the whole purpose why we seek solitude as monk or layperson is so that we might leap into and live eternally in the unitive Circle of Christ. In describing Christian Meditation John Main says that we meditate in order to enter the gateway to the Center of All. So our movement in the practice of Breathing Yeshua is to break free from the constricted isolated circle of self absorption and live into the circle that encompasses all humanity, all Creation, God's circle of Eternal Love. In this way we live truly a life of the prayer of St. Patrick’s breastplate-"Christ before us, Christ behind us, Christ under our feet, Christ beneath us, Christ within us, Christ all around us."
Confronting the Evil of Selfishness
Helder Camara was a Roman Catholic Cardinal in Brazil in the latter part of the 20th century. He believed that the Christian life must of necessity involve confronting the source of evil, which is selfishness, both in oneself and in the society in which we live. "The true root of evil is selfishness. Mankind can only get out of its present explosive situation when it realizes that selfishness is international. It dominates the relationships between individuals, groups, and countries." (Camara, The Desert is Fertile, p. 34)
Fr. Camara said that in global affairs evil is asserting national self-interest over the concern for the well being of all. In the case of our consumer culture, the frenetic drive to consume and buy over every other concern is an injury to Christ. Wholesale abandonment of the poor, and the vulnerable, for the sake of consumption beyond need is wrong and sinful. A consuming country where 2% of the population consumes 2/3 of the world's vital resources, while many within its own borders go without basic needs, is unjust and sinful. Violent war as a first choice rather than a last choice seems too often policy of the United States and is a sin against life and peace. For Fr. Camara the root of all of this evil is the false center, and salvation is to find ourselves in God's center. And for Christians the way to liberation from the little center into the Center of All is the Heart of Christ and service to Christ in the world.
"Lord save me from the false center.
In particular defend me
from self-centeredness." (Camara, P. 7)
We are called, each of us, to a consecrated life, a life of risk and giveneness. In his book No Greater Love Brother Roger of Christ's call, "You open for me the way of risk. You are expecting from me not just a few crumbs, but the whole of my existence. You are praying within me, day and night…simply calling you by the name of Jesus fills the empty places in my heart.' "(Brother Roger, P. 37 ) We are called without exception to break out of the isolated life of self-centeredness to lead lives of service in peace and justice. In Breathing Yeshua we call on His name and take refuge in His Heart.
The Pain of Unitive Love
Societal culture exists in the world of separateness, a world of illusory small circles. A well-known Sufi story speaks of a master who offers the student who has reached some attainment of enlightenment the option of drinking the potion of forgetfulness. In the story the student finds that the unitive life is one that is hard and brings him continual pain and conflict with the human condition. He complains that living in the world in the unitive state is too painful. In the story he elects to drink the potion of separateness and forgetfulness again rather than face the pain and risk of the unitive life. Too many of us drink the potion. And the world of television offers us a drink of that potion each day.
To live fully alive is to be open to the pain of cruelty and the suffering of all living beings and to accept that suffering as Christ's suffering. The life of Breathing Yeshua is a life of the expanded heart. The expanded heart is the open heart and a heart that sees and hears and receives a suffering humanity. Living the Life of union with Christ is a difficult life, and it is the only Real Life. The paradox we discover is this: the expanded heart opens us to pain and opens us to joy. They are inseparable.
Unitive Life in Christ is a life devoted to peace and justice. The monotheistic traditions all use terms for God with a common root, Allaha- (Christian- the word Jesus used for God), Allah (Moslem), Ela (Jewish). They all mean the essential unity from which all things arise. This Unity is the realization of communion with Christ. The invitation of the Gospel is to enter the Realm or Essential Unity of God and live it fully.
In my father's story he saw the face of Christ in the drunk. Through grace my Dad came to see Christ in himself and he saw his life was about being Christ and serving Christ in the world. In his life he served Christ as an alcohol counselor, and in his later years as the prophetic voice of conscience and the moral authority of a spiritual elder and community leader, advocating for the drug and alcohol afflicted in his community. In that capacity he was often a "thorn" in the side of the city fathers and mothers. Yet he knew to live the fullness of the Christian spiritual journey is to live a life of the 12 step commitment to compassionate service. This service springs from the 11th step, that is, seeking conscious communion with God through prayer and meditation and all the healing and conversion that has come from the steps that precede.
Speaking the Prophetic Voice of Christ
We are all invited to come to the mountain to experience oneness with the Transfigured Christ, and to live the return or full expression of that union in the Risen Life of Christ in the world. The mountaintop and the world are inseparable. The developmental journey of life leads us in the latter phase to become a spiritual elder. In that phase of our development we come to express the prophetic voice of Christ in the larger community. Our spiritual journey does not stop at the mountaintop. The lesson of the transfiguration story in the Gospel is "Don’t try to stay on the mountaintop. Don't build stagnant tents. Rather bring the mountaintop of union with Christ into all of life." The lesson of the resurrection story in the encounter with Mary of Magdala is the same. She is one who experienced a profound and transforming communion with Christ. Instead Yeshua says to her and to us, "Don't cling to me." (your idea or image of me) He commands that we live and express the Risen Christ beyond image and form, His Essence as Universal Christ in the world. He invites us instead to see Him and serve Him in the "least of these." "As I have done to you, so you must do for one another. " " Love one another as I have loved you." John 13:16,15:9
We are called to stand with the powerless in the paradoxical invitation of Yeshua, "Blessed (Happy) are you when you are reviled for my sake." To stand with Christ in those who are injured by violence and by the injustice of poverty and want is to live the fullness of union with Christ. These are the crosses, the paradoxes of the Gospel of Christ. By being in conflict with the culture in which we live we find happiness and live in Truth. Being in conflict, fighting the adversaries of selfishness, cruelty and abandonment, for the sake of the love of Christ is our path to happiness. Again the inner work is to lay down the self-absorbed life, for the sake of the consecrated life in Christ. And this becomes the true measure of our life.
Like my father we may alienate some of the “principalities and powers" of the communities in which we find ourselves, especially those who pride themselves on being good Christians. And like my father, Bill, we will seek to live the truth that "What you have done to the least of these, you have done to me." These are the words he spoke in public when the city and county government were making the decision to abandon the drug and alcohol afflicted and close down a detox treatment center in his city. Fighting this fight, while still **being** peace, justice, and compassion, is difficult practice.
Brother Roger of Taize speaks to us of this vital way to live life in Christ:"But God is not an indifferent witness to human affliction; God suffers with the innocent victim of incomprehensible trials; God suffers with each person. That is a pain that God experiences, a suffering felt by Christ. Are you afraid of your fear? A communion with Christ gives you the courage you needed for a commitment to make the earth a place fit to live in, so that the most destitute, those most overwhelmed by injustice, are not forgotten. " (Brother Roger - p.15)
Sunday, May 27, 2012
Our True Refuge
"Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the Vine and you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit." John 15:4
Throughout Christianity in the East and West there is a recurring theme in religious iconography of the Heart of Christ presented with the hand pointing to the heart or divine Fire arising from the Heart of Christ. This symbolism points to the centrality of the heart in Christianity. Even more important is the insight proclaimed that the Heart of the Universal Risen Christ is the refuge, home, and locus of our life's completion. For the seeker this insight becomes the core of the journey in the Way of the Heart.
For those on this journey the questions we must continually ask ourselves in each moment of life is, "Where is our true Refuge?" To what do we give our life, unreservedly and without question? What is the hub around which the wheel of our life turns, the center of gravity where our life is anchored?" St. Benedict teaches us in his timeless monastic Rule that the center of life and the core wisdom of spiritual praxis is this: "Prefer nothing to Christ."
Salvation is correctly understood as healing, as an annointing salve or balm of the soul. This spiritual healing happens when our human life and consciousness is realigned, re-ordered around the Essence of our life, rather than the peripheral and all too deluded consciousness of our ego-minds. Our human journey is one of going from "dis-membering" to "re-membering." Re-membering is to recover what was lost or make whole what was separate. Hence in the Middle East the practice of contemplation has often been named the "Re-membrance of God."
Conditioned and Unconditioned Life
In the Gospel of Thomas (logion 7) Yeshua says, " A lion eaten by a human being is blessed as it changes to human form, but a human being devoured by a lion is cursed as a human becomes lion." Our life's transformation turns on the choice between having our humanity infused and alive in the Heart of Christ or consumed and overwhelmed by the inclinations of the ego-mind and our instinctual life. Therefore the real journey is the divinization of our humanity with its biological instincts, and consciousness. Through grace the earthen clay of our humanity can become servant of the spiritual center or Heart, and therefore sacred vessel of the Living God's own life, the Body of Christ. The Limitless Unconditioned Life of Christ is our True Life. We were born to live His Life in ours.
As we go through life eventually we begin to understand that there are some things in life that just don't last. Impermanence is linked to every aspect of our incarnate lives. And yet in the Gospels Yeshua asks us to go beyond the impermanent appearances of things. We walk in two worlds, the world of conditioned impermanent life and loss, and the world of spirit and the Divine Eternal. He warns us, (paraphrase) "Don't put great value in what moth and worm can destroy. Look for the pearl of great price, and put your trust in what endures, give up everything else if you really want to give yourself to Me. If you want to find your Life, you must lose the life of illusion." The habit patterns of a lifetime must be relinquished. We must find freedom and detachment with even the most treasured of our familial relationships. Yeshua invites us to find our home and full refuge in That which does not fail, His Own Heart.
The ego-mind sees all this detachment as diminishment and loss. The Heart sees it as freedom, as finding our way Home. To choose Refuge in the Heart of Christ is to find our Home, our True Identity, who we truly are. For as Paul says in Colossians (2:9-10)" It is in Christ that the complete being of the Godhead dwells embodied and in Him you have been brought to completion."
One way of understanding the process of salvation in our lives is to continually ask ourselves in every life dilemma, in every choice we make, in every moment, 'Where is our true Refuge? In what are we seeking safety, fulfillment, and completion?' This is not always easy to know, as the ego-mind is so skillful at co-opting even our most sincere intentions.
The practice of Christian Meditation, or Prayer of the Heart, therefore, is the practice of continually seeking refuge in the Heart of Christ. Christian theologians have stated that salvation is the process of conforming our individual will to the will of God.
Mystical Christianity has understood salvation to be the full surrender of the self to God in a process of "uniting our human life and consciousness with Divine Life and Consciousness." We can define this process of surrender as finding our true Home and Refuge in the One Life of our belonging, and learning that every other refuge, really isn't a refuge. We need no longer "look for love in all the wrong places."
One of the metaphors Yeshua gives to us in the Gospel is the story of the prodigal child. This wonderful story of limitless love and mercy depicts the theme of leaving home and finding home. The story takes us into the human cycle of dissipation of Essence and being restored to Essence. We are brought into the universal human journey of lostness, separateness, estrangement, and the journey home to rediscover and abide in the true Parentage and the Home of our true belonging. To find our true refuge is to come home to the Heart of Christ again and again. In Breathing Yeshua this is what we actualize.
Salvation practice is the practice of the singular commandment of Yeshua who says that everything in the tradition, in the law, and in the prophets is to be found in the Love of God and neighbor. We find our capacity for divine Love in the Heart of Christ. Yeshua says that this great commandment is the only commandment, seeking any kind of completion in life outside of the Love of God is only a blind alley and results in our experience of being lost and isolated. The Cistercian monk and mystic writer Thomas Merton said similarly that there is only one commandment. All the other commandments are just elaborations; therefore all sins are a form of idolatry, of seeking outside of God what God alone can give. God alone is our refuge and Source of completion.
The core of the Christian Mystery is that we have a doorway, an entrance into the Heart of God. Christ is the revelation of the Heart of God and the doorway in. In the person of Yeshua God becomes fully accessible to us; and in our refuge in the universal Heart of Christ we become accessible and divinized in the God of Mystery. This God of Mystery, the Life of Allaha, the Essential Unity from Whom all things arise flows through us as the life-giving blood in our veins.
Leaping into the Great Circle of the Heart of Christ-
For Christians this process of divinization happens in a life consecrated in Christ. Through our devotional love for the personal Yeshua we enter into the universal Christ who is the Great Circle of our belonging in our practice of Refuge in the Heart of Christ. As we find our refuge and belonging in Him, we are, in the words of Paul- "… one person in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28) We are the One person" in whom all things are made, and all things have their being." (John 1:3)
To take refuge in the Heart of Christ is an actualization of this Mystery in every difficult circumstance in Life. And is it not in crisis, when the ground is shifting, when our established patterns no longer work, that we make those leaps of Refuge in His Heart? Fear arises and we can do nothing about that. We can find a way to be with fear, so that it doesn't control us, so that we can choose our true refuge in the middle of fear. These are the true moments of conversion and opening. In that moment of choice when we take refuge we become servant and companion with the Eternal One in our own Hearts, within and among us." Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, will my servant be." (John 12:26)
Meeting the every day dilemmas of life with our practice of Refuge in the Heart of -Christ takes us from the life of limits and conditions and impermanence into Limitless Life. Such a moment came in my work one day as a geriatric mental health clinician when I was called to consult in the case of a woman in a nursing home who was rapidly declining from depression. When I arrived she was already dying from onset of pneumonia. There was nothing I could do as a professional, and there was nothing anyone could do at this stage to prevent her death. I reached for the Limitless in that situation and asked her if she was afraid. She said "yes," and I took her hand and talked with her for while. I prayed with her and in my interior prayer offered my own communion with the Heart of Christ to this woman. I had nothing to give but the quality of my presence and practice of refuge in the love and Heart of Christ. And it was enough; it was sufficient.
The practice of Refuge in the Heart of Christ comes with meeting the every day dilemmas of life, releasing from the mind's compulsion for control and being given to the Heart's willingness to love. That is the ground of our transformation, those are the moments of our conversion. Such dilemmas happen when:
We risk disapproval and rejection for the sake of truth.
We risk emotional insecurity and safety for the sake of love and compassion.
We risk temporal security in things for the greater security of belonging in Christ.
We challenge the culture and risk attack and persecution around us for the sake of the integrity of Christ's Love.
In such moments our own thoughts and emotions will fail us. If we take our refuge in the mental and emotional patterns of a lifetime, they will fail us and draw us back into the same dead ends. We will remain trapped in our habitual patterns of fear and illusions of control. Such a moment came for me when I held the body of my dead child when he died from Leukemia, and the opening to leap into the Limitless was given me. The limit of death for us is often the greatest limit. To take refuge in the Limitless Heart of Christ in such a moment is our sole refuge.
In such moments we are called to lay down our life of refuge in pleasant feelings and the addictive patterns and behaviors which feed them. We lay down the compulsion to re-create them again and again where they lead us, far from finding true security and fullness.
In such moments our self defense patterns and protective mechanisms will lead us to react in ways that may create harm or injury, or at best greater rationalizations of our habitual patterns. And we are called into the new life of forgiveness and open handed offering. We release into the freedom of the present moment where our humanity is offered in love to the One who is Limitless Life.
In those moments fears arise and our only strength is the rootedness of our Praxis of Refuge in the Heart of Christ. We learn to ride out the fear. Like Yeshua we may say, "Let this cup pass" but let our prayer be "my sole Refuge is Your Heart O Christ." In those moments the strength of our consecrated presence and self-offering, our practice of Refuge in the Heart of Christ, is our anchor and carries us through the emotional storms of anger or fear, and He quiets the storm, saying "Fear not."
In all of this we are never alone, never abandoned. Yeshua makes us this promise:
"Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have said this to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have overcome the world." John 16:32 Yeshua, the Christ, who is unconditional Life and Love, has overcome all conditions and His Heart is our Refuge.
Even as we confront death, our death or the death of our loved ones, in our Refuge in the Heart of the Deathless One we touch Eternity, and Eternity touches us, We come home to Eternal Life as our True Life, a Life that is indestructible, deathless, unchanging. This is the Life that Yeshua came to give us His very own Life, His very Own Heart. "I came that they should have Life, and have it abundantly." (John 10:10
He shares his Life of Love with us without reservation: "As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept the Father's commandments and abide in His love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete." (John 15:9-11)
Our sole and essential commandment from Yeshua is to take refuge, to abide ever in His Love. This is the ceaseless practice of Prayer of the Heart.
Brother Roger of Taize speaks of our act of commitment, our consecrated "Yes" to Christ in this way:
"One day you understood this, that without your being aware of it, a yes had already been inscribed in your innermost depths. And so you chose to go forward in the footsteps of Christ, a choice no one can make for another. In silence and in the presence of Christ, you hard Him say, "Come, follow me: I will give you a place to rest your heart.
And so you are led to that audacity of a yes that lasts until your dying breath."
( Brother Roger, p.46)
Our Yes to Christ
Our "Yes" to Christ comes when we drop the little circle of our prisons of separateness and leap into the universal circle that is the Heart of Christ. An important leap for me occurred on the occasion of the crisis of the terminal illness of my infant son. In August 1980 I found myself walking the corridor of the Dohrenbecher pediatric unit of Oregon Health Sciences Center. My son had been diagnosed with acute myelocytic leukemia and he had been started on aggressive chemotherapy that was quickly poisoning his little one year old body. I pulled a small red wagon behind me where he sat upright with an IV bottle attached running the chemotherapy poison into the arm I had held and kissed so many times. In a state of mental torment my mind flooded with a thousand crazy thoughts stirring anger and fear. A fantasy gripped me of scooping up my beloved little boy and running out of the hospital to Mexico where he could be treated and cured without torture, and with a hope this doctor and this hospital didn't offer. The oncologists cold voice still cut like a knife, promising no more than a couple of "good" years if my boy went into remission.
Every evening after dinner at this time, a caravan of young children with terminal illness trooped around and around. In defiance of their condition they pedaled tricycles, pulled wagons, and little toys on strings. I was in that caravan and fighting it, telling myself again and again, "My boy, Carlo, isn't one of them. He's not going to die." The inner struggle reached a point of paralyzed tension and I pulled the wagon over to an alcove in the corridor. I was in torment. Sinking into my meditation practice to find a whisper of quiet and peace, I heard the Beloved's voice. He said, "Look into his eyes." I turned to look into my beloved son's eyes. They were very clear and peaceful. They spoke a simple and clear question, " Will you walk with me through this, or are you going to run away from it?" There are a millions ways to run away.
The whole question was made clear and the answer was a resounding "yes." There was nothing I could do to save my son from death. But I could choose to walk with him and love him the best I could. To avoid and resist the fact of his illness and probable death would be abandonment. To love is to hurt; to love is to be in the fullness of Life. A joy beyond description rose up in me and I knew nothing could take this "yes" from me. I rejoined the circle of ill and dying children and knew Carlo and I were and always will be in that circle of children. It is the circle of the Heart of Christ and we can leap there with every step in this life. The Heart of Christ is the Heart of God, is the Heart of the Universe. There is our home and belonging.
Heart of Christ- Heart of All Existence
When we leap into this Circle, we awaken to the Mystery of Existence, "God so loved the world that he gave his Only Begotten Son."(John 3:16) The truth of Christ as God's gift of His own Self to us becomes true. The Living Word does truly become Flesh and dwells among and within us. The Allaha, Source of All, pours out Its own Essence of Self-Giving Love in Christ to us. From this Source we are loved into existence. In becoming conscious creation in the Heart of Christ the Redeemer, in the Spirit, we become gift and self-offering to enter the Mystery of the Abba who has birthed us and receives us home Unto Himself. This is the Trinitarian Mystery of Love, the Circle that encompasses all Circles.
Isaiah 55:10- “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my Word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it."
In loving Yeshua we become fully whole and human in form and flesh; in the Heart of Christ we open to the oceanic and universal Heart of Being Itself who transcends all form and substance. This is the rhythm of the cataphatic and apophatic, form and formlessness, in the spiritual journey of each day. We are all the Word of God in Christ.
Celtic Christianity has offered us a resolution of the dualism that has pervaded so much of the Christian world. The Celtic Christians in the time of their development independent from the Roman church drew on indigenous mysticism and folk wisdom. They understood clearly that the Christ of history and scripture is also the Christ of their hearts, the Christ that is the Light of all Creation before Creation came into being. "The Christ who is with His people in the quiet of the windless sea, is with them in the midst of the wild wintry storm. The Christ who is within, at the center of their spirit, is the Christ who is to be looked for in friend and stranger, Christ at the heart of all life." (Newell, p. 26) In Celtic Christianity therefore we not only believe that Christ is the Light of the world in some abstract sense but that true salvation and spiritual path in the words of Celtic theologian, John Scotus Eriugena, is "the true beholding of the Light from the inner eyes." (Newell, p. 37) This vision of the universal and personal Christ as Heart and Light of the world, is articulated further in the scientific mind and mystical vision of the Jesuit philosopher and anthropologist, Pierre Teihard de Chardin. De Chardin sees a universe moving toward an Omega point where the fullness of the Light of Christ is manifested in all incarnate creation. This cosmic, universal Christ De Chardin proclaims, is the true pantocrator (ruler of the universe) depicted in the icons of Eastern Christianity (see cover of this book). "Glorious Lord Christ, the divine influence secretly diffused and active in the depths of matter, and the dazzling center, where all the innumerable fibers of the multiple meet; power as implacable as the world and as warm as life; You whose forehead is of the whiteness of snow, whose eyes are of fire, and whose feet are brighter than molten gold; you whose hands imprison the stars; You who are the first and the last, the living and the dead and the risen again; You who gather into your exuberant Unity every beauty, every affinity, every energy, every mode of existence; it is You to whom my being cried out with a desire as vast as the universe, 'In truth you are my Lord and my God.' " (De Chardin, p. 132)
Dissolving into the Heart of Christ
In 1987 I received a teaching that I will only attempt to live for the remainder of my days. On one of those occasions of exasperation that nearly everyone encounters on the journey I asked a question in prayer, pointed in the Divine's direction, yet hardly expecting an answer: " Oh, what's the matter with my life anyway?" The answer came in the form of a vision and an experience. The first part was vision: I found myself walking along a long dirt road. There were countless numbers of persons walking alone or together on this road. I found myself walking behind three companions. The middle one stopped and turned to face me. He was Yeshua. His eyes of compassion pierced me through and through and He reached to touch me in the heart. He leaned forward and whispered to me, "There's an empty place here, Bill." At His touch a lightning bolt surged through me and the vision changed to formless, imageless, unmediated experience. The "I" of Bill, dissolved into the Heart of Christ, and in this dissolution came a union with the Heart of Christ within all things, "the One in whom all things came into being."
It is hard to know whether any time lapsed. When the "I" of Bill came back to awareness, there was just astonishment and joy. In the years that have passed I have come to realize, knowing or not, we are all on the road to Emmaus. The One we seek is the One who walks with us. We recognize Him in the burning of our hearts, and the ancient practice of Breathing Yeshua, in the ceaseless bowing and ceaseless offering of ourselves to Him in love.
Beloved Yeshua, You are My Heart's Desire, I take refuge only and always in Your Heart."
In the Way of the Heart the universal and oceanic Heart of Christ is our heart's desire and true refuge and encompasses all of existence.
1. Ryan, William. The Beloved is My Refuge- A Guide to Consecrated Life in Prayer of the Heart. Lake Oswego, Oregon: Avalon Counseling, 2003
2. Brother Roger of Taize, No Greater Love. Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press
3. De Chardin, Pierre Teilhard. The Heart of the Matter. San Diego: Harvest/HJB Books, 1978
4. Freeman, Laurence, Jesus, the Teacher Within, New York: Continuum Publishing
5. Hall, Thelma, Too Deep for Words: Rediscovering Lectio Divina. Paulist Press
6. (ed.) Hirshfield, Jane.Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women. New York: Harper/Collins Publishing, 1994
7. Jager, Willigis. Contemplation-A Christian Path. Missouri: Liguori,1994
8. Kadloubovsky and Palmer. Writings from the Philokalia on Prayer of the Heart. Chatham/Kent: MacKays of Chatham, 1992
9. Kelly, Thomas. A Testament of Devotion. San Francisco: Harper Publishing, 1969
10. Main, John. The Heart of Creation. New York, New York: Crossroad Publishing, 1989
11. Main, John. Moment of Christ- the Path of Meditation, New York: Continuum Publishing, 1999
12. Mitchell, Stephen. The Enlightened Mind-An Anthology of Sacred Prose. New York: Harper/Collins, 1991
13. Mitchell, Stephen. The Enlightened Heart-An Anthology of Sacred Poetry. New York: Harper/Collins, 1991
14. Merton, Thomas. Contemplative Prayer. New York: Image Books,1996
15. Newell, Philip. Listening for the Heartbeat of God. New York/ Mahwah N.J.: Paulist Press, 1997
16. Ponticus, Evagrius. The Pratikos and Chapters on Prayer. Kalamazoo, Michigan: Cistercian Publications,1981
17. Taylor, Brian. Becoming Christ- Transformation Through Contemplation, Cambridge, Mass: Cowley Publications, 2002
18. Thompson, Marjorie J. Soul Feast- An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995Ware, Kallistos. The Inner Kingdom(Vol. 1- The Collected Works). Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2000