Thursday, June 07, 2012

Christ the Way

Christ the Way

Yeshua the Christ
Many of us are aware of our deep longing and need for God but may be confused about the way to God. In the Christian tradition we are given both the personal Yeshua as gift of God's own Self, the disclosure of the human hands and face of God, and the universal Heart of Christ as the ocean of God's Love and Mercy.

In the season of Advent, in particular, we make a special effort to return to the essence of our spiritual life, to make straight the way of the Lord. We return to what is simple and what is truest in our tradition.  The great simplicity and wisdom for Christians is this: Christ is the Way.  The Prayer of the Heart is the "way" by which we enter into communion in Christ.  The Prayer of the Heart, Breathing Yeshua, is the way by which we become consecrated to Him, the way we unite our lives with the Life of Christ. Prayer of the Heart in Breathing Yeshua is the way by which we become accessible and given to Christ who is our Way.

In Prayer of the Heart the deeply intense personal love we experience in Yeshua becomes the means for uniting ourselves, uniting our humanity fully, with the universal, mystical and risen Christ.  The scriptures and the theologians and the mystics affirm the more we enter the mystery of Christ, the more our experience of Christ becomes limitless, and infinite. We discover that Christ is much bigger than our conception.  The entry point may become intensely personal, and it opens to include all that is.  That is the wonder of it.

In this book I want to share some teaching and practice in how we can follow and unite ourselves utterly with the One who is Agape, the Way of self-giving love.  To be fully given, fully consecrated to the love of Christ in all things, in all aspects of our humanity, is the essence of Prayer of the Heart.  To follow Christ is to become Christ, and that is the transformative calling of all Christians.  I’ve often held the question in my life, as many seekers do, "Who really is Christ?" I’ve been one who has lived the interfaith dialogue.  I live it in my marriage and in my earliest years of contemplative practice I practiced in the Soto Zen Buddhist tradition; so I have an understanding of how other traditions approach contemplative practice.  But there was something that called me back into my tradition, and that is the experience of Christ. There is a common ground of unitive Divine Life that the contemplative wisdom traditions of the world share. However, the experience of the personal Yeshua drawing us into the Life of the universal mystical and Risen Christ defines the uniqueness of the Christian contemplative path that I call the Way of the Heart.  And I have wanted to explore and articulate this uniqueness. In an important time of interfaith dialogue and understanding it is vital to have insight into the areas of common ground shared with other Faith tradition while equally being able to express the unique gift of one's own tradition to the world. That unique gift in the Christian path, is not just the teaching, but the One who imparts Himself as the path.

Some years ago I was in the spiritual direction  training program at a Benedictine Center (Shalom Prayer Center, Our Lady of Angels Monastery, Mt. Angel, Oregon). We were just beginning a two-year journey together of training and formation in spiritual direction. As we often do in such a group, I looked around at the faces before me and wondered, "Now who am I really going to connect with here? Who am I going to have common ground with?"  What actually developed over the two years was a surprise to me.  By the end of the two years, the companions in the group with whom I bonded the most were of evangelical tradition.  Since that hasn't been my background at all, it was a curious phenomenon.  I found a spirit in them and their "way" of approaching Christian spirituality that touched me.  I come from a liturgical tradition where, in my view, the doctrinal teaching is more expansive.  Nevertheless what touched a chord of love and understanding in me was the singular devotion to the person of Jesus. I found this simplicity and wholehearted devotion to a personal Jesus was their gift to me. It opened me in ways I hadn't anticipated.  And isn't that the way it often is! We are continually surprised and turned upside down by grace. When we overcome our own xenophobia and befriend the stranger they gift us.

Yeshua- the Doorway In
We know there are prominent teachings that come to us from scripture about Jesus being the Way.  Among those are from the Gospel of John.  He says, “I am The Way, The Truth and The Life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.  If you will know me, you will know the Father also.  From now on, do you not know Him and have you not seen Him?”  (John 14:6) Of course, some take this as an exclusion clause but I don’t. Having undergone years of training in the contemplative practice of another tradition I know from experience that awakening to the Infinite is not the exclusive franchise of any religion.   Rather, I understand the words of John's Gospel as an invitation to enter the Heart of the Abba (Source of all Life) through the Heart of Yeshua and the intimately personal love and redemption He offers us as disclosure and gate to the Infinite.  Yeshua says, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.  How can you say, Show me the Father?  Do you not believe that the Father is in me and I am in the Father?" (John 14:9-10)

When Yeshua wasn’t using the term “Abba,” which means "papa" for God, He used the Aramaic term “Allaha,” the essential unity from Whom all life comes.  He personalized the universal Allaha into Abba, or Papa.  Biblical scholars say this must have been a source of shock and scandal to the people of his time. They were shocked and even angered that Yeshua might presume this intimate, personal relationship with the transcendent Divinity who is so beyond us. The Jews dared not utter or write the name of Yahweh, or "I AM", and instead used other terms, such as Allaha, Adonai, or Lord. ("Allaha" has the same root word as other Abrahamic Faiths as the Hebraic "Ela," "Elohim," or the Islamic term, "Allah")  Yet the daring disclosure of the Gospel of Yeshua is that the transcendent Unity and Source of everything is Love, and is intensely concerned and in relationship with every human being, every being, every thing that is.  This intense loving concern, this gift of self-giving love or Agape, is the divine disclosure in Yeshua. The Gospel teaches us that we are so intimate in our belonging that Yeshua invites us to address Allaha, or the Source of all Life as parent.  ( Being a patriarchal society, the Source would be seen as "Abba." but "Amma" could equally be true in a more matriarchal society.)

In his ministry Yeshua in the Gospels tells us again and again how He is the Way, how communion with Him is the way in to the Abba.  Yeshua begins his ministry with the startling announcement of what he calls the Good News.  (It took me a long time to discover out what the good news was in Christianity because the oppressive fear based indoctrination I received as a youngster wasn’t really very good news.) Yeshua proclaims: “The Kingdom of God is very near. Repent." (Mark 1:15) He teaches that God (Allaha) is accessible to us, here and now. Change the direction we seek for happiness.  So the Life’s journey is for us to become accessible to God.  In other words, Yeshua is saying,  "Allaha  is always offering Himself in love to each one of us."  Our spiritual task is to receive this gift of God’s own Self to each one of us.  By the end of His historical ministry Yeshua tells us in the Gospel of John that by uniting ourselves utterly with Himself, personal emanation and human face of the God of Mystery, we become equally one with the Abba. He whispers to us, "Come close to me, Come close to the Abba."

In the Christian path we understand the Divine as relationship. Christ is the Way into relationship, in the way we open in our totality to receive Christ’s gift of Himself, and in the way we offer ourselves in trust and in love to Him.  In this process we uncover who we are.  We find our home, we find our belonging, and we find our true identity.  In Breathing Yeshua we actualize this opening and offering in self-gift in communion with Christ, a communion of mutual giving and receiving of the gift of self in love. The experience of relational life in communion with Christ is both intensely personal and intimate, and oceanic and inclusive.  Some Christians will talk about the experience of salvation as a moment in time where they experienced a conversion of giving their life to Christ. This can be a powerful and transformative moment.  The mistake can be that one might see this as an historical event that happens one time and one time only. The practice of the Way of the Heart is an ongoing conversion, an ongoing giving of one’s self to Christ, and receiving Christ's self-gift of Love.  This is why Prayer of the Heart is called Consecrated Life, an ongoing act of consecration.

Salvation through Communion with Christ
Salvation can rightly be thought of as healing.  In fact it comes from the same root word as “salve," a healing ointment.  Salvation is a healing of the wound of our separateness, a re-ordering of our person, of body, soul and spirit, a restoration of our belonging in God.  Our being is restored with God at the center in the true Heart or Spirit, rather than the separate-self ego at the center. The wound of this separateness, the wound of this false consciousness comes when our spirit remains dormant and unawakened.  Our true spirit in Christ can remain locked away and hidden from awareness, covered over by the conditioning of the mind.  So there is something we must do in order to become accessible and given to this relationship of awakened rootedness in Christ. 

Being given to Christ is not a single moment, but a lifetime of moments, connected by the actualization of our deepest longing to be given because this is what we most desire. It’s what brings us to silent prayer retreats and to seek teachers of prayer and spiritual formation.  It takes deep, desire -deep longing for Christ-  to take off an entire day, or weekend, or week long silent retreat, sit down and to refrain from talking, to release from the traffic of the mind again and again in order to just be present in giveness, in love, in adoration, to Yeshua, our Heart's desire.  This longing is so powerful; and the more we feed it, the more we give ourselves to that longing, the more powerful it becomes.  For the author of The Cloud of Unknowing this desire is the doorway in, and it is the singular desire that brings us to healing communion in Christ.  When we do this consecration, then salvation happens.  This transformative discipline and practice is what the ancients call "purity of heart". They called it so because it was the "undivided heart", because nothing else is allowed to intrude upon or impede our deepest desire to be One with Christ. In this consecration Christ becomes fully alive in our soul and lives through our humanity, the goal of the Christian life.

The Eucharist of Our Life in Christ
In the Eucharistic liturgy we have the act of consecration, where the elements of bread and wine are consecrated and offered.  The elements are made holy, are divinized and made a vessel of Christ's Presence.  Such is our life. When we awaken spiritually, our life is Eucharist.  In the Christian path of the Way of the Heart we give ourselves to the act of consecration and receiving God's Self-Gift in Christ.  The Eucharist is the liturgical enactment of that mystery of human existence, the mystery of the Incarnation, the mystery of the Resurrection, enacted again and again and again in the Eucharistic liturgy.  What is asked of us is just our willingness to be surrendered to our deep desire to be given to Christ and porous to Divine grace.  Sometimes we can be so taken with the beginning act of conversion that we think, "Oh, this is the end, this is such a great thing, we've got it made. We've arrived. We can just be on power glide from here on out."  Proceeding with this premise is a guarantee for a great fall.  The first conversion is only the beginning of a process, a lifetime practice of contrition, conversion, and consecration. 

Calling on the Name of Yeshua
Yeshua is the personal face of God turned towards us.  Yeshua tells us, "Receive me, receive me in your humanity.  Live me in your human life each moment.  I am accessible to you in the most personal and the most intimate way."In John's Gospel He says, " I will not abandon you, I will not leave you orphaned.  My spirit will be within you.  Because I live, you will live.” (John 14:8) That’s a wonderful promise, isn’t it?  “Because I live, you will live."  He promises us "Your true life is My life," so let it be, let it happen, let it take place within you.  Receive me because I want to give myself to you."

When we want to be close to someone, really close, when we want to really be in their presence, the first thing we often do is think of their name, isn’t it?  In the Judeo-Christian tradition to be called by name means a condition of intimacy and the scriptures speak again and again about being called by name by the living Lord.  So it is also the reason why we choose a name as our prayer word in Prayer of the Heart.  Scripture invites us to call upon the name of the Lord.  That very act then makes us accessible to the Divine.  The Lord is already here, so it’s not as though the Lord is around the block or somewhere and you’re whistling, saying, "Hey, over here!"   Yeshua is already here and ready to offer Himself, and  *is* offering Himself.  By invoking the name of Yeshua, the name of the Lord, we are given to God and our longing for God, we make ourselves accessible. This is Breathing Yeshua. Returning again and again and again to the name of our Beloved makes us accessible to the Beloved.  The name of Yeshua and breath become our anchor in the middle of life so that we are not overwhelmed by the culture we live in and the culture we carry around in your mind. 

In the Abrahamic Faiths prayer takes place in the invocation of the name of the Holy One.  In the Prayer of the Heart, the name of Yeshua, the personal manifestation of the Holy One, the Christos, the Risen One of our heart is our anchor and the One in whom our self-offering is continually expressed.  In Breathing Yeshua, every breath, every invocation of the Holy Name, carries with it in our intention of self-offering. "Here I am, I am yours."

In human relationships, isn’t that what we do when we are really in relationship and in union with another human being?  We say, "Here I am – I am yours, I give myself to you."  How much more it is in the relationship with Christ!  "Here I am, I join my life with your life.  We are not separate.  Your life is my true life." Thomas Merton says that to find who you truly are, to find your true heart and your true spirit within you, is to find Christ. In our practice of breathing Yeshua, we breathe and give ourselves to the reality of the Living One within us, who is our true Life, and we receive the gift of God, the Living Water of Christ, who suffuses our humanity from within– this is the receptive interior movement of our life in Christ.  We are all like Mary of Bethany and Mary of Magdala, who receive and heal in His presence and say:  "Yeshua is enough! The fullness of my Heart's desire is here and now in Yeshua." There is no magic; there is no technique.  There is just this opening in utter trust to receive the One who continually offers Himself. This opening to the personal and intimate love that Yeshua gives in Himself, opens us to the Universal Heart of Christ that embraces the Universe and all Creation. Those who have gone before us in the Way of the Heart say it this way in this reading from Brian Taylor's book, Becoming Christ :

"In this sense the Jesus Prayer becomes a way in which we become Christ, or He becomes us. For Jesus' name itself has an energy, a force to it that invokes all that Jesus is. Through the use of Jesus' name, His being soaks into our being; we become more like Him. In this regard the ninth century monk Hesychius of Sinai wrote:
'The more the rain falls on the earth, the softer it makes it; similarly, the more we call upon Christ's holy Name, the greater the rejoicing and exultation it brings to the earth of our heart'. (quoted by Clement, The Roots of Christian Mysticism, p. 241)
But this is not all. Just as Jesus was attuned to all God's children and to all of life, the repeated invocation of his holy name moves us into a similar harmony with other people, with all creation. The author of The Way of A Pilgrim described how he was affected by this saturation in the name of Jesus, how he began to take on Jesus' own perspective, Jesus' own life:
Everybody was kind to me, it was as though everyone loved me...The trees, the grass, the birds, the earth, the air, the light seemed to be telling me that they existed for man's sake, that they witnessed to the love of God for man, that everything proved the love of God for man, that all things prayer to God and sang his praise....I felt a burning love for Jesus and for all God's creatures. "               (The Way of A Pilgrim, trans. R.M. French, p. 85) (Brian C. Taylor p. 71-72) 

In the Celtic Christian tradition the daily prayers of practice and songs of the people reminded and grounded them in an every day life rooted in the personal and Universal Christ. In His face, His hands, and His Heart the Lord God of all things is brought near and ever present, in the all-encompassing circle of ceaseless loving concern and protection:

Celtic Daily Prayer
Christ as a light, illumine and guide me
Christ as a shield overshadow me
Christ under me
Christ over me
Christ beside me
On my left and my right
This day be within and without me
Lowly and meek, yet all powerful
Be in the heart of each to whom I speak
And the mouth of each who speaks unto me
This day be within and without me
Lowly and meek, yet all powerful
Christ as a light
Christ as a shield
Christ beside me
On my left and on my right.

Celtic Blessing:
May the peace of the Lord, Christ go with you.  Wherever He may send you, may He guide you through the wilderness, protect you through the storm.  May He bring you home, rejoicing at the wonders he has shown you.  May He bring you home, rejoicing, once again into our doors.

Jesu Who Ought to be Praised
(Celtic Prayer from The Carmine Gaedelica)

It were as easy for Jesu
To renew the withered tree
As to wither the new
Were it His will so to do.
Jesu! Jesu !
Jesu! meet it were to praise Him.
There is no plant in the ground
But is full of His virtue,
There is no form in the strand
But is full of His blessing.

There is no life in the sea,
There is no creature in the firmament,
There is no bird on the wing,
There is no star in the sky,
There is nothing beneath the sun,
But proclaims His goodness.
Jesu! Jesu !

Jesu! meet it were to praise Him.