Sunday, May 27, 2012
Our True Refuge
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.
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