FRESH AND GREAT REVELATIONS

 

 St. Gregory of Nyassa wrote that the contemplative life

cannot be lived in secular society

but St. Basil claimed it is possible while you work

to pray with your mouth/heart/mind.

 

At the monastery, Thomas Merton learned:

– how to pray while working as a laborer

– how to be a member of the human race

– that every other human being is no more crazy

and ridiculous than he claimed to be – than we all are.

 

Merton also learned and contemplated:

– fear is the awareness of one’s own finitude

– the possibility of one’s own nonbeing

– that anxiety is natural for mere mortals.

All these were great revelations to him.

 

Today extreme theological traditionalists

try to overcome anxiety by ignoring the past two centuries

while extreme theological progressives

subordinate Christianity to worldly philosophies.

The former flounder like fish-out-of-water in contemporary culture.

The latter flounder like fish-out-of-water in the church

and, despite their protests, are not Christian –

you have to draw the orthodox line somewhere.

 

The years when the religious right ordains

fundamentalist presidents always result in religious disaster –

alienating all young Americans

who hold completely different values

about women/homosexuality/poverty/climate change.

 

According to the great Jewish theologian Abraham Heschel

the problem for both extreme right and left is: no awe.

After all, radical amazement lies in all reality:

not only in amazing things I can see – like the Milky Way –

that filmy white night banner overhead – but also in the fact that:

– I can see

– I can reflect on my ability to see

– I have a self that can reflect on things

– that this self is part and parcel of all that was/is/will be.

 

All these were great revelations to Heschel

and revelations always light up our footsteps on the path to God.

ENLIGHTENMENT IN ALL WORLD RELIGIONS

“The enlightenment you seek in other religions

has been present in Christianity from the beginning.”

– Richard Rohr

 

The word “mystical” is often equated to “magical”

in secular/scientific contexts and so easily dismissed

but true mysticism – direct experience of God –

is the essence and starting point of all world religions.

And awe in the face of mystery

is the starting point of science.

Our God is an awesome God

who indwells everything – in the lab and in the temple.

 

Jesus lived as the spokesperson for Temple and Torah

the all-powerful symbols that the transcendent God

dwells within Israel and orders Israel’s life

the two most central and never-ending Jewish beliefs.

 

The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) –

a meeting of 2500 Catholic bishops for four years –

the largest and longest meeting of Church leaders ever –

had only one goal – to carry forward the work

of the Jewish man/God, Jesus the Christ

who came to rescue not judge

to give witness to the Truth

to serve and not be served

to give his life as a ransom for many.

When your little “I am” becomes “We are”

you know instinctively: life is not about you

you are about life. You are here to serve like Jesus:

“I live yet not I, but Christ lives in me”

– St. Paul in Galatians 2:20.

 

“To dare to do what is right,

to not float about in the realm of possibilities

but to seize what is real and to take action,

this is true freedom.”

– Dietrich Bonhoeffer

and this is the true fulfillment of religion whether

Christianity/Judaism/Islam/Hinduism/Buddhism –

to not be so heavenly bound

you are no earthly good.

If there are no charitable works

there is no enlightenment in any religion whether

Christianity/Judaism/Islam/Hinduism/or Buddhism.

EVERYDAY MYSTICS AND MARTYRS

Internal morality expands from

biocentric (my only concern is my bodily needs)

to egocentric (my only concern is my ego)

to sociocentric (my only concern is my group)

to worldcentric (my only concern is all humans)

to World Soul (my only concern is all sentient beings).

Circles of love expand too

from self-love to loving others

to being aware of God’s Love

to loving God.

“Being loved by God and loving God

can only be experienced on the basis

of self-acceptance” – Otto Rank

You first have to accept yourself

with all your flaws

before you can accept that God accepts you

with all your flaws.

By this spirituality of imperfection

and by applying what the mystics know

to your everyday mind and heart

you may discover your ordinary life

can be a ‘way of the mystic’ –

it’s all a matter of perception with the eyes

and integration of the heart.

The ways of one ordinary monk

became the ‘Rule of St. Benedict’

which governed the life of all monasteries

from 516 AD till now.

The Rule is based on Christian non-dualism:

“All the believers were one in heart and mind.

No one claimed their possessions were their own

but they shared everything and there were

no needy persons among them.” – Acts 4:32-34

Communal sharing of all things

gradually waned in Christianity

but the ideal was kept alive

in convents/monasteries/religious orders.

In organized religion, the leaders

whether priests/ministers/imams/rabbis

tend to be dualistic, either/or thinkers

because to lead they need

clarity – if someone blows a muted trumpet

no one responds – religious leaders need

clear authority – which black and white thinking

easily lends itself to – you are with us

or against us – in or out.

In any case, any ‘no’ must be preceded by ‘yes.’

The ‘no’ of the biblical prophets

to militarism/animal sacrifice/self-serving priests

came from a previous foundational ‘yes’

to God/life/the Beloved Community.

However, the rituals of organized religion

can be life-giving – the Tea Ceremony

in Zen Buddhism like the Eucharist

is about oneness – no longer any class distinction

between noble and commoner – all are one.

The goal of Zen – not that Zen has goals

is the knowledge and perfection of Original Being.

The Original Being of a woman

is to be a mother – an unconditional lover.

In women’s initiation from girlhood to womanhood

that is, childbirth

women become more independent

a person in themselves

and someone more important in the eyes of society

that is, a mother.

Men’s initiation makes them more dependent –

they lose their independence from women –

they realize their true purpose

is self-sacrifice for women and children

to keep humanity going – the most noble calling

along with motherhood.

On a higher level both women and men

sacrifice themselves for God.

The Jews were always incredibly brave

many were martyred for God’s Law –

the Zealots submitted to torture

rather than call Caesar ‘Lord’

on top of Masada Mountain

both women and men committed mass suicide

rather than submit to the pagan Romans –

they became everyday martyrs.

INTERFAITH PANDEMIC LESSONS

INTERFAITH LESSONS FROM A PANDEMIC

    In Falling Upward Richard Rohr talks about the “spirituality of subtraction,” the value of letting go. The first half of life is about gaining: an education, job, home, marriage, and children. The second half is about subtraction: the kids move out, we downsize our housing, retire, start to lose our health, friends or spouses die, etc. 

    In a spirituality of subtraction, we learn four main spiritual values: humility, gratitude, simplicity/poverty and solidarity/community. A number of spiritual leaders from various traditions have noted that a crisis can speed up this process. 

    Humility. The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, stated in a talk in our city a year ago, that we all tend to be “cultural snobs,” that is, we think our culture is superior to all others. There may have been famines, wars and plagues throughout history, but this couldn’t possibly happen to us because we are so scientifically superior. 

    The point was to not get too self-assured. My priest in Winnipeg, Fr. Firmin Michiels, similarly told the congregation “Don’t pray for success, pray for strength when everything falls apart.” This is a frequent theme in every religion. “When people say ‘peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them” (I Thessalonians 5:3). COVID-19 has subtracted the illusion of our cultural-scientific omnipotence.

    Gratitude. Omar Ricci, an imam at the Islamic Center of Southern California, gave a talk titled “Thank God for the coronavirus.” Not that God caused the virus, but we should thank God for this reminder we are not in control and always depend on God. Thank God for this reminder to be grateful for all things, particularly things we take for granted like groceries and good health. Thank God for reminding us life is fragile and “we had best appreciate the miracle of life God has given us.”

    A rabbi at Chabad Lubavitch, a Hasidic community in Bozeman, Montana, noted that “Jews have always said that for every breath we take, we should thank God.” In light of the respiratory problems caused by COVID-19, “it’s become very real.”

    The Buddhist attitude of gratitude towards any crisis has been summed up in four words by the well-known monk Thich Nhat Hanh “No mud, no lotus.”

    Simplicity/Poverty. In Hinduism, the goal at the end of life is to become a “sannyasin,” a holy man or woman who renounces all the trappings of society and chooses to be reduced to nothing but his or her relationship with God. 

    All this stripping away is mirrored in Christianity in people who take religious vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Jesus himself emptied and “humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8).

    The spirituality of subtraction is about emptying the ego of self-centered pride so that God can fill you. In general, a good day for the ego (a day of gain) is a bad day for the soul, and a bad day for the ego (loss) is a good day for the soul. Subtraction is meant by God to edge the ego out, reversing Wayne Dyer’s definition of “ego:” “edging God out.”

    Solidarity/Community. Churches are experiencing what they have always given intellectual assent to – that the church is not buildings but the “ecclesia” – the community. They are reaching out online far beyond their normal congregations. Adam Ericksen, a United Church of Christ minister in Milwaukie, Oregon has noted that “the role of the church in this moment is to make sure no one falls through the cracks.”

    Beyond churches, mosques and synagogues, God’s work is going on everywhere, in every single person who makes the decision to love their neighbor as themselves: health care and grocery workers and everyone sacrificing themselves in inconvenient self-isolation in order to keep others healthy.

    This time of subtraction will hopefully continue to be a time of great spiritual growth.

Bruce Tallman is a London spiritual director, marriage preparation specialist and religious educator of adults. brucetallman.com