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“Fifth Way” Love: A Romantic Path to Transformation

I will open this post with the excerpt from Cynthia Bourgeault’s signature work, The Meaning of MARY MAGDALENE – Discovering The Woman at the Heart of Christianity – with which I closed my previous post, and will continue quoting her commentary in its entirety. She quotes here a passage from the Gospel of Philip:

“The one who creates objects works outwardly in the external world. The one who labors in secret, however, works within the icon, hidden inwardly from others. The one who creates make objects visible to the world. The one who conceives gives birth to children in the Realm of the Unseen.”

In this complex distinction . . . Philip insists that begetting must come “from above”. . . .  It requires a free and conscious regeneration in the Spirit. “Begotten” is an alchemy in which spirit actively participates, and its fruit is the anthropos, or completed human being. 

THE SPIRITUAL KISS THAT BEGETS

From Philip’s point of view, then, lineal descendents of Jesus, even if they existed, would not be “anointed ones,” unless this claim were to be validated by their own spiritual transformation. The kingdom over which the Anointed One reigns is beyond the space/time continuum and cannot be inherited lineally (that technicality consistently overlooked in the literal-mindedness of The Da Vinci Code); it can be entered only by becoming a new kind of human being–what Philip actually describes as “a new race of human be­ings . . . . Only true sons and daughters can gain immortality,” he writes in analogue 56, “and no one can gain it without becoming a true son and daughter.” Progeny cannot be fashioned out of flesh and blood; they are the fruit of an alchemy of consciousness.

Philip makes it clear that this is the kind of spiritual procreation that Mary Magdalene and Jesus were chiefly about. As we discussed in chapter 10, his symbol for this type of richly engendering spiritual love is the kiss, which (as is universally the case throughout the Near Eastern culture) is seen as a sign not of sexual attraction but of spiritual begetting. When he indicates in analogue 37 that “the Master loved her more than the other students and many times would kiss her on the mouth,” he is not describing an illicit romance but rather a sacred exchange of their deeply commingled beings. The spiritual kiss is the symbol par excellence of Fifth Way love.

From a Fifth Way standpoint, this kind of intense and trans­forming love, “which is really the birth-pangs of union at a higher plane,” will indeed bear fruit. But the fruit may not be human children so much as an energetic sphere of pure creativity, in which reality is touched at the core and love itself is the progeny.

As analogue 66 points out, “The one who creates objects [i.e., literal offspring] works outwardly in the external world. The one who labors in secret, however, works within the icon, hidden in­wardly from others.” In other words, the work goes on at the imaginal (or causal) level, and its potency is made manifest not by producing new people but by engendering transformed people­ giving birth to children “in the Realm of the Unseen,” in the words of the text. (Underscores mine)

“FIFTH WAY LOVE”:  AN EROTIC PATH TO TRANSFORMATION

The “Fifth Way” is a spiritual path based on relationship. Cynthia Bourgeault calls it “conscious love” rather than “tantric love” so as not to put a stumbling block before her parishioners. She is an Episcopal priest whose passion is to restore the romantic love affair between Jesus and Mary Magdalene as the center piece at the heart of Christianity. The term itself is a deliberate spin-off from George Gurdjieff’s “Fourth Way,” the “Way of the Conscious Man.” Boris Mouravieff (d.1966), a little known Russian esotericist who studied Gurdjieff’s system intimately, coined the phrase and used it in his three-volume Gnosis to represent “courtly love as a spiritual path and of the way of transformation through mystical union with one’s ‘polar being.'” Cynthia’s comment:

“While he [Mouravieff] stops short of saying that Jesus and Mary Magdalene practiced this path, he makes it clear that its headwaters lie deep within the marrow of Christianity itself, and he insists that it represents “The purest and most sublime realization of the Christian spiritual path.” 

THE “SONG OF SONGS”

More commonly known in Protestant circles as “The Song of Solomon, Bourgeault associates this erotic book of the Old Testament Bible with Mary Magdalene, seeing it as an ancient testament to the practice of “Fifth Way Love.” I will share my favorite passage from the Biblical texts and then offer a commentary on it. The song opens with the kiss that begets love:

The song of songs, which is Solomon’s. Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine. 

Because of the savour of thy goof ointments thy name is as ointment poured forth, therefore do the virgins love thee.

Draw me, we will run after thee: the king hath brought me into his chambers: we will be glad and rejoice in thee, we will remember thy love more than wine: the upright love thee…. 

The voice of my beloved! Behold he cometh leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills.

My beloved is like a roe or a young hart: behold, he standeth behind our wall, he looketh forth at the windows, shewing himself through the lattice.

My beloved spake, and said unto me: “Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.

For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land;

The fig tree putteth forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender grape give a good smell.  Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.

Our winter is currently at the door in mid October, not a time to be leaping and skipping. Perhaps, then, we could see this passage metaphorically as describing the nature and character of Life itself and of the Beloved who abides within us each one, peaking out through the windows of our eyes and showing himself through the lattice of our veiled and guarded hearts. The Beloved is always there, “standing behind our wall,” when our world gets dark and seemingly impossible to navigate.  Always there to turn to for assurance that all is well and as it should be. Always there to love in passionate embrace and simply say: “I love you with all of my heart, with all of my mind, and with all of my body. With Solomon I sing . . .

Place me as a seal on your heart, as a seal on your arm. Strong as Death is love; intense as Sheol is its ardor. Its shafts are shafts of fire, flames of Yah (Yahweh). Deep waters cannot quench love, nor rivers sweep it away.”

AN UNLIKELY BIBLICAL TEXT

Like Mary Magdalene herself, the Song of Songs has had a long his­tory of both admirers and detractors. It has been called, with some justification, “the most unbiblical book in the whole Bible,” and there are those who feel that its inclusion in among the wisdom writings of the Old Testament was a grand mistake. But others see it as nothing short of scripture’s mystical highpoint, an inexhaustible fountainhead of beauty and spiritual wisdom. Among this latter group was Rabbi Aqiba (d. 135), one of the most influential of the early rabbinic commentators, whose celebrated words eventually carried the day: “All the ages are not worth the day on which it was written for all the writings are holy, but the Song is the Holy of Holies.”

At the heart of all this consternation, as you might expect, is the fact that this text is a love song–and not just a mild-mannered, “spiritual” love song, but an unabashed celebration of erotic pleasure. From its opening salvo, “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth,” to its parting affirmation, “Love is as strong as death,” it never breaks stride, In eight canticles of stunningly evocative imagery, it sings the glories of carnal desire in exquisite and scintillating detail. 

KENOTIC LOVE

Kenosis is the act of emptying oneself, a characteristic applied, by Paul specifically, to the path that Jesus took in his life of service. It was the path Mother Theresa took and other saintly souls.  Cynthia writes: 

As Paul so profoundly realizes, self-emptying is the touchstone, the core reality underlying every moment of Jesus’s human journey. Self-emptying is what  brings him into human form, and self-emptying is what leads him out, returning him to the mode of glory. The full realization of Jesus’s divine selfhood [our divine Selfhood] comes not through concentration of being, but through voluntary divestment of it. . . . Stripping oneself and standing naked: this is the essence of the kenotic path.

KENOSIS IN THE FIFTH WAY

We have already seen that kenosis is the tie-rod of Jesus’s entire teaching, connecting the inner and outer realms of our human experience in a single, unified gesture. “Greater love has no man than to lay down his life for his friend” (John 15:13) is one of his most celebrated dictums. But when that “friend” happens also to be one’s uniquely beloved, one’s romantic partner or spouse, kenotic practice takes on a particularly intense and even a sacra­mental character. This is because the root energy it works with is the transformative fire of eros, the energy of desiring. That messy, covetous, passion-ridden quicksilver of all creation is tamed and transformed into a substance of an entirely different order, and the force of the alchemy accounts for both the efficiency of this path and its terrifying intensity.

Vladimir Solovyov, that great nineteenth-century philosopher of love, was among the first to grasp the enormous implica­tion of this point, which defines both the modality of the Fifth Way and its ultimate destination:

The meaning and worth of love. .. is that it really forces us, with all our being, to acknowledge for another the same ab­solute central significance which, because of the power of our egoism, we are conscious of only in our own selves. Love is important not as one of our feelings, but … as the shifting of the very center of our personal lives. This is characteristic of every kind of love, but predominantly of sexual love [erotic love]; it is distinguished from other kinds of love by greater intensity, by a more engrossing character, and by the possibil­ity of a more complete overall reciprocity. Only this love can lead to the real and indissoluble union of two lives into one; only of it do the words of Holy Writ say: “They shall be one flesh,” that is, shall become one real being.

In the path of “Fifth Way Love,” as Cynthia Bourgeault presents it in her book, and as she portrays the intimate companionship of Mary Magdalene and Jesus, the eros is transformed and transmuted to a higher level so as to become an erotically ecstatic bridge between the physical and the spiritual worlds, making the oneness of heaven and earth an actual and tangible experience.  The ultimate transformation takes place between “polar beings” who become one blended substance, so that one cannot tell where the boundaries of one’s own body stops and the other’s begins. For there is no “other” and no boundaries. There is only the One I Am.  

We will shift gears in my next post, leaving the realm of the “Holy of Holies” to explore the mysteries of the Universe–as Walter Russell understands and explains them anyway. We are in for a profoundly intellectual roller coaster ride. So, sharpen your mental focus before you read my next post. The theme will remain in the domain of the masculine and feminine energies at work within us and throughout the illusory universe.  Until then,

Be love. Be loved.

Anthony

 

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Loving the “Lord thy God”

What does loving the “Lord thy God” entail? What does it mean to love God with all of one’s heart, and with all of one’s mind, and with all of one’s strength? A deeper question yet: Who is the “Lord thy God”?  If this is the first and great commandment – which, presumably, precedes the second one that commands we love our neighbor as our self – then it seems important, even essential, that we know what the first commandment means and entails.

For me – the only one I can speak for – it entails coming to know oneness with the Lord that I am and identifying with my divine Self.  It hasn’t always been that way with me. I was brought up to believe that God was separate from who I am.  I developed a strong pattern of love response for this image of God that I had fabricated in my mind based on what I was taught in my youth: that God was separate from me, up in His heaven, and so I prayed to and came to love this God with all of my heart and all of my mind and with all of my strength.  While it felt good and lifted my consciousness up a bit to love some divine being who is supposedly much greater than me, it really never felt honest, nor complete. I always felt that I was being attracted to something or someone outside of myself, “up there” somewhere.

Awakening to the truth of the matter was galvanizing for me. There is no one “up there” outside of myself. There is only who and what I Am here and now.  In the Biblical story of Moses’s encounter with God on Mount Sinai – or Jehovah as God was known to the Israelites – when Moses asked God for his name, God answered “I AM THAT I AM.” God is the Essence of existence in all forms of life. He is the I AM is all things living, including human beings. That is your and my identity as one made in the image and likeness of God, a son or daughter of God. It is the identity of each one of us as individual expressions of God. Accept it. BE it and love it with all of your heart, mind and strength. Give it expression in your daily living in acts of kindness and appreciation. Then you cannot but love your neighbor as your very Self because your neighbor is your very Self.

The truth is simple. We are divine beings incarnate in human forms. Why have we made it so complicated in our theological doctrines and religious dogmas?  Perhaps it is because you can’t sell the truth.  You can only sell doctrines and dogmas as truth, which makes them mere beliefs in and about the truth. When one comes to know the truth one is set free from his or her beliefs and moves beyond them into the experience of one’s true divine Self: one with God, one with neighbor, one with All.  So is it. So let it be.

Be love. Be loved.

Anthony

On Human Relations . . . . part 6: The Path of Romantic Love, page 4

My Chorale PicIn chapter seven of her powerful book MARY MAGDALENE – Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity, “Reclaiming the Path of Romantic Love,” Episcopal minister Cynthia Bourgeault paints a much different picture of the spiritual path Jesus walked than the one painted by Christian orthodox interpretations of the four gospels. Continuing from where we left off in the previous post, Cynthia speaks to the question “Were Jesus and Mary Magdalene lovers.” I will let you read directly from the final two pages of this chapter.

Having described Jesus’s spiritual path as being anything but celibate, an “enstatic” path of conserving pranic energy, Cynthia makes her case against traditional Christian concepts and beliefs to the contrary.

By contrast, the path that Jesus himself seems to teach and model in his life, and particularly in his death, is not a storing up but a complete pouring out. His pranic energy is quickly depleted; on the cross, as all four gospel account affirm, he does not hold out even until sunset, but quickly “gives up the ghost.” Shattered and totally spent, he simply disappears into his death. The core icon of the Christian faith, the watershed moment from which it all emerges, is not enstatic but ecstatic — love completely poured out, expended, squandered. In contrast to clarity, it is the arche­typal image of purity, the complete self-giving of the heart.

THE PATH JESUS WALKED

And right here, I believe, we come to the fundamental problem with these celibate models of transformation. It’s not merely their monochromatic viewpoint or the implicit devaluing of a whole other stream of Christian spiritual wisdom whose roots are in passionate human love. Rather, it is the fact that at key points they seem to be slightly out of kilter with the path of transformation that Jesus himself walked and taught. One might say that this model points us toward John the Baptist rather than Jesus: to­ward those ancient and time-honored practices of renunciation, asceticism, and self-concentration through abstinence, whereas if we really look closely, we see that Jesus himself seemed to be con­stantly pushing the envelope in the opposite direction — toward radical self-abandonment, reckless self-outpouring, and the trans­mutation of passion in complete self-giving.

But it is right there, at the center of that cognitive dissonance, that a window of opportunity opens up. Rather than trying to smooth it over and pretend it does not exist, as the church has done for nearly two thousand years, we need to tune in and listen to it very carefully, for it gives us exactly the tool we need to proceed.

Were Jesus and Mary Magdalene lovers? To date, nearly everyone seems to be trying to solve that riddle from the outside, like good investigative journalists. It’s all about finding new evi­dence: secret documents and societies, new gnostic gospels, purported lost tombs, hidden mathematical messages embedded in the lines of existent texts — some new piece of data that would settle the issue one way or another. Equally, those who are ap­palled by the very notion of a romantically involved Jesus build their case by recourse to doctrines and templates that did not exist until three or four centuries after he had left the planet. It’s all external logic.

But there is another possibility, which has been sitting there right under our noses all along yet so far seems to have been consistently overlooked. That is to evaluate the evidence from the inside, on the basis of the path itself. For Jesus was, after all, a teacher, and the teaching itself is there to be consulted. Once one has compensated for the negative set and drift of the celibate current, it is merely a matter of asking a single question: In the light of what Jesus actually seems to have been teaching, is there anything in the teachings themselves that would have precluded such a love relationship?

If Jesus were indeed walking the path of classic monastic brahmacharya, then the answer is obviously yes; celibacy is an essential requirement of this path, and to diverge from this requirement would violate his integrity and sabotage his spiritual power.

But what if in fact he was walking a different path? A path difficult to identify because it was so close to its own headwaters that it was missed by nearly everyone both then and now? What if he was not an ascetic at all, but was in fact following a whole new trajectory, previously unknown in the West and with its own ways of understanding integrity and purity? Along this other trajec­tory, it might indeed be conceivable for him to be in a human love relationship, although that love would probably not look like what most of us are familiar with.

Let’s see what the teachings themselves have to say.

Thus ends chapter seven with a segue to chapter eight, and to the rest of Cynthia’s provocative treatise, for that matter. The title of chapter eight is “The Great Identity Theft.” Who was Jesus and how was his presentation of himself perceived by the world he came to save from itself?  There are two brief paragraphs midway through this chapter that speak to these questions.

In the Aramaic language of Jesus’s immediate followers, one of the earliest titles given to him was Ihidaya, “the Single One,” or the “Unified One.” In context, it speaks unmistakably of this state of inner oneness; it designates the anthropos, the fully realized human being: the enlightened master of Eastern tradition, or the monad or “undivided one” of hermeticism.

The “great identity theft” to which the title of this chapter refers is that in remarkably short order this term, which was so clearly intended to designate Jesus’s attained state of inner oneness, should come to be interpreted as “singleness” in the sense of being unmarried, “the celibate one.”

Jesus was not necessarily monastic nor ascetic, which leaves him available to a romantic relationship. Actually, according to Islamic scholar Ibrahim Gamard, monasticism was not mandated by the Koran. In a letter to the author in 1998, Gamard shared the insight that “in the Islamic tradition monasticism was disapproved of in the Qur’anic verse which states that the monasticism of the followers of Jesus was invented by them and was not something commanded by God.” As I said, this leaves Jesus with the option at least of having a romantic relationship with Mary Magdalene as his wife and partner in a shared service to Humanity: personal transformation via a path of romantic love.

I will leave it there for now and continue with “The Path that Jesus Walked” in my next post . . . . or not. This series seems to be complete, so I may let this be the concluding post to the series on Human Relations. We’ll see what the Current of Inspiration brings us for exploration. Thanks for sharing this consideration with me. As always, your comments are welcome.  Until my next post,

Be love. Be Loved

Anthony

Read my Health Light Newsletter online at LiftingTones.com for helpful information about health and wellness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Human Relations . . . . . part 6: The Path of Romantic Love, page 3

“Without the quicksilver of eros nothing transforms . . .”

My Chorale PicIn the previous post I presented and considered the first two of four propositions, or myths, that are all “firmly rooted in the soil of celibate spirituality–that together have subtly sabotaged our ability to see romantic love as an authentic path of spiritual transformation” presented by Cynthia Bourgeault in her boldly provocative book The Meaning of MARY MAGDALENE — Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity.  In this post I will present and consider the third and fourth myths and share some of Cynthia’s thought provoking views and commentary from her book — which I highly recommend to my readers.

Myth Number Three: Human love is inherently different from divine love

This is what has been handed down through Christian church teachings. Actually, it was Plato who classified love by types: agape and eros — although he didn’t attribute agape exclusively to divine love nor eros exclusively to human love. After all, the Greeks had their riotous gods who were capable of both human and divine passions. Rather, agape love to Plato was impartial, disinterested love and eros desiring love, which both the gods and humans were capable of experiencing. Plato’s delineation, non-the-less, set the foundation for such discussions for two-and-a-half millennia since, writes Cynthia Bourgeault.

It was a Swedish Protestant theologian in the 1930’s by the name of Anders Nygren who relegated eros to human desiring. His “monumental” three-volume work Agape and Eros, in which he writes “eros is man’s way to God; agape is God’s way to man,” had a powerful and pervasive influence on contemporary Christian spirituality. Cynthia writes:

According to Nygren, eros is by its very nature filled with desire and neediness, hence impure; by contrast, God’s way of loving is free, clear and impartial, motivated only by the goodness of the giver. With one deft stroke of the theological scalpel, Nygen essentially divided the core energy of love into two separate species and assigned to erotic love (the only love humans are by definition capable of) a permanent second-class status that essentially negates its value as a spiritual path. It is hard to escape the implication that if one is following a path of passionate commitment to a beloved, one is on an inferior spiritual track, or no track at all. This despite love’s unassailable record as the most potent force at our disposal to unify the heart and transform the soul.

Fortunately, the damaging pronouncements of Nygren has impacted only the modern era. Earlier generations of Christian teachers considered eros a “wellspring” of transforming energy that one simply had to learn to work with in one’s spiritual path. Cynthia quotes John Climacus’ sixth-century writings to exemplify this historical fact:

“I have seen impure souls who threw themselves headlong into physical eros to a frenzied degree. It was their very experience of that physical eros that led them to interior conversion. They concentrated their eros on the Lord. Rising above fear, they tried to love God with insatiable desire. That is why when Christ spoke to the woman who had been a sinner he did not say that she had been afraid but that she had loved much, and had easily been able to surmount love by love.”

The goal of “surmounting love by love” for a thousand years formed the heart of the Christian mystical program of transformation, culminating in the twelfth century in the magnificent “monastic love mysticism” of St Bernard of Clairvax and those following in his wake (and notice that whenever eros is mentioned in a text, the figure of Mary Magdalene hovers right in the background). To the extent that it still conceives of God as an object that one can “concentrate one’s eros” on, it ultimately falls victim of that same dualistic fallacy we have already seen in the first myth. But it is far, far better than what has been served up today in the name of religious and psychological health; a gutless, passionless numb “agape clone” that goes nowhere at all. Without the quicksilver of eros nothing transforms: a secret which I believe Jesus himself knew and worked with in his teachings in a profound way, only at a unitive rather than a dualistic level.

Now, of course, if you were fortunate enough to escape such indoctrination in your upbringing, then none of this serves you very much, excerpt perhaps as an educational piece at an intellectual level. I am intrigued by perspectives on historical events that shed light on the path I have traveled over the last seventy plus years. You see, I was born into a Catholic family, groomed for a priestly vocation — which was more my father’s desire for me than my own — and educated in the hallowed halls of Roman Catholic seminary. Only the halls of Catholic seminary were not so hallowed as they were hollow and empty of any transforming energy. Eros was a path to a life of mortal sin, the punishment for which was eternal damnation and separation from God. So, it thrills me to have someone like Cynthia Bourgeault articulate so eloquently some of the undercurrents that were churning beneath the turbulent and confusing terrain upon which I spent the formative and developing years of my life, as well as their origins in history.

Don’t worry for me, however, for the Church’s brain-washing, for some strange reason, seemed like water poured over a duck’s back. It didn’t penetrate the core of me. My guardian angel was apparently protecting me. However, I did not escape the damage to my human psyche and the spoiling of my physical enjoyment of a fully enfleshed life of healthy sexuality as a young man. That came later after awakening to the truth of love and of life.

But enough about me. Let’s look at the fourth myth, the one that lured me into the seminary and, ironically, disillusioned me at the age of 21 and sent me in search for the truth of love in human relations, both with the divine and with one another, a search that would last only seven years. Let me share some of her thoughts and perspectives right from her powerful book.

Myth Number Four: Celibacy is a state of greater purity.

The mistake here–and it is one commonly made in spiritual teaching — is to confuse purity with clarity. Clarity has to do with attuning the mind. Purity is about awakening the heart. The two can overlap each other, but they are not synonymous.

I enjoy her distinction between purity and clarity. She goes on to give a little history of the practice of celibacy.

In Hinduism, where the practice of celibacy as an applied spiritual technology (known as brahmacharya)  arose more than three thousand years ago, the objective has to do with conserving and concentrating prana, the vital energy or life force, so that it can be utilized for spiritual transformation. The modern Hindu master Swami Chidananda has restated the traditional wisdom by explaining it in this way: “Prana is the precious reserve of the seeker. Any sense activity or sense experience consumes a lot of prana [the sex act most of all, he claims] . . . The highest of all goals in life, spiritual attainment, requires the maximum pranic energy on all levels.”

For Swami Chidananda, the practice of celibacy harnesses pranic energy much like a dam harnesses the force of water for the purpose of turning huge turbines, and like a lens concentrates the rays of the sun to burn whatever they are focused on. Cynthia continues:

In the most ancient and powerful understanding of the practice, celibacy belongs among practices that can be classified as enstatic — those that have to do with conserving, collecting, concentrating. The positive side of this kind of practice is a significantly enhanced clarity — a relative freedom from the energy-consuming turmoil of the physical lusts and emotional passions and thus a greater capacity to stay present to the higher frequencies of spiritual energy.

For exactly this reason — that celibacy is a “storing up” process — its shadow side is avarice. One must be alert to a subtle tendency to withhold or “preserve”oneself, to hold oneself back from full engagement in the human sphere in order to have access to those higher realms of truth and light. Under all the aura of “selfless giving” with which the practice of celibacy generally cloaks itself, there can be a subtle spiritual acquisitiveness at work, betrayed in the very phrase “spiritual attainment.” Which “I,” one wonders, is this “I” who attains?

Cynthia gives her reader pause to consider what’s really at work in spiritual attainment. She then turns toward the life and death of Jesus in a most remarkable portrayal of him as being anything but enstatic in his public ministry.

By contrast, the path that Jesus himself seems to teach and model in his life, and particularly in his death, is not a storing up but a complete pouring out. His pranic energy is quickly depleted; on the cross, as all four gospel accounts affirm, he does not hold out even until sunset, but quickly “gives up the ghost.” Shattered and totally spent, he simply disappears into his death. The core icon of the Christian faith, the watershed moment from which it all emerges, is not enstatic but ecstatic — love completely poured out, expended squandered. In contrast to clarity, it is the archetypal image of purity, the complete self-giving of the heart.

Such is the character of unconditional love: “. . .the complete self-giving of the heart.” This reminds me of Jesus’s words to his disciples during his sermon on the vine and the branches: “Greater love hast no man than this; that he lay down his life for his friends.”  He was giving them all that he had to give, and for a truly selfless reason: “. . . that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.” (John 15:13)

The joy of giving fully of oneself is like no other joy.  It’s a joy that utterly sets one free. This, I believe, is what’s really behind the mad rush to buy presents for loved ones and friends at Christmas time every year. We do get much joy out of giving.  I’ve actually read of a tribal community where there is no word in their language for “Thank you.” Such is their awareness that the pleasure and joy of giving are the giver’s as much as, if not more than, the receiver’s. I love Cynthia’s portrayal of this great Teacher as one who spent himself fully during his three-and-a-half years of public ministry. It is the Jesus that I can easily hold as a hero and model of true manhood.

In my next post I will share Cynthia Bourgeault’s view of and commentary on “The Path Jesus Walked.” So, stay tuned for more inspiring posts on my Healing Tones blog.

Wishing for you a Happy New Year and a healthy and happy 2016!

Anthony

Read my HealthLight Newsletter online at LiftingTones.com.

 

 

On Human Relations, . . . . . part 6: The Path of Romantic Love

My Chorale PicAn intimate, romantic, and sexual relationship with another human being, far from distracting one from spiritual attainment, can open a fast-track path to spiritual transformation: the path of romantic love.

This path is cluttered with signposts bearing moral Christian doctrines that warn of a sinful destination for those who seek erotic pleasure in natural sex drives that were designed to bring couples into a state of ecstatic union, along with the function of propagating the human species — sex solely for gratification not withstanding. The church is solely responsible for the degradation of sex from sacrament to sin in human relations, using Jesus, the celibate divine redeemer, and Mary Magdalene, the human “sinful prostitute,” as models upon which to base its thwarted and therefore false premise.

I’m in my second reading of Cynthia Bourgeault’s profoundly insightful and thought-provoking, if not controversial, rendering of  “The Meaning of MARY MAGDALENE – DISCOVERING THE WOMAN AT THE HEART OF CHRISTIANITY.”

This is unequivocally the most powerful book I have yet read on the story of Mary Magdalene and her role in the life and ministry of Jesus. The author, an Episcopal priest, literally plumbs the depth of my soul and awakens dreams of a “perfect world,” almost to the point of disturbing my default inner peace by arousing once again that painfully familiar longing for a seemingly unattainable state of “singleness” as a whole human being — ironically, a singleness that can only be obtained, according to her insight and perspective, in the state of holy matrimony. Cynthia’s Jesus came to “reclaim the path of romantic love” and to uplift marriage between a man and a woman to its original state of “one flesh” that no man can “put asunder”– and he walked his talk. He was not celibate by any connotation of that word. Nor did he recommend celibacy as the higher path to spiritual transformation. His was a life fully “enfleshed” as a whole human being, and that’s what made him such a powerful magnet and lightning rod. The people loved him for his authenticity. The governing religious leaders of that time hated him for the same reason.  Actually, in their gross darkness, they simply did not comprehend his light, and it frightened them and threatened their self-serving authority.

This book has a Voice. One that speaks from out of the ancient past, spanning time from the “beginning”– the Edenic origins of Man and Woman — up to and including the life, public ministry and death of Jesus the Nazarene, only not the Jesus introduced to us when we were children and foisted upon the Christian world since the fourth century Council of Nicea.  Cynthia’s Jesus is a whole human being who “emptied” himself fully of both his humanity and his divinity, leaving no part of his soul and body unused in service to his heavenly Father and to Humankind. And it was his intimate relationship with Mary Magdalene to which Cynthia attributes the fulfillment of his mission and purpose for incarnating on the planet when he did. I should say the fulfillment of their shared mission and purpose.

That said, I don’t think that I can do Cynthia’s book justice in a blog-long book review. So, with the thought in mind that my readers may be inspired to read Cynthia’s book to fully enjoy her viewpoint on these timely issues, I will simply share a few passages from her book that moved my soul to the point of shouting “YES! That rings so true!” I will share and comment on them as they come up in my second reading. Enjoy and be blessed.

I will start at the beginning of Chapter 7, “RECLAIMING THE PATH OF ROMANTIC LOVE,” just to give you a sense of the tone of Cynthia’s voice, along with the context in which she writes. Here she speaks to the issue of celibacy in a priesthood supposedly modeled after Jesus and his celibate apostles — or were they?

NEARLY TWENTY YEARS ago, long before The Da Vinci Code uproar broke, I was serving as parish priest in a small Episcopal congregation in Colorado. When the gospel appointed for one particular Sunday in August was Luke’s account of that anonymous “sinful” woman with her alabaster jar, I decided to take the risk of breaking open some of the insights that even back then were beginning to emerge from a growing spate of Mary Magdalene studies. My parishioners were a bright and intellectually curious bunch, so why not? During my sermon, I gently presented Margaret Starbird’s assertion (in her book The Woman with the Alabaster Jar, named after this very gospel passage) that the anointing of Jesus’s hands and feet described in the text was not simply a random act by a penitent woman, but an exquisitely symbolic ritual enacted between two lovers about to be separated.

The fire storm was predictable.

I had tried to pave the way as carefully as I could. My point in raising those issues, as I made clear both in the sermon itself and in the discussion that boiled over afterward, was not to argue the case one way or another, but rather to get at some of the attitudes underlying the way we Christians do theology — and more important the way we do love. “How do you feel about the possibility that Jesus had a human beloved?” I asked these parishioners. “Does it make you feel uncomfortable? Why?”

The responses were pretty much what I expected: “But if Jesus had sexual relations with a woman, he couldn’t be sinless.” “If he loved one in particular, he couldn’t love us all impartially.” “How could he be the son of God unless he gave himself completely to God?” The overwhelming consensus was that if Jesus had known erotic love, he could not possibly have also been the full embodiment of divine love. It would somehow disqualify him as the divine redeemer.

I could hardly blame the congregation for feeling that way.

After nearly two millennia of reinforcement, these assumptions have become so much of the landscape of Christianity that they appear to be part of the seamless structure of revealed truth. But in fact, assumptions are what they really are — not core tenets of the faith, not anything that Jesus himself taught, but superimpositions of a male, celibate, priestly theology which for nearly two thousand years has been the only game in town.

The complicated history of how this situation came to be could fill a book in itself (and in fact has several times over). The short version is basically this: during those first four centuries of Christian life, as leadership moved from a charismatic eldership model to the threefold sacramental ministry we know today (bishops, priests, and deacons), part and parcel of this evolution was an increasing tendency to view both Christ and his apostles through the prototype of celibate priesthood. This is of course a flagrant anachronism in light of the unambiguous scriptural references to Peter’s mother-in-law (Matthew 8:14) and the only slightly more ambiguous allusions in Luke to the other disciples’ “companions.?”

But counterbalancing the testimony of the gospels themselves was a growing discomfort with conjugal intimacy, a discomfort whose roots probably lie in the extreme Essene asceticism out of which Jesus himself most likely emerged (we will be exploring this topic in greater detail in the following chapter). Beginning as early as Paul, this unease was magnified in each succeeding generation by a chorus of Christianity’s most influential thinkers including Marcion, Tatian, Jerome, and Augustine. The consensus grew stronger and stronger that sex and the sacraments simply didn’t mix. By the fourth century edicts were in place forbidding married priests to have conjugal relations with their wives. Not long thereafter married priesthood itself dropped astern in Western Christendom, and celibacy became the entrance requirement for admission to the power structure of the church.

It gives one a bit of a start to realize that for the better part of two millennia, Christian theology has been written, shaped, formulated, and handed down almost exclusively by celibates talking to other celibates. In that respect, it is extraordinarily monolithic. And from this exclusively celibate template emerges the only image of Christ our tradition has allowed us to entertain: of a celibate renunciate whose “sinless” purity would necessarily entail sexual abstinence.

At the age of twenty-one, this very requirement barred my own entrance into the Roman Catholic priesthood after seven years of seminary life, during which I tried in vain to suppress my body’s natural erotic urges and my soul’s longing for a feminine soul mate.  Cynthia goes right to the heart of the highly emotionally charged premise that in addition to all the roles attributed to Mary Magdalene — apostle, visionary, healer — “there is still one remaining to her, which may just be the most important of them all: soul mate.”

Were Jesus and Mary Magdalene lovers? Were they secretly married? That, of course, is the claim laid out in  The Da Vinci Code and a number of other books and documentaries and which the church angrily refutes.

The question would never have a fair hearing in Christian circles, she goes on to say, where the “mote” has not yet been cast out of our own eyes while we dare to pass judgement on those who entertain a different view from our own.

It is one thing to argue the case for reclaiming Mary Magdalene as apostle and wisdom-bearer, purveyor of a sorely needed feminine presence in the church; it is quite another to tie this claim to the theologically taboo subject of a romantic involvement with Jesus. Two-thousand years of dogma and tradition have left the field so thoroughly land-mined with negative assumptions and stereotypes that it is virtually impossible to see anything other than red, like my congregation that morning. The question will inevitably be heard as an attack on Jesus and as an act of sabotage upon the Christian faith itself.

After two-thousand years of programming that celibacy is the highest Christian way when compared to the second-rate path of committed spousal love, “it is hardly surprising that our Western anthropology of human sexuality is abysmal.”

In the secular version relentlessly foisted upon us by contemporary culture, it’s all about pleasure, performance, gratification. In the bedroom of the faithful, it’s still all too often about duty and shame: a begrudging debt to future generations which, even when carefully managed, is still tainted with carnal sin. Mention “erotic love” and people will immediately hear “sex,” then immediately thereafter, “dirty.” The idea that there could be anything holy about this kind of love is too alien to even consider. That’s simply the way our ears have been trained to hear it; we are all children of a cultural stream whose vision of human love  has been shaped by the shadow side of celibate spirituality.

From the gutter, the view of the gossip and speculation around Mary Magdalene and Jesus in various studies is less than holy and rather “scandalmongering,” Cynthia writes.

We are really presented with only four options:

1. That Mary Magdalene was Jesus’s mistress;

2. That theirs was a politically arranged marriage, strictly for dynastic purposes;

3. That they were sexual consorts in some Gnostic Mystery religion, ritually reenacting the sacred hieros gamos, or union of the opposites;

4. That the whole story is purely archetypal, a great Sophianic myth depicting the integration of the masculine and feminine within the human soul.”

With that, I will leave you to ponder these options for yourself and return in two weeks to compare your choice of options to Cynthia’s in my next post as we continue to explore romantic human love as a path to spiritual transformation. I will present four “propositions” or “myths”– all “rooted in the soil of celibate spirituality — that together have subtly sabotaged our ability to see romantic love as an authentic path of spiritual transformation.” Until my next post, then . . .

be love ~ be loved.

Anthony

Read my Health Light Newsletter on-line at LiftingTones.com.

 

 

 

On Human Relations, part 4: A New Relationship with Iran?

“TEHRAN’S PROMISE  — The revolution’s midlife crisis and the nuclear deal.”

My Chorale PicTHE NEW YORKER this month features an excellent and well written article by Robin Wright on the Iranian Nuclear deal. I’m bringing it into my blog, and particularly into this series on human relations, because it’s about the personal relationship between Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, a relationship that, in my opinion, was made in heaven for the specific purpose of bringing about this Nuclear deal with Iran—and more. It opened a window to the world through which the promise of a new relationship between the people of Iran and the rest of the world can be clearly seen, even through the distracting and manipulative cloud of propaganda Washington Conservatives have been putting before the American people via the media.

The relationship between these two men had its beginnings back in 2003 when Zarif was Iran’s United Nations Ambassador.  Kerry and Zarif “played pivotal roles in getting the process (of the Nuclear deal) started, through back channels: in 2003, as Iran’s U.N. Ambassador, Zarif orchestrated a secret overture, nicknamed ‘the grand bargain.’” This initiative is what set things in motion and led to an unannounced trip in 2011 by John Kerry, then chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “to explore an offer by the Sultan Oman to host covert diplomacy. That led to five secret rounds of lower-level U.S.-Iran talks, in Muscat, in 2013.”

Here’s what really piqued my interest in this relationship.

The most serious diplomacy since Washington severed relations with Tehran, in 1980, began shortly after Kerry and Zarif were appointed as their nations’ top diplomats. Their first meeting, in September, 2013, was supposed to be a handshake and an exchange of pleasantries in a United Nations hallway. The idea was to “get out without causing any incidents and build from there,” a Kerry aide recounted. But, at the last minute, Kerry decided to pull Zarif into an empty office, near the Security Council chamber, for a substantive conversation.

“Kerry’s whole approach to diplomacy . . . is premised on the belief that personal relationships matter, because they enable you to get things done, even in very difficult situations,” the aide said. “It was Kerry’s belief that this was going to be a relationship that would really matter.” Zarif was willing. The two men talked, alone, for almost thirty minutes.

The rest of the story is now copy for the history books. “The Iran deal, announced on July 14th, capped a dozen years of secret overtures, false starts, clandestine meetings, and unpublished correspondence between Washington and Tehran.

THE POLITICS OF THE PEOPLE

A huge transition is underway in Iran between the old revolutionary leadership and the new generation. The article’s parallel and probably more significant theme is about the people of Iran, the next generation of young people who represent more than sixty percent of Iran’s eighty-million people, “A baby-boom generation, born after the revolution, (that) doesn’t share all of its priority.” Iran’s youth are not so enamored by the hard-liners’ religious fanaticism over an ideal Islamic state.  They are more interested in pursuing and engaging the rising tide of modern technologies flooding Iran via the internet. Wright offers a canny insight into the climate being generated by Iran’s public that “clearly wants reentry” into the larger world of commerce and culture they have been insulated against for decades by their revolutionary elders, the majority of which are “over the hill” in age and soon to be on their way out literally.  The Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, himself turns seventy-six this month.

“The original generation of revolutionaries will disappear in the next ten years,” Saeed Laylaz, an economist and a former adviser to President Khatami, said. Laylaz, who was imprisoned for a year after the 2009 election, added, “The new assembly [the Assembly of Experts, a group of eighty-six theologians] will reflect the new generation.”

All of Khomeini’s grandchildren—there are fifteen—back reformers. . . .  Half a dozen of the grandchildren were educated in the West. Some of the grandchildren have considered running for parliament of the assembly. . . .  A loose coalition of reformers, moderates, and centrists hopes to flood the field with candidates, so that even if they are disqualified in large numbers many of them can still compete.

As Robin Wright describes the rising tide of liberal youthful energy,

“It’ a tsunami,” Said Rahmani, the C.E.O. of Sarava, Iran’s first venture capital fund, told me. “This generation is worldly. They’re educated. They work. They have spending power. They’re not dependent on anyone. They have a different range of thinking.”

These days, the energy—and the locus or charting Iran’s future—is less in heady debates about the ideal Islamic state than in a practical scramble to exploit twenty-first-century technology to change society. More than a third of the population uses the Internet. Giant billboards for a new smart-phone model were plastered across Tehran this summer: “NEXT IS NOW.”

Iran has its Amazon.com in Digikala, which accounts for more than eighty percent of online retail, valued recently at a hundred-and-fifty million dollars, started up by a set of thirty-six year old twins. Online commerce is increasingly defining market prices in Iran.

WESTERN INFLUENCE

“America, particularly, haunts Iran,” Robin writes. “. . . After decades of living is a pariah nation, Iranians seem to crave normalcy—but on their own terms. Figuring out their relationship with the outside world is a big part of the transition. They have tried repeatedly and failed.”

The chant “DEATH TO AMERICA!” we hear so much talk about in the arguments against the Iranian Nuclear Deal in the halls of Congress and in Western media propaganda is limited only to Friday night Islamic prayer meetings. It is not the cry of the people.

“’Death to America’? This is politics and not related to people’s thinking,” Elnaz Mobahat, the owner of Manhattan Grill, one of Tehran’s chic new restaurants, told me. The place is adorned with American kitsch. One wall features photographs of sports stars, including Tiger Woods. “There are fourteen million people in greater Tehran, and maybe one hundred thousand attend Friday prayers,” she said. “Most people say we should talk to the Americans and solve our differences. We can both benefit. There are many investments opportunities in the oil and food industries.” She pointed to the ketchup bottles on every table. “Look, we use Heinz!”

A RELATIONSHIP FORGED IN FIRE

John Kerry and Mohammed Karif brought to the negotiating table the raging undercurrents of their nations’ turbulent warring histories and deeply scarred collective psyches conditioned by a track record of dishonesty, deception and consequent mistrust and paranoia. They were thrust by the gods of fate into a crucible together to process the relationship between their respective nations and between Iran and Israel and all the other nations in the world. And that crucible served its purpose by giving space for the many factors that make up human relations to be brought forth and released under pressure into the cauldron of heated debate and negotiation. The Iranian Nuclear Deal was not made in peaceful interchanges. It was forged in fire.  Robin Wright tells how it went down in all of its emotional and frustrating details.

It got much harder over time. The world’s five other major powers—Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia—were technically equal players. But the United States increasingly took the lead in one-on-one meetings with the Iranians. More than a year after that first encounter, the chasm on core issues was still deep, despite an interim Joint Plan of Action, a confidence-building step that curtailed Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for modest sanctions relief. It did not address long-term limits or rewards.

As the original deadline for a final deal loomed, last November, Kerry and Zarif met in Oman. The senior State Department official described the meeting as “extremely contentious.”

Kerry’s aide said, “Both sides left thinking that we had just spent a lot of hours and a lot of time under very tense conditions and in very tense conversations that made little progress.” A deal looked doubtful. A few days later, the six powers agreed to extend the deadline until June 30th.

In February and again in March, Kerry was on the verge of backing away from the conversations entirely, US officials told me. On February 21st, as Kerry was scheduled to fly from London to Geneva, Wendy Sherman, the Under-Secretary of State and chief nuclear negotiator, called him to say, “We are nowhere.” Iran was backtracking. “I really don’t think you can come under these circumstances,” she said. Kerry instructed her to tell the Iranians that he would skip Geneva and fly home. The next morning, Iran was more forthcoming, and Kerry subsequently flew to Switzerland.

On March 27th, in Lausanne, tempers flared three nights before the deadline of a so-called Framework to define what each side would accept in a final deal. At the last minute, negotiating with the Americans, Iran took an important matter off the table. The five other major powers were supposed to show up within a day, but there was so much left unresolved that Kerry decided he might have to abort. He arranged to go to Zarif’s suite. At 10 P.M., they met alone. Kerry’s style is to coax rather than threaten. But this time, two US. officials told me, Kerry was blunt. He told Zarif that unless there was progress the sessions were “basically done.”The next day, the issue was back on the table. Six days later, the major powers and Iran
announced the outlines of a potential agreement.

“There were moments when you just had to push through,” Kerry’s aide said. The most confrontational exchange took place on May 30th. The talks were “brutal, just brutal,” the State Department official recalled. According to Kerry’s aide, “It was a lot of the two sides banging their heads against each other.” At one point, Zarif got up, walked around the room, and announced, “I have to leave.” He then sat on a chair against a wall and put his head in his hands.

Kerry, known for being unflappable, lost it, too. Toward the end of six difficult hours, he slammed his hand down on the conference table so hard that his pen flew across the table and hit one of the Iranians. “It stunned everyone, because it was so out of character,” the State Department official said.

Both sides left Geneva feeling deeply pessimistic. The next day, Kerry vented his frustration by taking a vigorous ride from Geneva into France on his racing bike, which he often brings on trips.  As he was starting up the challenging Col de la Colombiere, he rode into a curb and flew off the bike. His right femur was badly broken, and he had to be medevaced to Boston for surgery. After the news broke, one of the first e-mails he received was from Zarif, wishing him well.

Love and mutual respect held these two men together through thick and thin. Few if any in our halls of Congress know what took place at these negotiations. Nor do they seem to care. Who among them takes into account that in ten years when this deal expires the old hard-line leaders in Iran will have been replaced by the younger generation of reformers who want more than anything to be in a peaceful and fruitful working relationship with the other nations of the world, particularly with America? And I don’t think they want to annihilate Israel, nor develop nuclear bombs. We simply need to trust that the process that brought these two men together will help us forge a new relationship with Iran. An irresistible force was set in motion based on mutual love and respect. And love never fails.  It’s at the heart of all meaningful relationships.

I will share more from this important article in a couple of weeks. I hope you have enjoyed reading about this historical and significant development in the Middle East as much as I did. Until my next post,

Be love. Be loved

Anthony Palombo, DC

Read my HealthLight Newsletter online at LiftingTones.com.

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