Time held me green and dying, though I sang in my chains like the sea. —Dylan Thomas
I GREET YOU ON THIS CHRISTMAS MORNING in the Spirit of the Christ, whose birth we celebrate today. Let peace reign in your heart today and throughout the New Year.
Cynthia Bourgeault takes this chapter of her book, THE WISDOM JESUS, home to an unveiling of love. Recapping the previous two paragraphs for continuity of thought, here is the final installment of this series on the incarnation of Jesus.
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LET ME BE VERY CLEAR HERE. I am not saying that suffering exists in order for God to reveal himself. I am only saying that where suffering exists and is consciously accepted, there divine love shines forth brightly. Unfortunately, linear cause-and-effect has progressively less meaning as we approach the deep mysteries (which originate beyond time and thus have no real use for it). But the principle can be tested. Pay attention to the quality of human character that emerges from constriction accepted with conscious forgiveness as compared to what emerges from rage and violence and draw your own conclusions.
At any rate, I have often suspected that the most profound product of this world is tears. I don’t mean that to be morbid. Rather, I mean that tears express that vulnerability in which we can endure having our heart broken and go right on loving. In the tears flows a sweetness not of our own making, which has been known in our tradition as the Divine Mercy. Our jagged and hard-edged earth plane is the realm in which this mercy is the most deeply, excruciatingly, and beautifully released. That’s our business down here. That’s what we’re here for. ♦ (Emphasis added)
IF MY HUNCH IS CORRECT, you can see how it significantly rearranges the playing field. Our earthly existence, then, is not about good behavior in preparation for a final judgment. It’s not a finishing school in which we “learn what we need to learn,” nor a sweatshop in which we work off our karmic debt. Right here and now we are in the process of speaking into being the revelation of God’s most hidden and intimate name. That’s a difficult assignment, particularly when “success” and “failure” mostly wind up being the complete opposites of what we would normally expect in life. But the most productive orientation for our time here is not to focus on how quickly we can get back to our spiritual homeland, but to give ourselves fully to the divine intimacy being ventured right here and now. We might reassure ourselves that in some conscious (or deeply trans-conscious) way, we have chosen to bear our part in what mystical tradition calls “the suffering of God”: the costliness that is always involved in the full manifestation of divine love. We’re doing it here and now, through the marrow of our own human lives, consciously lived. And these space-time conditions, as fragile and as frustrating as they are, are precisely the conditions which allow it to happen. As the poet Dylan Thomas expresses it in the beautiful lines with which this chapter began, “Time held me green and dying, though I sang in my chains like the sea.” It is the reality of the chains that creates the beauty of the song.
Mediator as Bridge
From a God’s-eye view of creation, the real operational challenge is not sin and evil; it is posed by the vastly unequal energetic frequencies between the realms. How can the sun touch a snowflake? How can the divine radiance meet and interpenetrate created life without incinerating it? This is the ultimate metaphysical koan—to which Christianity proposes as its solution the mystery of the incarnation.
This realization, in turn, opens up a whole new line of insight into John’s statement, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.” The Son, in this wider metaphysical context, is no longer the one who bails us out or who rescues us from our fallen state but the one who becomes our bridge between the realms. Recognizing the enormous difficulty of our mission, Jesus comes to accompany us on it, advocating for our human finitude in a way that respects its integrity but doesn’t allow us to get trapped in it. As in the traditional theological understanding (but with a very different flavor), he becomes our mediator. Standing at the confluence of two vastly different orders of being, he offers his own life as the sanctuary between them.
“Become All Flame”
As we have seen already, these great metaphysical paradoxes lend themselves more easily to poetry and metaphor than to the theological scalpel. One of the classic images Christian mystics have used to portray this cosmic mediation is actually very ancient, from the Old Testament. In the book of Exodus (3:1-6) the story is told of how Moses, while tending his father-in-law’s flock of sheep in the Midianite wilderness, suddenly comes upon a bush fully engulfed in flame and yet miraculously intact. The miracle is quickly revealed as an angel of God speaking through the flame. But for the Christian desert hermits later inhabiting that same wilderness, the burning bush became a symbol of Jesus himself: all flame, yet perfectly intact within his finite container. And there were those among that desert fellowship who yearned for that same incandescent ground. In one of the most famous of the desert parables:
Abba Lot went to Abba Joseph and said to him, “Abba, as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace, and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?” Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, “If you will, you can become all flame.
Would it be possible for us, too, to “become all flame”? Could our own lives become such a perfect fusion of infinite love and finite form that light would pour from our being as an actual physical radiance? I have indeed seen this light in more than a few realized masters toward the end of their earthly journeys; it is the fully revealed mystery of human life lived as a conscious sacrament. How we get there is the secret Jesus will unfold for us through the course of his own consciously sacramental life. But our first step in joining him on this journey is to recognize that his incarnation is not about fall, guilt, or blame, but about goodness, solidarity, and our own intimate participation in the mystery of love at the heart of all creation. ♥
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Life is sacred wherever it is expressed in Nature. A life lived with love is truly a sacrament. I love Cynthia’s passionate presentation of the incarnation and life of Jesus. Speaking of passion, I was listening to Bishop Michael Curry on NBC’s Today Show this Christmas Eve morning give his Christmas message, which is all about giving the gift of YOU to all those you meet in your daily activities by greeting them with a smile and a kind word or two to make a connection with them for sharing love. He exemplifies this in his own robust ways. We each have a gift to give of our Self, which is a gift from Heaven from whence we came into this world. The gifts of Spirit are always coming down from God out of Heaven. We need only be still enough and prepared in our hearts to receive and deliver them. My friend in South Korea, Jae Hyoung Lee, shared this timely message on his Facebook page today:
How careful are you that the atmosphere in you, that your state inside yourself, is of such a nature that the delicate things of God will not be destroyed? Such things will be destroyed by self-indulgence in such things as resentment, fear, hate, jealousy. All such attitudes produce a coarse atmosphere within a person, where the delicate plant cannot grow, where the delicate plant in fact will be destroyed. The way the world now is the atmosphere is so coarse that the things of God cannot exist here. They must first be placed in a womb, and the womb is provided by human beings, who were created for this purpose. We are the human beings through whom this development needs to take place, and we are responsible for maintaining security. —-Martin Cecil
There a beautiful hymn we used to sing in choir that speaks of the womb of the Earth for beauty to be born and our crowning role as emissaries of beauty and light. I’ll leave it with you to hold in your heart during this Christmas Season and throughout the coming year.
Our God did make the earth a place of beauty, love and light, Where skies and seas and all of life reveal Him with delight. For God did make the earth a womb where beauty might be born.
The flowers drink the rain and sun above the good brown earth, And do not seem to have to try to fill their life with worth. For God did make the earth a womb where beauty might be born.
And man He made with crowning care to share His majesty, To let His gifts of life appear, His glory ever be. For God did make the earth a womb where beauty might be born.
May your Christmas be a joyful celebration of the gift you are and the gifts of friends and family. Feel free to share my Christmas message with friends and loved ones. See you next year!
Merry Christmas . . . and Happy Hanukkah to our Jewish friends and neighbors!