Monday, July 09, 2007

VI The Human Experience of God at Turning Points: A Theological Expose of Spiritual Counterfeits

The humility of Christ: we seem to have forgotten that for any worship, thought, or activity to be called “Christian” it must be rooted in the humility of Christ. In attempting to discern what is salvagable both in scriptural and ecclesial tradition, in sorting out what is cultural bias and what is essential, in recovering the life-enhancing religious symbols that have been put to corrupt use, we seem to forget, amid hurled accusations of prejudiced selectivity, that we do in fact have the criterion we need, and that is the humility of Christ. In Christian typology the Tree of the Cross, which is the humility of Christ, recapitulates and transfigures the tree of the Garden, which is the lust for control beyond the capacity of the creature.

The tree of the Garden and the Tree that is the Cross show us the two models of power: the immaturity and destructiveness or the maturity and transfiguration to which each leads. Put simply, the presumption to control that is the religion of the marketplace creates a self-reflective, dualistic, hierarchical system that rules by constraint, fragmentation, co-dependence, isolation, delusion, and noise.

By contrast, the humility of Christ shows us the interdependent egalitarianism of the desert, its unity in diversity. The humility of Christ rules by aspiration and silence. Its ritual patterns express encounter with God in the solitude of the heart, an encounter entered for the sake ofthe community of creation. Thus in Christianity, sacrifice is transformed from an exercise in exteriorized surrogacy, to the offering of each of our embodied lives.

Our bodies are the altar God gives us on which to make this sacrifice which is commingled Christ’s indwelling, and is to be reverenced as such. Far from being abstract beauty that can be approached only when sullied matter is discarded, the Beauty of the divine humility chooses to be marred. The density that is its glory generates and radiates life, integrity, and freedom to all that springs from its source, and its rule is unconditional love.

Conversion from slavery to the puppetmaster to freedom in the wounded God is a continuous and ever-deepening process, and requires that each person become a theologian. If we are to embrace the issues of power and suffering, we may not simply make an intellectual assent. Rather, our whole being, conscious and unconscious, matter and spirit, is integrated and focused singly and wholly toward the divine, open and responsive to the divine indwelling. We seek not only healing, which is a sign of our mortality, we seek transfiguration, which is our life in God.

We need to be converted from the puppetmaster-god to the humility of Christ. Every time we condemn, we mirror the puppetmaster. When we condemn people because of their sexual orientation, we are committing precisely the sin of Sodom, because we are acting out of fear—fear of what people will say, fear of going against prevailing opinion, fear of our own unresolved sexual fears; we are turning to the secure controlling surrogacy of an idol. When we condemn people because of their sexuality, we cripple not only their ability to relate; we cripple all relationships, including our own. We drown in the effluent of our repression.

A Christian morality does not merely reflect prevailing opinion but more often is called on to transform prevailing opinion. The degree to which we have the courage to go to the heart of pain to find new life, joy, and love is the degree to which we enter the humility of Christ’s sacrifice, and our willingness to be part of that sacrifice is the measure of our priesthood and our Eucharist whether or not we are ordained. Priesthood is commitment to a sacrificial way of being; and this commitment is not, and cannot be bestowed by ministerial ordination.

The humility of Christ rules by love, and this love alone is our security; it is this love alone that sets our life in an open place with all the risks of freedom. By contrast, here are some of the means by which western culture tries to seduce us into the consumer counterfeit of our transfiguration in Christ.

First, the culture suggests we substitute self-reflection for self-forgetfulness. This is a particular danger of the spiritual journey: we become fixed on our selves instead of God, and we worry about what people think of us. In so-called spiritual direction, for example, there is often the temptation to move someone into the light when they are in fact in darkness. However well-intentioned, this is a move into false light; the move itself is a lie, and if not properly discerned can become demonic. If we measure our selves or others against any false horizon, or use a false horizon for discernment, we are in illusion. Transformation takes place out of our sight by grace and can be measured only by the coordinates of grace.

To cite another example, it is obvious that if I ask “am I self-forgetful” I am not. Instead of yielding to these counterfeits, we rather undertake what prayer and work seem wise, and wait on God in the darkling light. While we may speak of darkness and light, we ultimately wait where there is neither darkness nor light, or, if you prefer, beyond which darkness and light are both alike. In the end, experience is distracting and falls away, for we are no longer self-reflective because we have been found in God. Put another way, experience of God no longer is episodic, and in its continuity, it is no longer experienced as “experience of God”.

Another seduction is the confusion of self-image and self-esteem for self-respect. To create a self-image is illusion; to settle for self-esteem at the expense of self-respect leads to moral chaos and despair. Self-respect arises from self-forgetfulness. We cannot ponder Matthew 18 often enough to drive this home. Do not distract the little ones from their gaze on God, for you make them aware of their status—or lack of it—from a marketplace point of view. You drag them back into the power-struggles of a merely linear world.


Post a Comment

<< Home