Tuesday, March 31, 2009

He Outpoured Himself . . .

To reflect on one's own mind does not require education: as Jean Gerson (1363-1429) remarked, "Even women and idiots can reach the highest levels of contemplation." Humans have long understood that while self-consciousness—the awareness that we are aware, the observing I/eye—seems to distinguish us as humans from animals, its elision opens us to the divine. To realize our full humanity, we must put on divinity. To realize our divinity, we must put on the "mind of Christ" (the work of silence).

To put on the mind of Christ means a kenotic relinquishing all of the contents of our self-consciousness—experience, perspective, interpretation, emotion, imaginative stereotypes and projections—into silence so that we may be sprung from the trap of our own circular thinking. This breakout is salvation, for everything that we call "law" arises from the insecurity underlying the world of illusion we create with our self-consciousness, driven by its fear of death. (Heb. 2:15)

Imitation opposes the mind of Christ. To imitate is to pursue a life based on imaginative stereotypes and projections, which are easily formed and insinuated by a controlling hierarchy. Imitation, however piously and devoutly meant, becomes a kind of religious performance art, progressively reductive with the passage of time. Imitation breeds dependence on arbiters of stereotype and fear of consequence if one does not measure up. By contrast, putting on the mind of Christ results in an inviolable vulnerability, a healthy autonomy and an unshakeable integrity.

[For the full article, see "Jesus in the Balance" in Word and World, April, 2009]


Anonymous DFish said...

Hi Maggie,
For some reasons I'm still trying to be more aware of, this piece on kenosis, silence and imitation appears oppositional to my spiritual, desertlike experience that it somehow silently enrages me. It's the period in my spiritual journey when not even a personal spiritual director has God provided me with, and yes, despite the confusions and the pain of isolation. Virtual communities somehow are filling this gap. For example, the writings of Rev. Renee Miller nourish and sustain me in my meaning-making. I happen to get a job that requires me to work even on Sundays and churchgoing has been jeopardized so far. But on occasions that I join my community for the liturgical celebration, I am filled with awe. The liturgy become some sort of oasis. In liturgy, yes, there could be a lot of imitations. Are they necessarily imitation that's hierarchy-controlled and at the same time anti-kenosis, anti-silence? I guess this is the disturbing part of your piece as I cling to my occasional oasis that may be loaded with growth-hindering stereotypes or projections.

7:37 am, April 02, 2009  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

It's always hard to take a few paragraphs out of context. This article traces the history of the deliberate suppression of silence by the institution.

It also makes the psychological observation that we are more comfortable with our stereotypes and closed systems (e.g., spiritual fads) than with opening fully to the "mind of Christ". The former provides security (which in the end will not endure); the other calls us to what feels like a radical insecurity, but which is, in fact, the only genuine security. It's tough to learn this and no one ever said it wasn't. "Sit in your cell and your cell will teach you everything." "Seek into the beholding."

The article is not a critique of anyone's spiritual path, community, support group or liturgy, although the loss of silence affects all of these.

For myself, I find the most of the modern liturgies, at least in my area, unendurable. They are noisy, smug, banal and, at least for me, don't have anything to say about the mystery of God. Understanding of religion in this context becomes flattened and linear. The congregation is infantilized and encouraged to settle for the least they can be instead of being encouraged to realize their shared nature with God.

The loss of liturgy pointing beyond itself, along with the loss of silence as an interpretive tool and as a practice, is leading to some alarming consequences. Yesterday I received a copy of a letter from a bishop to his diocese stating that union with God is not the goal of Christianity, but rather concentrating on Jesus saving us from our sins.

This is a very pathological idea of salvation; salvation is precisely springing us from mental traps of our own making (particularly our narcissistic preoccupation with sin or negativity—this was Luther's problem, of course), and Jesus shows us how to do this. How we work out this salvation in our own lives is done with fear and trembling.

But the whole point of the great events of Holy Week, which we are about to celebrate, is that Jesus points beyond himself to the Father, and wishes us to do the same.

Bernard of Clairvaux says that the most important doctrine in the church is the Ascension because Jesus disappears. We must always strive to go beyond our images, which are useful but transient.

We live in alarming times from a religious point of view. We are losing the depth, the paradoxes and the understanding of why these paradoxes are necessary to religion (in part because they help link our superficial mind with our deep heart where we meet with God) as well as the meaning of scripture and our ability to interpret.

I've written in the past about the practice of silence as "work" because it is a much harder choice (and in this context, for the benefit of my Lutheran readers, work is not "works" but choice) than simply sitting back and finding stimulation and validation exterior to oneself. This is not a reflection on you or anyone else in particular; we do what we can, and nothing is wasted.

But the full depth of Christian (or Jewish, or Buddhist, or Hindu) religion lies in the journey into silence, and we are impoverished, and our relationships with others are jeopardized if we have not tapped into that wellspring.

Hope this helps.

4:25 pm, April 02, 2009  

Post a Comment

<< Home