Tuesday, May 24, 2011

In the presence of Christ and beyond Christ: the contigent and the universal within Christianity

Jesus is considered by scholars such as Weber ...Image via Wikipedia
The following was initially written as a reply summarizing and clarifying how I would describe certain aspects of Christianity in relation to the transcendent and immanent, specifically how the historical aspects of the life of Jesus relate to themes that are found in spiritual insights around the world. I therefore write in broad terms, especially in terms of the history of the church. I oversimply and over-extend. But it does give a rough and raw overview.

The reality of the present moment is at the convergence of transcendent and immanent. It transcends concepts, observations, opinion, preferences, assumptions, and the like, but it does so because it is grounded in itself, the basis of all of that is immanent, or even "immanence itself" as some theologian might say. It is the here and now.

Not the idea of here and now, nor a mindless stupor, but a deep awareness. The ego assumes awareness, i.e. the presence of God, the peace of the Lord, etc, is cold and inhuman because it cannot conceive that there is anything other than itself, so if it isn't running the show, it presumes there will be some lifeless void. But the (Tibetan) Buddhists describe it as luminous. In the West it is called divine. The Japanese Buddhist and community organizer Jose Toda said it (the nature of the Buddha) was life itself. There is no need to "try to get" anywhere, and certainly not outside of history and context, as these are relative and take place within the absolute.

Instead, the idea is to not see history and context as fixed or as the total of reality, but as a passing reflection of a fraction of it's full depth. There can be no true "dynamic and changing process" if we live our lives in the psychological past or future. That is, we don't see what is but rather characters and feelings from the past, or we constantly worry about what we think will happen based on that same script. The script that says who we've been, who we are supposed to be now, and who we are supposed to be in the future. Throw away the script. Learn from the past, plan for the future, but transcend the script. The aspect of oneself that has a historical thread (our physical bodies, memories, ideas, etc) can be a vehicle for manifesting such depth, and isn't to be rejected, but when it becomes an end unto itself and tries to cling to something for a permanent sense of identity, that's when the trouble begins. There is then no winnowing away, there is the discovery of depth.

The story of Jesus is very interesting, because he is a Jew and uses Jewish conventions. Hence the eternal present, the awareness of now, the depth of Being, etc, is addressed as "God" or "Father". And to show his intimacy with this depth, he even uses the inflection which turns "Father" into "Daddy", as a small innocent child would use the term. He tries to convey his awareness of God by referring to being in the Father and the Father being in him, by referring to himself as the son of God, etc. He and the Gospel writers (sometimes it's hard to tell which is which) as well as the Apostle Paul also use the contrast between Adam and Christ. Adam represents humans who forget they are already created in the image of God, who are existentially unhappy and think they need to "be" more. This "fall" is the error of believing one is strictly one's ego. Its attendant need to (im)prove itself and reinforce its sense of solidity is countered by the image of Christ, the mantle attributed to Jesus, who by contrast is selfless and goes wherever the wind blows with no place to lay his head. There is a line that goes "as in Adam we fall, in Christ we rise." So now the question is how do we relate to this.

If we go the ego root, the way of the flesh, then Christ is merely Jesus' last name. As such Christ is an object, distinct from us, into which we can vicariously tune or attach ourselves to in some weird magical way. Or, also in this ego mode, we can say Christ is just a nice idea, a psychic meme, a helpful myth, etc, and again Christ is just an object. It makes no difference if the object is mostly material, conceptual, intellectual, etc. This is why people got into all of those early heresy arguments that are reflected in divisions of the church to this day. It's all about Christ as object. It's all about ego. But if repentance is awakening the limitations of the flesh, of the ego, and renouncing its efforts to "save" itself, to earn a right to exist, etc, and to realize that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand (within you), then Christ is not simply some Jew named Jesus, let alone some super-powered Jew names Jesus. Christ is a universal experience of becoming open to God. And in that, there is no first or last. There is no greatest nor least. There is no honor or shame or gain or loss, no treasure or poverty. Those labels are meaningless.

The trouble is, ego hates that. Flesh can't stand that. So Jesus tries to teach in examples people will understand and also tries to confound their expectations. But most folks who heard him heard with the ears of the ego. Not everyone had those spiritually open "ears to hear", as some Biblical contributors described it. So they imagined God on a throne and Jesus as his homeboy, as king and lord and head of the church. Trouble is, that makes sense in terms of Jesus' life and teachings only in an ironic sense. Without (being ruled by) ego there is no need for such distinctions. It's like saying, "Oh the world has kings and wants to know our king. OK, it's this guy, who was homeless, wasn't possessed by ego, gave his life to serving others, and was executed for not playing ego's power games." It's like saying, "Oh, you have your tribal or royal emblem, the banner you use to identify yourself. You want to know our emblem? Here it is, the image of physical and psychological agony and death." Because, it doesn't make sense to follow Jesus and have a tribe or kingdom, let alone a king or emblem, but the early Christians kind of threw it back at those who only understood such things.

Unfortunately, many of them also forgot or didn't believe what Jesus was teaching, so factions emerged which tried to emulate the world. Their choices became traditions and then rather than being alive in Christ, as it were, alive in the presence of God, in the eternal now, many preferred clinging to the after-image, not as reminders of the present and the teachings which help us remember it, but to escape it (i.e. God) altogether and continue living the life of the ego. Even though the Old and New Testaments talk about daily bread and living water, many kept and keep trying to hoard it and store it away as some kind of wealth, but the mana in the wilderness became rotten with maggots and the living water becomes slimy and evaporates. And so basically this tension, the same one Jesus called out in his own time with issues surrounding the temple and the Pharisees and all of that, never went away.

The two aspects are still alive and well in the church today, but historical events such as the rise of rationalism and empiricism in terms of religiosity were seized by the ego-driven wing and reinforced a lot of what people can't stand about the church today. The mystical element was nearly wiped out in the West during the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, because on the protestant side it was too "Roman" and not practical enough for people in the north, and within Roman Catholicism it was turned into romantic emotionalism. It wasn't until Buddhism and Taoism started making inroads into western Europe and North America that we saw the start of the current revival of the contemplative traditions in the Roman Catholic and Protestant spheres.

So, no, the contingent in Christianity and the life of Jesus are not trivial, but it is too easy to make them into idols and to follow a corpse, not the risen Christ. Which doesn't just refer to a single person. Otherwise Jesus is a magic act. Look at me, I heal people and raise myself from the dead. It's also why I find the crucifix so powerful. Not the dressed up polite ones, but the ones that practically drip with sweaty horror, agony, and denial, where you think the figure is actually alive and at the point of death and of desperately wanting to die being in so much pain. Jesus was abandoned by his closest friends, publicly humiliated and slandered at trial and sentencing, physically tortured, and then killed in a fashion reserved for the worst of criminals and degenerates. That is pretty much everything the flesh--the ego--fears. It is the end of everything ego believes itself to be: physical form, reputation, etc. The truest part of Jesus, beyond any form (physical construction, mental construction, conception, etc) could not be harmed or killed. That is what left the tomb.

Recall that resurrection doesn't mean resuscitation. It is more like a seed dying to become a new plant. Moreover, I am of the same mind as those who suggest Jesus was resurrected at his Baptism, but only spiritually keen people would have been able to know it. For everyone else, who saw with the eyes of the flesh, it wasn't until Jesus had died in every way possible for the ego to die that anyone could see past those forms. I find it wonderful and unsurprising that the first one to make this leap was a woman. Even Thomas couldn't get his head around it at first because he was so identified with form only as identity, especially the body (he and Philip after all clearly were shown to think this way in the Gospel of John when they didn't know where Jesus was going that they couldn't follow and then asked to "see" the Father). To me that's why we tell the story of his touching the wounds. It's isn't to prove or argue about a physical resurrection or insist it was just the same body patched together.

But again, for too many I fear, the ego takes over and all of this becomes a good thing because it means we don't have to really die to ourselves, to our fixed sense of who we are, and because Jesus "did" A, B and C we "get" X, Y and Z. Typical ego-think. And of course, what ego "wants" to "get"? Hmm? And then the ego wants to define and classify "what" was resurrected, and "how" and on and on, missing the point of the mystery of it. The ineffability of it. OK, well, I think that gives the gist of what I'm saying.
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