Saturday, June 23, 2012

Progressive Christianity embracing Contemplative Christianity?

Richard Rohr
Richard Rohr (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Not that this hasn't happened before, although many contemplative Christians are rightly worried about being labeled into any kind of theological or political pigeon hole. After all, folks like Fr. Richard Rohr who focus on the contemplative dimensions of Christianity sure sound somewhat progressive; but he and others are concerned about the danger of labels as rough description becoming labels as ideological straightjackets.

In any case, it can only be a good thing for those who espouse post-modernist, liberal, or progressive Christianity to seriously embrace contemplative prayer, meditation, and the like. The big danger for the progressives is to try to make everything into an intellectualized symbol or metaphor in opposition to a literalized interpretation. It reduces the power of wonder and mystery to the neurological correlates and psychological effects of wonder and mystery.

In other words, it's just the progressive counter-point to the fundamentalist view but is still based primarily or entirely on "left-brain consciousness". The idea of simply being with the poetic imagery, the mythical narrative, and the like, being immediately open to it and within it and experiencing it directly, becomes unavailable. The fact that you may at one instance react to a scriptural passage or hymn or prayer on a literal level, and at another instance symbolic, or at other times seeing it with both perspectives at once, and at still other times the experience is so direct there is no discrimination or analysis at all, is only available when the intuitive, holistic, or "right-brain consciousness" is also honored and permitted.

The result is that the religious elements are cleaned up to strictly secular, modernistic standards, with nothing that sounds like superstition or supernaturalism, which is basically how left-brain consciousness mixed with cynicism sees the spiritual--as full of idiotic or ignorant woo. This is because the fundamentalists, who try to take the spiritual seriously but do so in a left-brain way, turn the spiritual into idiotic or ignorant woo. To outsiders, it's all assumed to just be the same, and progressive Christians are tempted to disavow the whole lot and make their religious heritage into harmless little stories that no one should really take too seriously.

I suggest that more progressive Christians may be embracing contemplative Christianity because the Center for Progressive Christianity has made a big push on this issue in their most recent email/newsletter, which starts with the following:
One of the great tragedies of modern Christianity has been the loss of Christian mysticism and the entire history of the Christian contemplatives. As scholars continue to dig deeper and study documents like those in the Nag Hammadi library with fresh eyes, a new Jesus is appearing-Jesus the Wisdom teacher. With fresh eyes and closer attention to the Gnostic Gospels, for example, some scholars now believe that Jesus was teaching a path of self-emptying that could lead to a transformative awareness of the Infinite Mystery we often call God. Are we progressives too scholarly, too much in our heads to experience a consciousness or awareness of the Divinity that is within us and in all things? Are we going to continue to ignore people like Origen, Hildegard of Bingen, Richard Rolle and Julian of Norwich to name just a few? Maybe it is time to take "God" out of our box and look to our teacher to lead us to a new awareness, to a communion with all that is god.
What follows are links to essays developing this theme. The excerpts and links are reproduced below for those who may be interested.

Oneness with Divinity
By: Fred Plumer

church in Provence
I have spent the last forty years trying to figure out what Jesus was really trying to teach us, and it is has become increasingly clear that his primary message was that the "Realm of God" or "Oneness with Divinity," is available in the here and now. He offered a path so that those who choose to follow it could experience this Realm as he did. It is not magic or a onetime thing but rather a way of living and seeing a different reality, imbued with divinity. The path or practice was and is about learning to break down barriers that separate us from all sentient beings through a process of letting go of our fears, our hatreds and our ego needs. This means, in part, letting go for our need to have social power, influence and status. It is about self emptying, or "kenosis."  

Progressive Christianity, Mysticism, and Healing
By: Bruce Epperly

jesus healing hands
For a number of years, I have challenged my fellow progressive Christians to recognize the importance of mysticism, spirituality, paranormal normal experiences, and healing for a holistic faith for the future. A recent Pew Center Report notes that 50% of persons who identify themselves as mainline Christians report having experiences of self-transcendence. The fact that every other mainstream or progressive Christian reports an encounter with the Holy suggests that a holistic and spirit-centered progressive theology must take mysticism, spirituality, and healing seriously. Too often, we progressives have separated spirituality from social action, faith from social concern, and personal healing from global transformation. We have also minimized the efficacy of prayer, healing touch, and healing ministry of Jesus, assuming that they can only be understood in modernist, supernaturalistic categories. Scandalized by the antics of television faith healers, many progressives have rejected healing practices altogether.  

Seeing Things as if for the First Time
By: Chris Glaser

Mystics, too, see the world and God "as if for the first time" as they cast aside expectations and look beyond tradition to embrace imagination as spiritual artists and poets, and welcome fresh insight as spiritual children. Remember the famous story of Thomas Merton's vision at a Louisville intersection, after a prolonged solitary retreat, that people were "walking around shining like the sun."

Mystics, artists, poets, and children are all "progressives" in this sense.

Vanishing Jesus and the Mystical Coming of Christ: A Lectionary Reflection on Mark 1:29-39
By: David Henson

jesus on water
When people most seek him, Jesus runs away.
When people finally get an inkling, a glimpse of who he is, Jesus disappears.
When people at last realize that there is something different about this teacher and healer, Jesus vanishes, eager almost in his need to be absent and alone.
Unwilling to be found, to be known, to be contained or owned.
This, of course, isn't the same Jesus we learn of in Sunday School, the Jesus who says that all who seek him will find him. Rather, his actions in the gospel of Mark seem to say that the more we seek him the more quickly we will lose him.


Why Mysticism Matters
By: Andrew Cohen

Have you ever had a mystical experience? Wikipedia defines "mysticism" as "the knowledge of, and especially the personal experience of, states of consciousness, or levels of being, or aspects of reality, beyond normal human perception, including experience of and even communion with a supreme being."

The transformative power of mystical experiences is that they can convey to us, in a way that our rational faculties can never grasp, that no matter what happens to our bodies and personalities in the world of time and space, mysteriously, at some other level, in another dimension of our own being, beyond the mind, everything is always okay.

Water Into Wine
By: Jim Burklo

wine barrel and grapes
Winemaking continues to be miraculous, commonplace though it may be. The grape juice in the vat just sits there and turns into something other than grape juice. It turns into a substance that tantalizes the tongue, dazzles the mind, lightens the heart.
It can happen to you, too.
Yes, you can sit there, in silence and stillness, and be transformed into a new being. And you don't have to drink wine to do it, either!
In the vat, fermenting, processes are underway in the juice of the grapes that cannot be seen with the naked eye. Uncountable trillions of yeast bacteria are going through their quick life cycles, eating the sugars and excreting them as alcohol, and doing other subtle and un-measurable things to add flavor to the wine. There is so much going on in wine vats and in oak barrels that no winemaker, no enologist, can possibly give it a full scientific explanation. Someone in my church told me that the only liquid that is more complex than wine is human blood.  

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That concludes the list of essays.
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  1. you are invited to follow my blog

  2. Thank you for the invitation, but I've had more than enough exposure to such views of Christianity. Be well.


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