Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Gratitude for now

From Simone Weil, Waiting for God (Putnam, 1951)
p. 88
Near the beginning of her letter of May 26, 1942, published under the title "Last Thoughts", Simone Weil wrote:
"I do not need any hope or any promise in order to believe that God is rich in mercy. I know this wealth of his with the certainty of experience; I have touched it. What I know of it through actual contact is so far beyond my capacity of understanding and gratitude that even the promise of future bliss could add nothing to it for me; since for human intelligence the addition of two infinites is not an addition."

This is the essence of human religion--to love and be thankful as a pure, formless response to having tasted the goodness of God. Whatever can be said about human nature and the disciplines of moral correction or mental attention that are therapeutic or atoning, it is reality itself, experienced at its essence as infinite grace, infinite love, infinite compassion, that is salvation.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Last hours of Christmas

Today the question of “who is Jesus?” still matters to many people. To some it is still causes enough irritation to be a cause for argument.

Surveying the contemporary scene we find many well-meaning ways of trying to clear up the confusion.

Historical/Critical scholars variously describe him as

A charismatic healer and rabbi, especially gifted in Midrash, the creative reinterpretation of scripture

A peasant revolutionary

A Stoic philosopher

Essentially a fictional figure, a creation of the gospel writers

A composite archetype created from a synthesis of the mythological and legendary background of the Eastern Mediterranean.

A wise sage, whose teachings accord with the “perennial philosophy” found in the fundamental teachings of the world’s wisdom traditions,

A mystic, someone who had attained a particularly intense and profound spiritual consciousness.

Maybe even a yogic adept, shown by ancient scriptures and oral tradition to have traveled in the East during his youth and mastered all the spiritual teachings of India and Tibet.

Or, we can stand at yet a further distance from him and analyze his significance in terms of his impact on history, how Western Civilization has been changed for the better because of his influence, or evaluate whether the practical application of his teachings makes people happier or morally better.

But all these ways of understanding Jesus share a fundamental skepticism about the unequivocal claim made about him, even in his own words, in the Gospels. They are all ways of describing his origin, his power, and his purpose in finite and graspable concepts which we can accept or reject, approve or deny.

To tell you the truth, the same could be said of the proposition that “Jesus Christ is the Messiah, the incarnate Word of God the Father, the second person of the Holy Trinity, the only-begotten Lord and Savior of all humankind” if it is rattled off as a statement of fact and the last word in an argument, rather the preamble to a life of openness to the indescribable riches of grace.

One way or another, these approaches represent the safe way to go, but none will bring us the peace that eludes us.

They each make their own kind of sense, but none will make of us a new creation.

So who is he?

When we stand before the infant Jesus, cradled in his mother’s arms, what do we see but ourselves, fresh-sprung from the mystery of the infinite?

We can never receive the whole gift of who we are unless we follow the call that draws us toward Christ, follow it all the way back to its source in God. That is why the world grumbles in frustration, looking vainly for God in the mirror. “No one has seen the father except the one who is of the father, this one sees the father.” Our own refusal to be from God, to be in the world as one doing the will of God, to have no purpose or identity other than one derived from God--how could it diminish the one who is like that?

On the other hand, to deny that gift when it lies before us, waving its little arms and crying for milk—how very, very sad that is.

About Me

My photo
Petaluma, California, United States
I am a priest in the Episcopal Church, and have been (among other things) an organic farmer and gardener, and a Zen monk. I have a lifelong interest in social and spiritual renewal on the basis of contemplative discipline, creative nonviolence, and ecological practice. In recent years my work has focused intensely on the responsibility of pastoral ministry in the humanistic, evangelical, and catholic branch of Christianity known as Anglicanism. I'm married with a daughter, and have three brothers and two parents.