Human beings seek to be happy, to know the truth, to do good. In this quest we find fulfillment and happiness. A life of mere pleasure-seeking, of constant entertainment, of restless money-making, of power-seeking, will not bring one happiness or truth, and will not help one become a truly good human being.
To the best of my knowledge, three different and especially profound ways to live well and happily have emerged in human history: life under God as explored by Hebrew prophets, Jesus, and the saints; the discovery of reason and the search for wisdom and happiness as lived and taught by Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and their philosopher-disciples; and the way of the Buddha with the search for inner calm and insight. To these three irreplaceable ways one should also add the works of science and scholarship that may usefully contribute to one’s search for happiness and truth. (Historically, western science is an offshoot of Greek philosophy.).
In my judgement, one seeking to live happily, and to understand the truth about man’s place in reality, should have recourse to Judaeo-Christian spirituality; to reason and the life of the mind that is philosophy; to meditative practices as developed within the Buddhist tradition; and to the best insights from science. There are other spiritual traditions that are very rich indeed, and no doubt one can draw spiritual nourishment from them (such as from Hinduism, the Tao, or from native American spirituality). One way or another, four enormous figures of human history keep presenting themselves in my search: Moses as the carrier of the I AM; Jesus as the human being fully immersed in God; Socrates and the unending quest for truth by means of right reasoning, with its openness to divine reality; the Buddha and the quest for inner peace and freedom from suffering.
As I look back on my life, and consider how to spend time remaining for me on earth, these figures keep emerging as demanding my attention and study. Moses is known primarily through the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, in the Law, and in the Chosen People; Jesus is known through the same scriptures, but above all in lovingly doing the will of God and in the lives of His saintly people; Socrates is known through right reasoning, and especially as embodied in the texts of Plato and Aristotle, and their learned disciples through the ages; and the Buddha is known through his teaching, (the Buddha-dhamma), and through diligently practicing mindfulness-meditation.
The ways of the prophets, of Jesus, of Socrates, and of the Buddha, are not identical, nor can they be unthinkingly harmonized or “syncretized.” Each of these ways is valid, and requires a committed life. To give an example of an enormous tension between them—a tension demanding much study and thought—Moses and Jesus lead one into the mystery we call “God.” Socrates, open to all truth, respects “the gods” and God, but employs reason as moved through an inner dialogue with divine reality as it presents itself to consciousness. The Buddha is consistently non-theistic, avoiding all speculation on the gods, and any explicit reliance on divine help in the search for inner peace.
For years I have allowed my faith in God and Christ to be illumined through the life of reason as developed by Socrates and the best human minds who have written philosophy. On this path I have very far to go, but I found reliable models, as in St. Anselm, with his “faith seeking understanding.” The more difficult challenge is to explore and live more fully the mutual penetration of the way of Christ and the way of the Buddha. While being true to the God of Moses and of Jesus Christ, and true to right reasoning, I must seek to practice meditation as guided not only by Christian mystics and saints, but by Buddhist meditators. Only in meditative practice, and in right living, can one gain insight into how living faith in God, the life of reasoning, and the Buddhistic way of “being lights unto yourselves” are essentially one, or harmonize. For all that is true is good, and worth seeking.
One must live the truth to understand it. Otherwise, one is merely speculating and playing intellectual games—an enormous problem in our culture and in mass education today. The light of Christ, of Socrates, and of the Buddha all reveal our culture and contemporary ways of living as deeply flawed and self-destructive. In the question of Jesus, “What does it profit a man, to gain the whole world, and lose his life?” In the Socratic insight, “the unexamined life is not worth living.” And in the light of the Buddha, “To cross the stream of life, bale out this boat!”
"Do this in memory of me.” Do what in memory of whom? Jesus said: “Whenever you eat my Body, and Drink my blood, do it in memory of me.” Why did Jesus say this at “the Last Supper?” Was he being selfish telling us to remember him?
In general, it is good and enriching to remember the noble deeds and characteristic actions of truly good human beings. The action of Jesus which he tells us to remember is first of all what he did at his last meal before being crucified. Knowing what was about to take place, Jesus took bread, gave thanks to God, broke the bread, and gave it to his disciples to eat. The action itself, in the context of the Passover meal, is clearly rooted both in the Exodus event and in Jewish family meals and prayers. And then in a similar way, after supper, Jesus lifted up the cup of wine, gave thanks to God, and asked his disciples to drink from the one cup. Again, the action befits the Passover, the celebration of the LORD God leading His people, through Moses, from captivity in Egypt to freedom under God. Jesus gave his disciples bread and wine in the context of the Passover meal as a memorial for keeping his disciples mindful of what Christ did for each and for all. He makes of us an Exodus people: human beings on a journey through death-in-self into the sheer peace and freedom of God.
The prayer and sharing of the bread and wine, with the command to “do this in memory of me,” are not rooted in themselves, nor do they point simply to themselves. Rather, they direct our minds directly to Jesus Christ and to what he did for us and for all in his ultimate self-giving act of love, even unto death by the brutal torture of crucifixion. Christ established what he called “the new covenant in my blood” through his life-giving death on the cross; and he established the memorial for the new covenant at the Passover Last Supper. Jesus used the rich meaning of the Passover to throw light on his suffering unto death for us, and to show us the way to the new Exodus into God.
Christ is teaching us, among other things, that the God who led His people out of bondage in Egypt through Moses is now leading his disciples from the bondage of sin and death into life eternal in God. This is the new Exodus. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself,” as the Apostle Paul explains.The evangelist John similarly turns the life-giving action of Christ into a lesson for every disciple: “As I have done for you, so you also must do for one another.” And what must one do for each other? Give oneself up in love to bring each other into union with God.
Is this explanation of “Do this in memory of me” too familiar, and perhaps too superficial? Familiar it is. But let’s bear in mind that the depth of the meaning comes not from the words used to interpret Christ’s Eucharistic gift to us. Whatever real depth of meaning is in the Eucharist comes from the depth of Christ’s love, which surely is in the mystery of God—in the mystery of the divine abyss. We may peer into this abyss, but not see. Love alone understands love. Only to the extent that one “goes and does likewise,” that one is self-giving as Christ is self-giving, can one truly understand the Eucharistic feast. The man, woman, or child, who comes to the table /altar of the Lord, and humble and lovingly surrenders “all that I am, all that I have,” is the one who has a genuine understanding of the Eucharist. “Just as I am, without one plea…”
“Do this in memory of me.” Do what in memory of Christ? Ultimately, the entire orientation of our lives ought to be “in memory of Me,” in a faith-union with the Christ who “humbled himself, and became obedient into death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2). As we consciously remember who Christ is, and what He has done for us and for all, and as we put into daily practice his abandonment of a self-centered life in all of its forms for the good of others, then we truly are living “in memory of Me.”
After thirty-five years of functioning as a Benedictine brother and priest in the Catholic Church, it is evident that the faithful are often fairly aware that they do not understand well what is meant by “the Holy Spirit”? In general, the entire mystery of God—symbolized as “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”—baffles our people, and that is good, for in speaking of God in any way, we are entering into the realm of divine mystery. That means that we are speaking about reality that lies beyond our physical and mental grasp, beyond our mortal understanding.
Even our human condition—and particularly what it means to be a human being—is far more difficult to understand than we often assume. For we dwell in shadows, between light and darkness, but often mistakenly believe that we are in the light. Far wiser is the saying inscribed above the portal at Delphi in ancient Greece: “Know thyself—that you are a human being, and not a god.” One cannot know what it is to be human without knowing the divine; and the divine is ever beyond our under-standing. Superficial minds and the intellectual elites of our day flatten out human existence so much that they think they know who or what we are. In effect, they seek to bring our common humanity down to their shrunken level. They even think that they know what “the self” is, or what you mean when you say, “I.” Do you really know what you mean when you say, “I”? Herakleitos said that he could not find the borders or limits of his soul, so great is its divine depth. On a practical level—for action in this world—yes, you have an initial grasp that allows you to act. But if you keep still, and seek to find who or what you are, and if you are open-minded (a very big “if” indeed in this day and age)—then you will discover that you do not know what you think you know. All of one’s knowing about oneself, the world, and what we call “God” is far more unknown than known, and largely beyond our understanding, and surely beyond our ability to grasp or to control. The way of wisdom begins as one wakes up and realizes, “I really do not know what I have been talking about—myself, you, or what is called “God.” Like Job, one realizes: “I did not know what I was talking about.” So begins the journey into wisdom.
If one is led to realize, “I do not truly know myself well, and I barely know who or what God is,” then one is being led by the Holy Spirit. That is called humility; and “humility is endless.” The Spirit shows us that we do not know as we ought to know, nor do we know why we have so much difficulty understanding “the things of God.” If one thinks, “I know who I am, and I know God,” then one is truly self-deceived, and is living in darkness unenlightened by the divine presence. If one claims, “I know that there is no God,” one deeply immersed in an impenetrable cesspool of self-deception, and remains imprisoned in that muck.
The way into the realm of the Holy Spirit begins with a penetrating insight into one’s own ignorance—and with an awareness that one has shared in this ignorance by pretending not to be in darkness. We deceive ourselves more than we like to admit. When one has been “in the Church” for many years, and still has a weak insight into the workings of the Holy Spirit, one would do well to admit, “I know far less than I have thought I knew.”
When I was a young man, speaking with a leading philosopher to understand the spiritual experiences of the Apostle Paul, we mentioned St. Paul’s frequent recourse to writing about “the Holy Spirit.” I asked the philosopher, “What is the Holy Spirit?” He looked me in the eyes and asked, “What do you think is moving you to ask your questions?” His question was a gift of the Spirit; and my questioning was a sharing in the Spirit. The Spirit provokes wonder and questioning.
How refreshing it is when we in the Church become aware that we do not grasp well the divine mystery to which we often give lip service.
Who or what is “the Holy Spirit?”
The “upper room discourse,” comprises chapters 13-17 of the “Gospel of John,” and has no real equivalent in any of the other Gospels. It is by far the most extended conversation between Jesus and his disciples found in any of our four canonical Gospels. By style and content, this dialogical discourse clearly appears to be a composition by the author whom we know as “John.” The man wrote the discourse out of his mystical experience of the presence of Christ to him, with him, in him. If one doubts the origin in a mystical union, read the passages slowly and prayerfully, and see if they do not speak to your own union with Christ; they cannot be understood by private, secular, inner-worldly “reason,” but are communicated by the Spirit to a man or woman attuned to “the Spirit of truth.” Apart from spiritual attunement (which is a living union with God), these words make little or no sense. A truly spiritual human being from any tradition who reads these words will feel at home in them. They are one of the mystical masterpieces in all of literature.
That the discourse is set on the verge of Christ’s death is highly significant: they are presented as his parting words, his final conversation with his inner circle of disciples—and hence with those of us who are his intimate friends, living on the edge of eternity. And these words have much meaning to a man or woman who is aware of existing between time and eternity, and striving to live in communion with Christ, with the divine reality that he makes present. If your heart and mind are set primarily on fulfillment in this present life—possessions, wealth, status, family—these words will sound like “double-talk,” or “nonsense,” as I have heard one clergyman characterize them. Again, what is engendered out of communion with God must be understood by someone living in that same spiritual tension—life stretching into eternity beyond death. Otherwise, they are only words to be believed or not, rather than an analysis of existence in Christ—that is, of a genuine spiritual life.
The discourse spoken and heard between time and eternity leaves no doubt that the genuine Christian life, lived in accordance with the spirit of truth, the holy Spirit, is not what is often peddled by the churches: “If you believe in Jesus, you are saved; if you do not believe in Jesus, you are going to hell.” The variations of this over-simplification and distortion of spiritual truth depend on the particular denomination; the Catholic variety is more often “receive the Sacrament, and be saved; miss Mass and be damned.” If verses in John’s Gospel can be lifted out of context and be used by peddlers of a vulgarized Christianity, the dialogical discourse spoken by the Word within the attentive, loving mind serves to reground the disciple in the truth of divine-human communion: “Yet a little while and the world will behold me no more, but you will behold [or, gaze upon] me, because I live and you will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I in you.” The word “behold” or “gaze upon” is not a seeing with bodily eyes, but an inner awareness of divine presence. The mutual indwelling or communion of the divine with the human is accomplished not by “religious beliefs,” or even by faith alone, but by mutual love. On the human side of the partnership, this love is not a sentimental feeling, but utter obedience to will of God: “He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me…If one loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him, and make our home with him….”
God is at home in the one at home in God. The dwelling place of God is in the soul or consciousness of the faithful-loving disciple, who humbly contemplates the word of Christ, who keeps his word, doing God’s will. The cult of worshiping God in the Temple has been replaced by the simplicity of reverencing God in one’s heart through listening to the Word and incarnating the word in the world through loving action. The Creator-God is also the Saving-God, at home and at work in the obedient disciple, through whom Christ continues his transforming Presence in the human community. Truth is not a collection of doctrinal formulations, but a process of becoming one in faithful love with the one who “loved us to the end.”
"Symbol” comes from the Greek word symbolein,literally meaning “to throw together,” or “to bring together.” Symbols united reality. In the case of our language about God, symbols are intended to bring together the divine and the human. Despite claims in popular culture, God and humankind are not identical: one is the cause, the other is an effect of that cause; the divine is wholly free from space-time, whereas we human beings exist in space-time. To communicate anything about divine reality, symbols are needed. And among these symbols are words, or language symbols, as well as gestures, art, and music. Symbols are needed for mind to communicate with mind.
All of our language about Jesus is symbolic, and needs to be properly interpreted. A mind must search for the meaning intended by another mind. To understand the meaning of word symbols requires mental effort. Most of us have learned that many people put insufficient effort into seeking to understand someone’s meaning. Often we think we understand the words of another, but we do not, or we “do not know as we ought to know,” using St. Paul’s phrase. The evangelists employed language symbols to communicate to ancient readers the truth and beauty of their experience of “life in Christ Jesus.” These writers felt so much joy and spiritual renewal through their union with God in Christ, that they wanted to share their joy, and did so by writing down their thoughts and circulating them. The evangelist John, a master in the use of language symbols, has Christ Jesus declare: “I have come that you may have Life—Life more abundantly.” Clearly that is the evangelist’s experience of what he has found through faith-union with Christ.
One must seek to understand word-symbols in light of the experiences of the one speaking or writing. As any adult knows, the word “love” has vastly different meanings, depending on the one using the word, on the occasion, on the intention of the one speaking. One way that the evangelist John sought to communicate his experience of Christ was by using the Jewish symbol of God as the good shepherd, as in the 23rd psalm, “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want….” The evangelist experienced himself being guided, tended, shepherded by God in and through his faith-response to Christ. In calling Jesus “the Good Shepherd,” the evangelist tells us that he experiences the love and providential care of God in and through the Resurrected Christ. “I will not leave you orphans, I will come to you,” John writes, speaking for the Resurrected. “I am the vine, you are the branches.” “I am the good shepherd, who lays down his life for his sheep.” “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father, except through me.” All such expressions written by the evangelist John testify to his experience of God through his loving faith-union with the Risen Christ.
And whom, we may ask, does God shepherd in Christ? A reasonable answer would be: everyone who allows God to rule and to guide him into true Life. Potentially, this includes every human being. But each of us has discovered in ourselves an ability to turn away, to rebel, or simply to ignore the silent, subtle promptings of God as he seeks to shepherd us. We are not likened to sheep because we are wise, prudent, and understanding, but because we “often go astray like sheep,” to use the language of Deutero-Isaiah. (Perhaps we can even at times be justly likened to mules, “who must be driven to pasture by blows.” Can you ever be like a mule?)
To call Christ “the good shepherd” is a way of saying that he is the rightful, just ruler over humankind—over and in all human beings potentially, and actually over those who submit to his gentle and wise rule. All who “do the will of my Father” belong to Christ. Ultimately, as St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, Christ is the head over all of humanity. He is not the head of one group only, or of some “elected” or “saved” individual beings, but over each and all of us, from the beginning of history to the end. That is why we call Christ “LORD.” He is the beginning and end of each one of us, and of all of us together. To you, to me, to everyone, the Risen One says: “You are mine. I have given my life for you, so that you may know true love, peace, and happiness.” Such is Jesus, “the good shepherd.”
“Familiarity breeds contempt.” Yes, it may. In the realm of the spirit, familiarity can more likely breed dullness or staleness, an unwillingness to question or to think, a belief that if one just “believes” what is said, that suffices, and then one can be left “free” to live as one wishes.Then “religious belief” becomes a comfortable way to keep distant from God: perhaps useful as “fire insurance,” but of little or no effect in one’s daily life.That is comfortable for those who want spiritual “comfort” above all else. And it is safe indeed for those who want “blessed assurance,” and “home security.”
For all of us, the Gospel stories about Jesus have become so familiar, that we do not hear them as fresh and alive. We may not even try to listen, but indulge in comforting daydreaming when the Gospels are read, or the homily is preached. Part of the problem for clergy in preparing to preach on this Sunday’s passage from the Gospel of John, and for lay folks who hear it, is that much of this Gospel has been simplified and incorporated into diverse teachings of the Church, and these teachings in turn serve to keep one from hearing the Word sounding within. Jesus’ words to “Receive the Holy Spirit” becomes a formula to the Apostles, who in turn become a means to guarantee the security and longevity of the institutional church, “founded on the Apostles.”
On the other hand, to listen with faith requires that one’s mind is open, that one is searching, asking questions, with an ongoing awareness that one really does not know well the truth of God. “If you think you know, you do not know as you ought to know,” as the Apostle Paul wrote in words that sound genuinely Socratic—and wise. With an attentive, engaged mind, one actually listens to what is being said here and now, not primarily to what one thinks was said years ago to saintly men and women entombed in a book. In other words, you are the one being addressed. The living word of God is always personal, always from the mind of God to the mind of an attentive human being. In the recurring words of Orthodox liturgy: “Be attentive; holy things for the holy.”
Let’s take next Sunday’s gospel, the famous Emmaus Road story, to show how to listen to what the Gospel says to you. One needs to listen to the story in all of its details, and then, in effect, activate the same fundamental experience embodied in the story in one’s own soul or consciousness. Not to let the story engage one spiritually or existentially is not to hear it as it was intended to be heard: to bring one into living contact, right now, with the God of Jesus Christ.
We discuss matters, but rarely about God or Christ or how to live well, but probably about food, politics, sports, ranching, weather, grand-children, sports. Not often do I hear two parishioners speak about God’s actions in the world, although occasionally one remarks on the beauties of creation unfolding before our eyes. God in nature seems to speak even to those who have not yet discovered God breaking into consciousness. Now, how would Christ encounter those whose eyes are cast down, and whose minds are not attending to the things of God at this moment? How could that which we call “Christ” press in? Where is the opening in the discussion to be encountered by the Risen One—especially when there is no rational discussion which the Lord may be moving guiding? If one is not attending to the divine in some form, how does God break in?
Later on, perhaps many years later, someone may realize that God was actually at work, but it was unseen, perhaps unwanted at the time—as dark and as unnoticed as mint roots growing under earth in winter. And then perhaps someone will remember and bring into consciousness that of which one had been barely conscious at all. “There was something about that experience that I have not felt since. What was it? Somehow it was there, and I missed it. Why? What was I thinking? Or was I thinking at all?” In a moment, walking along a wooded path, a glint of light stretches out of the sky, and strikes the rock. Something happens. One then becomes aware of the reality of what had not seemed real, of the presence of that which had felt utterly absent.
If that does not arrest you, consider this week’s Gospel. When did you last turn and recognize the presence of God as Christ breaking into consciousness?
Every religious-spiritual tradition of which I know includes within it two distinct ways of life: the social and religious traditions, publicly celebrated; and its hidden or mystical life, often practiced by only a few, and in solitude. The outward, religious side of Catholicism is rich, having developed over some 20 centuries, not counting our roots in Jewish ritual, practices, and beliefs, nor in those of the Hellenistic world which were incorporated Into Catholic practice and belief in the early centuries. The liturgies of Holy Week are not only the high point of the Church year, but in my opinion, the most meaningful and beautiful services that Christianity has to offer. They center decisively on the suffering, death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ—as does every Eucharistic celebration, but often in more muted tones, especially if drowned out by the kind of loud and busy, often social-activist services so common in our country today.
The mystical life of the Church is essentially one with mysticism in other forms, because it is utterly simple: the individual human being seeks internal growth in holiness (the purification of spirit) in order to become one with that which we by tradition call “God.” This process is the growth in love and virtues, even to the point in which one seeks to dissolve his or her own ego or self into divine Presence. St. Paul said it well: “Now I live, yet not I [ego], but Christ lives in me.” He kept renouncing himself, his own will, in order to allow the Risen Christ to live in him and through him. That is the pattern of the mystical life. It is the goal of our Catholic faith, at least as taught by the saints of the Church, but unfortunately, has often been neglected for more external, ritualistic religion, or for social “activism” of one kind or another. Anything is easier than dissolving one’s ego into the abyss of divine love.
If one lives only as a practicing Catholic in the external forms, and does not develop an internal spiritual life, one will not understand the meaning of eternal life. For outwardly religious Catholics, eternal life is usually misunderstood as afterlife, as something that happens to one after one dies. Hence, the celebration of Christ’s Resurrection (Easter) for example, is thought to be about what happens to people when they die. Even Christ’s Resurrection is externalized into stories and beliefs that sound more like a resuscitated corpse—more like Lazarus—than the experience of the Risen Christ in the psyches (consciousness) of selected men and women. In this sense, Catholic religious belief is not essentially different from that of ancient Egyptians, or Greeks, who had stories about life in the “underworld,” and how to escape the “lake of fire” and get to “paradise” or “heaven” in some way. For many people, including for some of our faithful Catholics, it seems that they believe that “getting to heaven” is the goal of life, and what “religion” has to offer. One theological mind called this kind of religion “fire insurance.”
Eternal life is not essentially “afterlife,” nor is it a form of speculation on some kind of futuristic existence beyond death. The term “eternal life” was coined by the Greek philosopher Plato, and it would have had some currency by the time of Christ. It means true life, a life that is true because one practices dying to self, especially in yielding up one’s opinions for truth, and one’s selfish passions for the rule of reason in the soul and in one’s actions. Eternal life is a life of openness to the divine Presence, that “eternalizes” or “immortalizes” the soul from within. At the end of his Ethics, Aristotle notes that the purpose of genuine life is “immortalizing,” and it comes from attunement to the divine mind. This is experientially equivalent to what the Apostle Paul means by “Christ lives in me.” Life in union with God is eternal life, here and now, and it is true life. “This is eternal life: to know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You sent,” using the language of St. John’s Gospel. God’s Life, beyond space-time, is eternal, forever.
We remember what God has done for us and for all human beings in and through the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. We remember with love and gratitude what Jesus Christ willingly suffered for us. We remember God’s action in Christ, and we resolve to live in and for the one “who loved us, and loved us to the end.”
These are the high holy days of the Church of Christ: Passion (Palm) Sunday; Holy Thursday with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper; the Good Friday liturgy; the Easter Vigil of the Lord’s Resurrection; and Easter Sunday, the joyful celebration that “God has raised Christ from the dead.” We who love Christ Jesus suffer, die, and rise with him.
I urge our parishioners to attend each of the liturgies of Holy Week. Each service is unique, and repeated only once a year, in a somewhat different form or style, depending on the celebrant and ministers. All of the liturgies of Holy Week focus on the suffering, death, and Resurrection of Christ, but each with its own emphasis: On Passion (Palm) Sunday, we are presented with an overview of the climatic events of Christ’s life through the reading of the entire Passion narrative. On Holy Thursday, our attention is drawn to Jesus’ Last Supper, in which he interpreted for us the meaning of the Passion, symbolized under the form of bread and wine, and symbolized in Christ’s washing the feet of his disciples: death in love for each and for all. On Good Friday, we remember the suffering and death of Jesus by listening to the Passion narrative from the Gospel of John, and we experience our gratitude and willingness to share in Christ’s suffering as we venerate the cross and receive holy communion.
Holy Week reaches its dramatic high point in the Easter Vigil, the most beautiful and meaningful liturgy celebrated by the Catholic Church. “This is the night when Christ rose triumphant” from death. This is also the night when the faithful renew their faith and commitment to Jesus Christ, to the community of disciples through space and time, to all of our fellow human beings, and to creation itself. This is the night when we receive with joy new members into the Body of Christ, celebrated through baptism, confirmation, and holy Eucharist. The Masses of Easter Sunday continue the celebration of Christ’s Resurrection, and invite each of the faithful present to renew his baptismal vows. So beautiful and rich in meaning is the Resurrection of Christ from the dead that we continue this feast through 50 days of Eastertide, up to the Feast of Pentecost.
We all live busy lives, but I invite and urge all of our people to “come to the waters,” to enter into these liturgies with faith and loving attentiveness, in order to be renewed from within by the unsurpassable gift of the Holy Spirit. We present ourselves to the Lord, open ourselves to his word, resolve to follow Christ faithfully all the days of our lives, and we participate afresh in the inflowing of the Holy Spirit—God’s loving Presence in us, for us, with us.
There is interest in our adult faith class to learn meditation, and hesitation or real difﬁculties in learning to contemplate in silence without words. So I will select some passages from our Scriptures and other spiritual texts to assist you in learning to meditate actively. Here is how to use these passages: choose one passage for a given session. Read it over several times, until it is clearly in your mind. Then turn off the light, ask God to assist you, and think about the passage. The goal is to listen to what God might be saying to you in and through these words, stories, images. A session could last about 10-15 minutes initially, about 30 minutes as you get more skilled and comfortable with it. This exercise is intended as “training wheels” towards silent contemplation. You already pray in words. This exercise uses your mind both to think about what the words mean, and to listen for what God may be telling you. Towards the end of the session, you may usefully distill your thoughts in a single, crisp sentence, pulling the session together. Give thanks to God for assistance. I recommend that you keep still, upright, alert throughout this meditation, to serve the better for concentration, and to move you towards the silence of God. Here are a few passages with which you may begin. Or, you could select your own from the bible or other spiritual texts.
(1). “Philip said to Jesus, `Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisﬁed.’ Jesus said to him, `Have I been with you all of this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. So how can you say, `Show us the Father?’ Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?” (John 14:8-10a)
(2). “Be still, and know that I am God: I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted on the earth.” (Psalm 46)
(3). “O God, you are my God, I seek you. My soul thirsts for you, my ﬂesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land without water.” (Psalm 63)
(4). “Jesus asked his disciples, `Who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, `You are the Christ.’ And Jesus charged them to tell no one about him.” (Mark 8:29-30)
(5). “Jesus said, `For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind.’ Some of the Pharisees near him heard this, and they said to Jesus, `Are we also blind?’ Jesus said to them, `If you were blind, you would have not guilt; but now that you say, `We see,’ your guilt remains.” (John 9:39-41)
(6). “This is the judgment: that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one who does evil hates the light and does not come to the light lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God.” (John 3:19-21)
(7). “Jesus said to Simon, `Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a catch….’ When Simon Peter saw the great catch of ﬁsh, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, `Depart from me, O LORD, for I am a sinful man.’” (Luke 5:1-8, passim)
(8). “Jesus said to Mary Magdalene, `Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, `My lord, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, `Mary. She turned around and said to him in Hebrew, `Rabboni!’ (which means, Teacher)…” (John 20:11-18, passim)
(9). “Jesus stopped, and commanded that the blind man be brought to him; and when he came near, Jesus asked him, `What do you want me to do for you?’ He said, `Lord, let me receive my sight.’ Jesus said to him, `Receive your sight; your faith has made you well.’ And immediately the man received his sight and followed Jesus, glorifying God; and all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.” (Luke 18:35-43, passim)
(10). “Be still before the Lord and wait in patience; do not fret at one who prospers.” (Psalm 37:7)
(11). “The thirst [craving] of a heedless person grows like a wild vine; he runs from life to life, like a monkey seeking fruit in the forest.” (Dhammapada #334)
(12). “Through meditation wisdom is won; through lack of meditation wisdom is lost. Let a man who knows this double path of gain and loss so conduct himself that wisdom may grow.” (Dhammapada #282)
(13). “Come now, friend, turn aside for a while from your daily employment, escape for a moment from the tumult of your thoughts. Put aside your weighty cares, let our burdensome distractions wait; free yourself awhile for God, and rest awhile in him. Enter the inner chamber of your soul, shut out everything except God, and that which can help you in seeking him, and when you have shut the door, seek him.” (Proslogion of St. Anselm, chap 1)
(14).”O Lord my God, teach my heart where and how to seek you, where and how to ﬁnd you. Lord, if you are to here but absent, where shall I seek you? But you are everywhere, so you must be here; why then do I not see you? Surely you dwell in light inaccessible—where is it? and how can I have access to light which is inaccessible?” (Proslogion, chapter 1)
(15). “Lord, you are not only that than which nothing greater can be thought; you are also greater than can be thought.” (Proslogion, chap 15)
(16). “Everywhere you are entirely present, yet I cannot see you. In you I move and have my being, and I cannot come to you. You are within me and around me, and I have no experience of you.” (Proslogion, chap 16)
For years I had not really understood what Herakleitos meant when he said that “I explored myself…and I could not find the boundaries [limits, peras] of the psyche…”. Of course not: the open soul has no boundaries, no limits. It opens up into the unbounded, the unlimited, and shares then in its unlimitedness. The open soul is not the psyche of standard modern psychology, nor the “I” or ego of everyday life. It is, rather, a conscious participation in the mystery of the Whole, of the unbounded It-reality beyond all speech and name. When psyche opens, it is no-thing; perhaps one can say, “not itself, but selfless.” To put the experience paradoxically: when the soul opens, it is no longer a soul, at least as long as the awareness of the experience lasts. Simple consciousness.
Of course there would be a danger of hypostasizing the open psyche into “God” or “being,” or the Whole, but to do that may be a mere playing with words, and it in effect would concretize the experienced unbounded opening back into an imagined entity or being. In the opening of the soul, there is neither “I” nor “You,” but simply consciousness: awareness without names, things, activities. Unadorned, simple awareness. Perhaps this is what William James called “pure consciousness.”
It may be fitting, as has been done, to call Herakleitos and others—from Plato to William James, Bergson, Whitehead, Voegelin—who experience consciousness in this way “mystic philosophers,” as has been done (for example, by Whitehead and Voegelin). Or one could speak of the opening of the soul that forms the experiential basis of philosophy as a mode of self-transcendence, as a simple, noetic awareness of that which is. It is noetic or knowing in the sense of an unthinking but intensely aware gazing of the mind (nous, intellect). As consciousness (psyche) opens up, noetic and logical processes of the mind differentiate. To think is to name things and beings, and to reason (use logos) about them; noein [noetic awareness] is simpler, more primary or basic, without words, and is, perhaps, ever present beneath every act of thinking, but usually not recognized as such. But this point remains for the time being an hypothesis to be experimentally tested. It may be that in the act we call “thinking” [legein, usinglogos], consciousness is not open as such, but limiting itself in the act of thinking. If this is true, then one can understand why a human being seeking to explore reality—what is—must move back and forth between sheer openness and the self-limiting act of thinking. Perhaps this back-and-forth process is described in Plato or Aristotle (I will give thought to this possibility, which seems familiar to me, most likely from the Phaedrus or the Symposium of Plato.) And if this is a reasonable guess of what one experiences in thinking and knowing [noein], then one might playfully change Descartes’ famous cogito ergo sum (“I think, therefore I am”) into “I think, therefore I am self-limited,” or more paradoxically, “I think, therefore I am not.”
One is most truly oneself when one is not self-enclosed, or a closed soul at all, but awake in the act of non-self-limited consciousness. If this is a reasonable formulation of the truth of experience, then one can recognize the common basis in philosophy, Buddhism (as in Zen) and the mystics of various traditions. I, for one, have long been drawn to all three of these human modes of experience (philosophy, Zen, mysticism), because I have sensed in them a similarity not in formulations or mythical developments, but in the engendering experience: open consciousness.