Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Wisdom Jesus

OK, here is a plug for the simply wonderful author who I'm listening to:
Cynthia Bourgeault
My friend Karen gave me a series of 8 or 10 CDs with this author's talks on "The Wisdom Jesus" and I am absolutely transported by her take on the scriptures. I listen to them driving to and from work, and then I listen again, just soaking it in. Amazed, rapturous.

Everything in scripture has so many layers of meaning. This is the richness of a deep spiritual text. It has something for everyone! For the beginner, it has moral guidance and amazing stories of people, complete with their human quirks and imperfections. Take it at face value, or go deeper. For the intermediate audience, there are opportunities to discuss many different interpretations. And for the most mystical reader, there is great symbolism, mythical archetypes, and metaphysical reality which leaps from the page. All in the same scriptures. You can read them as a child, young adult, and older (hopefully wiser) person, and never come away with the same result. It's always a fresh revelation.

It's like the Buddhist practice of concentrating deeply on an object, or an abstract thought, focusing on it to penetrate into its meaning more deeply. It takes work to excavate all the meaning, but it is so rewarding.

Just a few examples of familiar images that The Wisdom Jesus gives as a revelation: the burning bush as a metaphor for living the enlightened life. We are burning from within, but not consumed, on fire with the presence of the divine. The wisdom and knowledge flows through with an energy and light that draws other spiritual seekers (like Moses). We are in-dwellers with God and with other people. The artificial sense of separation has vanished!

She talks over and over again about getting out of our earth-bound habit of duality -- right/wrong, either/or, good/evil -- and becoming unitary (enlightened) in our existence. Instead of judging everything and throwing it into a binary system, transforming our vision.

Jesus's life was an arcanum (not sure how to spell that). Mrs. Bourgeault, whose last name is pronounced "Bour-jhoe," uses lots of big fancy words befitting a true wisdom-seeker, words I don't even know how to spell! Her definition is that his life was itself a path to wisdom, that by following his example, we are led to enlightenment. She infuses her discussion with ideas from all the great religions and talks about the five major religious traditions as a rainbow, each ray with its own specific emphasis and way of illuminating the spiritual path.

Jesus "descended into hell" upon his crucifixion. This is a paradox. If God is perfectly good, how could his son step foot in hell? Yet a strong thread of tradition says he did, and transformed it with his loving presence. Just being present for all the human frailties, evil, shadow side. And looking at it from this perspective, it's no longer just "evil" but a condition of life here on earth. This leaves open the question of what exactly hell is. A state of being in utter isolation from God and the love of others? This is what I believe. Jesus got there when he cried out, "Oh God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

Here is what happens sometimes with a great book. It's like the reader's inner spirit and the writer's words fuse and make a new creation. She tells me things that, it seems, I already know deep in my being. I shout, "Yes! Yes!" as she describes some pretty far-out interpretations of the scriptures.

How about: why the disciples did not always recognize the resurrected Jesus. Was it that he looked so different? She gives a radically spiritual interpretation. The disciples on the road to Emmaus were trapped in their old beliefs, enmeshed in their little preconceived ideas and the drama of their own lives and their viewpoint of the historical Jesus. They weren't looking at Jesus with the eyes of faith, of the spirit. It didn't dawn on them who he was until he broke bread at the inn with them, then vanished. Then they said, "Weren't our hearts burning within us as he spoke?" Their hearts had told them what the rest of their body could not accept as true, because it would require a huge change of perspective.

I've wondered this before. When we escape from these fleshly prisons, er, human bodies, and leave this vale of tears, as Henri Nouwen described our earthly existence, how will we recognize one another? I used to think of all the older people I knew at a church in San Antonio, and how each had their own special personality, mannerisms, way of greeting you, habits, etc. If you paid attention and caught on to their spirit, you would recognize them anywhere. No visual or auditory cues needed. And of course, I expected each one of them to kick way sooner than I ever would, so that they'd all be waiting to greet me when, many many years later, I finally would die!

I'm sure you can think of people's spiritual fingerprints in your own life. If you have a close relative who has died, how would you be able to say, for example, "That's grandpa, all right!" If their spirits shone out, your open spirit would know them and respond.

So I guess this means I am a mystic at heart.

Sometimes, traditional Christianity seems so constricting, that I feel the urge to run away to a religion that does not have so many dogmas, and leave behind all the judgment and intolerance that seem to be its hallmarks. So this series of talks is such a reviving breath of fresh air for me. This is the Jesus I know and love, and seek to follow.

I just hope there is room at church for people like me, who will not be confined in narrow pews with rigid beliefs.

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