Via Dolorosa--Introduction

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This is the second installment of Via Dolorsa. It serves as the Introduction and Chapter One.

Chapter 1 (v.1) - Via Dolorosa--Introduction

Submitted: December 22, 2009

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Submitted: December 22, 2009



The Way of the Cross
The beginner in this path of Love is he who is not apprised of beginning. Become naughted from selfhood, because there is no sin worse than being.
No creature can attain a higher grade of nature without ceasing to exist.
Ananda Coomaraswamy
he arrest, trial, and execution of Jesus of Nazareth has done more to shape the history, culture, and religious imagination of Western civilization than any other event in the past two thousand years. It stands alongside the Buddha becoming enlightened under the bodhi tree and Muhammad reciting the first verses of the Qur’an while meditating in a cave as one of the most important moments in the development of human religious consciousness. As the religious scholar, Jaroslav Pelikan, writes:
Regardless of what anyone may personally think or believe about him, Jesus of Nazareth has been the dominant figure in the history of Western culture for almost twenty centuries. If it were possible, with some sort of super-magnet, to pull up out of that history every scrap of metal bearing at least a trace of his name, how much would be left? It is from his birth that most of the human race dates its calendars, it is by his name that millions curse and in his name that millions pray.[1]
From the moment of his execution, Jesus’ heartbroken followers tried desperately to find some ultimate meaning or divine purpose in his tragic death. This enlightened man who had taught them and healed them and loved them simply could not have died in vain. In order to avoid falling into despair, his followers, including the apostle Paul (our earliest New Testament writer), started telling stories that set the events of Jesus’ life and death into an existential and theological context. They searched the Hebrew scriptures for prophecies and stories that appeared to be related to Jesus’ life. They began to teach that his death was not the horrible and premature ending of his life, but rather the fulfillment of his divine purpose as God’s ultimate sacrifice for the sins of the people.
These stories made Jesus’ followers feel hopeful and filled them with joy and missionary zeal. On an even deeper level, these tales enabled the followers of Jesus to create a theological context, consistent with their Hebrew scriptures, which expressed their continuing and direct experience of his transformative presence in their lives. These stories also set the political and cultural agenda of Christianity for the next two millennia. Let’s look first at the most widely accepted of these stories as it has come down to us across the ages.
The Sacrificial Lamb Story
Why was Jesus of Nazareth, an obscure Jewish peasant who was both a mystic and a healer in first-century Palestine, judged and condemned by the religious and political leaders of his day? Why was he arrested in the middle of the night while praying with a group of close friends, beaten and humiliated by the minions of the high priest, sentenced to death by the Roman governor, and then killed during a religious festival by means of one of the most painful and barbaric methods of prolonged execution ever invented by the perverse imagination of humankind?[2]
For the first-century followers of Jesus and the majority of Christians since, the answers to these painful and pressing questions took the form of a compelling morality play. The story is theologically sophisticated, albeit based on mythical, pre-scientific assumptions about life and God and the nature of the universe. The problem with being built on such assumptions is not that they are mythical or metaphorical—profound truths usually are. The problem is that the majority of Christians today believe them to be literally and historically factual.
As a young boy growing up in a conservative, evangelical denomination, I accepted the truth of this story without question, because everyone in my world believed it to be true. It was literally the only Christian story in town. What I liked best about it was that it is peopled with fantastic heroes, skulking cowards, and deliciously evil villains. It also has a completely unexpected plot twist that turns the senseless tragedy of Jesus’ death into a divinely inspired triumph and makes the Jewish high priest and the Roman governor look like village idiots. While they thought they were ridding themselves of a blaspheming social radical, they were actually serving as unwitting instruments of God’s eternal plan of salvation.
Here is the sacrificial-lamb morality play in a highly condensed version. Human beings are born into a condition of separation and alienation from God because of the disobedience of Adam and Eve, our “first parents,” in the Garden of Eden.[3] The innate sinfulness or “fallen nature” that we automatically inherit from them at our birth creates an unbridgeable gap between ourselves and the holy perfection of God. We are like deformed foundlings, left in the woods in a wicker basket after our birth by our embarrassed parents to survive any way we can. Only in this case, God is our embarrassed parent. This desperate situation condemns us to a life of misery on earth and an eternity of punishment in the brimstone fires of hell.[4] Fortunately, our Cosmic Parent still loves us and wants to be reconciled with us. He is “not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.”[5]
In order to rectify the apparent fact that his own moral system condemned his creatures to eternal damnation, God sent his only begotten son, Jesus Christ, to offer a means of escape from the situation. Jesus was born of a virgin,[6] lived a life that was free of sin, and was both fully man and fully God.[7] He died on the cross as a sacrifice for humankind’s disobedience and sin,[8] descended into hell and preached the gospel to the tortured souls imprisoned there,[9] and was raised from the dead on Easter morning.[10] Then he ascended into heaven forty days later[11] where he now enjoys eternal glory at the right hand of the Father.[12] Because Jesus was “obedient to the point of death,”[13] he has become the ultimate sacrificial lamb who is able to atone for the sins of the world forever.[14]
As a result of this atonement, the death penalty for our sinfulness has been commuted. Our debt is paid in full and no further payment or sacrifice is necessary. God’s righteous anger at us for being willful, disobedient creatures has been completely satisfied. Jesus has led usout of the woods so we can now enjoy a relationship of peace and blessedness with God, both in this world and in the world to come—but only as long as we believe this particular story and become obedient to the demands of Christian discipleship as defined by the Church. Those of us who cannot accept the literal truth of this story, or who were raised to believe an entirely different story, are still destined to suffer an eternity of damnation and agonizing separation from God. This makes God very sad, but He has no choice. He must leave us fatherless and alone, separated from His essential being.
What I am calling the sacrificial lamb story has been discussed by biblical scholars for years as the “substitutionary image” of Christ[15]or the “priestly story.”[16] This theological perspective is historically rooted in the role of the temple and the temple priesthood in ancient Hebrew culture as the necessary mediators between God and the children of Israel. This story is also based on the Hebrew cult of blood sacrifice, which was believed to be the only way to atone for one’s sins and appease an angry God.
Jesus himself challenged this intermediary function of the temple and the practice of blood sacrifice, preferring instead to encourage his followers to discover a direct relationship with God in their hearts, as he had done. In the New Testament we hear Jesus tell his disciples and listeners that the good news for the poor and dispossessed is that the kingdom of God is at hand; it is within and around them.[17] Given the revolutionary nature of this message in first-century Palestine, it is highly unlikely that Jesus would have then gone on to propose himself as a new intermediary betweenthe kingdom of God and humankind.[18]
The story of the death of Jesus as the ultimate sacrifice for sin is only one of the traditional interpretations of the significance of Jesus’ life and death, although it is certainly favored in traditional interpretations of the New Testament, especially in the writings of the apostle Paul. As a former Pharisee, Paul was intimately aware of the obsessive emphasis on purity and the Law among the religious leaders of his day as well as the oppressive political and economic power of the temple in Jerusalem. Jesus’ message of unconditional grace must have been like a stream in the desert to him (actually, it was a stream of light on the Damascus road).
Paul may have seen in the substitutionary interpretation of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection a way to draw on the rich traditions and beliefs of the Hebrew people while still freeing them from their bondage to the Law and to corrupt priestly power—all by visualizing Jesus as the “ultimate priest” and the “final sacrifice” for sin.[19] Whether or not this interpretation reflects Paul’s true position or not, his brilliant theological writings have certainly been used by scribes, theologians, and exegetes throughout the Christian centuries to reinterpret Jesus’ own teaching that the kingdom of heaven is immediately present and directly available to anyone who looks inward and learns to perceive it.
Jesus realized that there is no need for external mediation in order for us to gain conscious awareness of our union with God. We may need a teacher or a guru, but not a mediator. In place of this rich teaching, a narrow interpretation of Paul’s writings laid the foundation for the doctrine that was later to gain ascendancy in the Western Church that such a realization can only be experienced by those who are willing to accept the substitutionary nature of Jesus’ death.
The sacrificial lamb story has dominated the theological landscape and the popular understanding of Jesus’ mission and purpose since the closing decades of the first century. The other interpretive stories of Jesus’ life and death have been lost to the modern Church, except among academics and scholars. This traditional, priestly interpretation, with its insistence on a literal-historical understanding of essentially metaphorical and mythical themes, has lost much of its power to inspire the postmodern mind. We can no longer look to this story as a beacon that will always lead us through the dark shoals of suffering and despair that confront us on every side. As the eminent Jesus scholar, Marcus Borg, has written:
The notion that God’s only son came to this planet to offer his life as a sacrifice for the sins of the world, and that God could not forgive us without that having happened, and that we are saved by believing this story, is simply incredible. Taken metaphorically, this story can be very powerful. But taken literally, it is a profound obstacle to accepting the Christian message. To many people, it simply makes no sense, and I think we need to be straightforward about that.[20]
We need a fresh interpretation, a new mythos,[21] of Jesus’ role in the spiritual journey. As Carl Jung writes:
The Christian nations have come to a sorry pass; their Christianity slumbers and has neglected to develop its myth further in the course of the centuries. . . . Our myth has become mute, and gives no answers. The fault lies not in it as it is set down in the Scriptures, but solely in us, who have not developed it further, who, rather, have suppressed any such attempts. The original version of the myth offers ample points of departure and possibilities of development.[22]
But what other explanations are there? What other myths and stories concerning the spiritual significance of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are available that might speak more eloquently and persuasively to the hearts and minds of people in this generation and the generations to come? And are these alternative visions just as true?
Meeting Jesus for the First Time
When I was “born again” at the age of thirteen, kneeling in prayer next to the pastor of our Baptist church in Kennewick, Washington, it didn’t occur to me to question the traditional theology of Jesus’ substitutionary death. It was really the only story I knew at the time and, besides, the stakes were simply too high for refusing to believe it. I was a natural literalist.[23] I believed what my family and church told me about religion and the Bible, no matter how fantastic the claims, without much effort and without the need for very much faith.
I do remember asking my mother one day after church if the Jews were going to perish because they didn’t believe in Jesus, even though they were raised from childhood with another set of religious beliefs. I asked, “Mom, even if the Jews are good people and are faithful to their beliefs, are they still going to hell?”
With a melancholy note in her voice she answered, “Yes, Richard, I’m afraid they will.”
I was vaguely aware that I didn’t like her response or the kind of God who would do such a thing. But I figured I must be missing the point and that she and the pastor and everyone else in the church must have known what they were talking about. I had not yet developed the cognitive skills or worldcentric[24] perspective that would enable me to challenge these narrow views. So I buried my doubts and set my cognitive dissonance[25] aside for another day.
A Chink in the Armor
That day came during my student years at California Baptist University and then intensified during my graduate studies at two different state universities. Beginning with the writings of Thomas Merton, Alan Watts, and D.T. Suzuki, I became an avid student of world religions, especially the Eastern wisdom traditions (Advaita Vedanta; Zen, Theravada, and Tibetan Buddhism; and Taoism).
My reading led me to the practice Vipassana[26] or insight meditation as well as other spiritual disciplines based on these traditions. As the value of these practices became real in my life, I experienced increasing discomfort with the exclusive truth-claims of Christianity in general and the evangelical Christianity of my youth in particular.[27] In addition, my training in psychology, empiricism, and scientific methodology caused me to question the tendency of conservative theology to label mythical truths as literal and historical facts. Was Jesus really born of a virgin? Did he really walk on the water and calm the storm with a word? Is it possible that he could have fed five thousand men, plus their wives and children, with only four loaves and two fish? Did he actually rise bodily from the grave and appear to various groups of his followers before ascending into heaven?
And what about that story I learned as a child that insisted Jesus had to die a horrible death on the cross, an act of divine infanticide and blood sacrifice, in order to appease the anger of a supposedly loving and forgiving God who was still mad at Adam and Eve for eating the wrong kind of fruit in the Garden of Eden? Did these doctrines have to be accepted as literally true? Could I choose to interpret them mystically and metaphorically, and still call myself a Christian?
Bargaining with the Buddha
For a short time after completing my doctoral program in psychology, I seriously considered becoming a Buddhist. By then I was thoroughly convinced that meditation and other forms of contemplative practice are absolutely necessary for spiritual realization and awakening. I also noticed that most Christians don’t meditate, especially Protestants. Apparently, Martin Luther and the other protestant reformers associated meditation with Catholic monasteries—which, in their minds, were bad—and so they chose not to recommend meditative or contemplative practices in their reformation program. Big mistake.
I also had fallen in love with the sayings and teachings of the Buddha. His Four Noble Truths and his Noble Eightfold Path[28] comprise some of the most existentially elegant and life-changing teachings I have ever encountered. As a result, my love and devotion for the Buddha grew to equal my love and devotion for the Christ. Besides, I didn’t have the emotional baggage with Buddhism that I was dragging around as a result of my fundamentalist Christian experience.
But I couldn’t go through with it. I couldn’t become a Buddhist because I was already a Christian. It’s not that I believe the teachings of Jesus are superior to the teachings of the Buddha. I don’t. In fact, I think the Buddha’s teachings are far more psychologically sophisticated than those of Jesus (because of the fact that the Buddha taught for more than fifty years and Jesus only taught a year or two before his untimely death).
No, I chose not to convert to Buddhism because I was born into a particular culture that was historically shaped by Christian values, raised in a family that was nominally guided by Christian teachings, and educated in a system that was heavily influenced by Christian ideals. I have been completely immersed in the language and metaphors of Christianity my entire life and they are so deeply embedded in my soul that no other religion could possibly duplicate them. Sure, I can be moved and inspired by stories from different traditions. I especially love stories of Zen masters beating their students with sticks (yes, I’m a bit twisted), Sufi teaching tales, and the misadventures of Mullah Nasrudin. But the stories of Christianity have the power to transform me, precisely because they reside so deeply within my heart and are as familiar as my own receding hairline.
Ironically, what I found in Buddhism was a new way to be a Christian. My study of the Buddha’s teachings and my practice of Buddhist meditation rescued the story of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection for me. Instead of dismissing it as a sad example of tortured theological reasoning, I see it now as a beautiful metaphor of the stages of the spiritual journey.
The Death, Burial, and Resurrection Story
Here’s how the new story goes. From our first moment of self-awareness at about the age of two, when the self-reflexive nature of the cerebral cortex emerges,[29] our senses tell us that we are separate beings. Our perceptual world quickly divides itself into the primary duality of that which is “self” and that which is “not self”—and a fixed gulf appears to open between the two that cannot be bridged. This is very likely the original intuition that inspired the development of the cult of sacrifice among the ancient Hebrews as a way of bridging the gap between themselves and God—and eventually led to the sacrificial lamb story.[30]We are indeed foundlings lost in the woods of separate self-identity, but we weren’t left there by our parents. We wandered there on our own because of the very nature of our unfolding human consciousness.
Simultaneously with the development of self-reflexive thought, our self-will or ego-consciousness (what psychologists call the “will-to-power”[31]) emerges and we begin to see ourselves as separate entities who can now make choices and exercise some measure of control over life. This may explain why this stage of human development is often referred to as the “terrible twos.” Even the most compliant children will at this age begin to assert their self-will and defy their parents with frequent statements of “No!”
Once self-reflexive consciousness and then ego-consciousness emerge, we no longer experience our essential unity with the Divine Matrix or God, nor do we realize that thoughts, feelings, and actions flow naturally and freely through the instrument of the body/mind, both before and after we become self-aware. The ego now begins to take credit and/or blame for these ideas, emotions, and behaviors and must then defend itself against any perceived weaknesses or failures by denying, rationalizing, or blaming others. The result is an epidemic of human anxiety and suffering.
The pervasive sense of fear and alienation that results from this startling misconception of our true identity, our essential Unity-in-God, fuels virtually every aspect of human behavior. It explains our need to bond with our mothers as infants and small children, the impressive array of ego defenses[32] we develop during adolescence and adulthood to protect ourselves from insult and emotional injury, and our lifelong need to deny the reality and inevitability of death.[33]
The Prodigal Returns
Every spiritual tradition recognizes this basic human dilemma and provides various theological explanations and spiritual practices to help us retrace our steps developmentally. The first step is always to dis-identify with ego-consciousness by surrendering our illusion of self-will to the Divine Will. Only then can we fully awaken from the perpetual nightmare of fear and separation. As ego-consciousness drops away and our true condition emerges into awareness, we begin to realize the absolute and verifiable truth of our unity in and with God, Yahweh,[34] the Kosmos,[35] Alaha[36]—the truth that we are manifestations of the Divine, by whatever name. This is what Jesus meant when he told Nicodemus that “you must be born again.”[37] As Karen Armstrong, the best-selling author of The History of God and The Battle for God writes:
All the major traditions that I have studied teach that one of the essential prerequisites for true religious experience is that we abandon the egotism and selfishness that hold us back from the divine. They all teach in one way or another that we are most fully ourselves when we give ourselves away. It is ego that diminishes us, limits our vision, and is utterly incompatible with the Sacred.[38]
After ego-consciousness has been completely surrendered and the seeker becomes conscious of his or her intimate and perpetual union with God, the final stage of the spiritual journey involves the dropping away of the self-reflexive mechanism of human consciousness itself. This is followed by the return to a nondual[39] or undifferentiated state where there is absolutely no sense of separate, individual identity. This is the state that existed before the age of about two years. Only on our return, there is conscious awareness of this undifferentiated, nondual state compared to our unconscious nondual condition when we were infants and toddlers. In the nondual state, which is really “no-state” or perhaps the Ground of every state, the seer and the seen or the perceiver and the perceived are “not-two.”
For someone who has not yet experienced the dropping away of the self-reflexive nature of consciousness itself, subsequent to the transcendence of ego-consciousness, it is nearly impossible to imagine what this would be like or that it is even possible. Mystics and contemplatives, both ancient and modern, have referred to it as the no-self experience.[40] The Buddha came to this experience of no-self in his final enlightenment under the bodhi tree and later taught it as the doctrine of anatta. He stated repeatedly over the next fifty years that human suffering is the result of our belief in a permanent self or soul that persists after bodily death and that this belief is essentially false.[41]
The spiritual journey begins with our first faltering attempts to retrace our steps and confront the issue of our selfishness and self-absorption in order to embark on the arduous process of awakening to our true estate as sons and daughters of the Blessed One. To put our feet on the spiritual path requires that we step outside ourselves for one eternal moment and see the walls of our self-created prison clearly. This is difficult for all but the most advanced souls among us because we are so involved in simply living lifethat we rarely stop to watch ourselves live it.
Transformation at Calvary
As we noted earlier, at some point in the involution/evolution[42] of Spirit, humankind became conscious and self-aware. Consciousness literally turned back on itself with the twisting and turning of the cerebral cortex, and became an object of its own observation (self-reflexive consciousness). The resultant ego identity (self-will) gradually came to believe that it wielded itself, rather than being wielded by a deeper or higher Presence and being conditioned or shaped by its experience in the world in combination with its genetic predisposition.
This would be like a computer that, on finally attaining self-awareness (artificial intelligence), decides it is its own center of will and action. Of course it would have to studiously ignore, through denial and perceptual distortions,[43] any indication of the true state of affairs—that Someone is still sitting at the keyboard and that every nuance of its thought and behavior is being programmed by “experience” (in this case, the software stored on its hard disk).
The Christian metaphor of death, burial, and resurrection is a particularly powerful description of the spiritual journey. Much controversy surrounds the issue as to whether or not Jesus knew that he was “enacting” a transformative metaphor by submitting to death on the cross or if this is an interpretation that developed in the years after his death. Either way it is a story that was well-elaborated in the Gospel of John and which seems to have the power to capture the modern imagination in ways that the sacrificial lamb story no longer can. As Marcus Borg writes:
In short, for John the way or path of Jesus is the path of death and resurrection understood as a metaphor for the religious life. That way—the path of dying to an old way of being and being born into a new way of being—is the only way to God.[44]
We need to be “crucified.” As long as we live a life that is filtered through the concept of ego or self-will and its source in the separative self-sense of reflexive consciousness, we miss the truth and beauty of our real identity in oneness with God. We are children of the same Father. We are one with All That Is. But we can’t see or experience this reality until we let go of our pathetic definition of ourselves as an isolated ego and then as an isolated self. To begin the “prodigal journey of return,” we need to hang first our self-will and then our self-reflexive consciousness on a “cross” of continuous mindfulness and surrender and let them “die.” As the Apostle Paul writes of his own experience:
I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself up for me.[45]
Karen Armstrong echoes Paul’s words when she says, “Calvary shows how far self-abnegation might have to go before we can rise to a different mode of being human.”[46]
When the ego (self-will) and its source (self-reflexive consciousness) die as our primary sense of identity, we are resurrected to a new life, a new identity as “not-other-than-Spirit,” and a new experience and understanding of Reality. We are then transformed into the willing instrument of God’s compassionate involvement in the world. Like Jesus, we become living expressions of the Absolute as It incarnates in the particular, of God in human disguise.
This is the real gospel, the universal good news of the Logos in all its incarnations throughout history: we are not just the weak and contingent self we have always identified ourselves to be and we have never been separate from God, not even for an instant. In this life and in the life to come—no matter what we do or don’t do, say or don’t say, believe or refuse to believe—we can never be separated from our Source. We can only fall asleep and have nightmares of separation or sleepwalk and imagine ourselves to be alone. But the isolation, fear, and alienation we feel are not real. Separation is always illusory. Jesus didn’t die for our sins, because he didn’t have to.[47] As it says in A Course in Miracles, which refers to us all as the “Son of God”:
The betrayal of the Son of God lies only in illusions, and all his “sins” are but his own imagining. His reality is forever sinless. He need not be forgiven but awakened. In his dreams he has betrayed himself, his brothers and his God. Yet what is done in dreams has not been really done. It is impossible to convince the dreamer that this is so, for dreams are what they are because of their illusion of reality. Only in waking is the full release from them, for only then does it become perfectly apparent that they had no effect upon reality at all, and did not change it.[48]
As we express true devotion to Christ, Buddha, or Muhammad, each one a blessed teacher and messenger of God, we become completely absorbed in Divine Love. As we lose ourselves in the ocean of God’s presence, in the gathering arms of Abba, in the Emptiness that is the source of all manifestation, we begin to recognize ourselves and one another for the first time. We see the face of the divine in every face, including the one in the mirror. We sense the presence of the Eternal One in every sentient being, in the wonders of nature, and in every breath. And the relief and gratitude this brings so expands our hearts that we seek only to serve others. This is the true meaning of salvation. This is the reason we follow Jesus on his journey to the cross.
This road is not easy, which is why it is called the Via Dolorosa or “Street of Sorrow.”[49]To walk it to the place of resurrection requires commitment and fortitude and a gritty determination to lower our heads and move into the hot desert winds no matter how hard they blow. Just as Jesus fell under the weight of the cross on his way to Golgotha, we will fall under the weight of our own stubbornness and defensiveness. And just as Christ descended into Sheol to liberate the lost souls he found there, we too must descend into the depths of our own unconscious shadow,[50] there to confront and embrace the hidden aspects of ourselves we have forever avoided knowing. The price of this journey is high; it will cost us everything. But the reward is resurrection and release from the bondage of self.
Regardless of the risks, it is time for us to WAKE UP and realize that we live in and through God like a fish lives in and through water. As Muhammad wrote in the Qur’an (meaning “the Recitation”), the most holy scripture of Islam, “God is closer to us than our own jugular.” The mystics and sages of every religion and in every generation have discovered that we are to God as waves are to the ocean, as fingers are to a hand, and as leaves are to a tree—individual and unique, but never separate or alone. As Ken Wilber writes so beautifully:
I think the sages are the growing tip of the secret impulse of evolution. I think they are the leading edge of the self-transcending drive that always goes beyond what went before. I think they embody the very drive of the Kosmos toward greater depth and expanding consciousness. I think they are riding the edge of a light beam racing toward a rendezvous with God.
And I think they point to the same depth in you, and in me, and in all of us. I think they are plugged into the All, and the Kosmos sings through their voices, and Spirit shines through their eyes. And I think they disclose the face of tomorrow, they open us to the heart of our own destiny, which is also already right now in the timelessness of this very moment, and in that startling recognition the voice of the sage becomes your voice, the eyes of the sage become your eyes, you speak with the tongues of angels and are alight with the fire of a realization that never dawns nor ceases, you recognize your own true Face in the mirror of the Kosmos itself; your identity is indeed the All, and you are no longer part of that stream, you are that stream, with the All unfolding not around you but in you.[51]
Back to the Beginning
The death and burial of the contingent self and the eventual resurrection in a new identity is just a story, I know. But it is a story that has been informed by the wisdom of different religious traditions and that once again has the potential to guide and inspire the Christian’s journey towards awakening. I am not proposing that it is somehow more true or more historically accurate than the sacrificial lamb story, although it is more compelling to postmodern consciousness. Nor do I propose that Jesus went to the cross consciously thinking that his death would be a good way to show his followers the spiritual necessity of dying to self-will and self-reflexive consciousness in order to awaken to nondual Spirit. But then I don’t believe Jesus went to Golgotha thinking that he was serving as the ultimate sacrifice for the sins of the world, either.
Both of these stories are essentially “after-the-fact” interpretations of powerful and emotional historical events created by people trying to make sense of those events while seeking guidance for their continuing spiritual journeys. Because these stories serve essentially as “spiritual teaching tales,” and are equally metaphorical, we are free to chose the one that speaks most eloquently to our hearts and that makes the most sense in the context of our daily lives.
I am now what Marcus Borg calls a nonliteralistic and nonexclusivistic[52] Christian who practices insight meditation and self-enquiry, who studies the mystics of every tradition, who is a proponent of the perennial philosophy[53] and the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber, who assumes that there is no real conflict between science and religion, except that which scientists and religionists create for personal and political reasons, and who accepts that every authentic spiritual tradition reveals one or more facets of the infinite diamond of God’s transcendent, yet fully embodied love for all beings. I just no longer believe the literal/historical interpretation of the sacrificial lamb story which insists that Jesus Christ had to die for my sins. In fact, I believe his life and death teach that we could not possibly be separate from God. As the Psalmist cried out in a moment of mystical realization:
Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the dawn,
If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea,
Even there Your hand will lead me,
And Your right hand will lay hold of me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me,
And the light around me will be night.”
Even the darkness is not dark to You,
And the night is as bright as the day.
Darkness and light are alike to You.
For You formed my inward parts;
You wove me in my mother’s womb.

© Copyright 2019 Richard Young. All rights reserved.


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