Tag Archives: Transcendence

Ten Bulls 7. The Bull Transcended

7. The Bull Transcended

The bull has vanished!

Ego has returned to the heart.

The mind is without thought.

This is apatheia: passion is ordered, wounds are healed. Though there are scars, ego remains forgotten.

Nothing is taken personally.

There is abiding calm.

The grace (the gift) of the Holy Spirit, has brought us this far.

The herdsman looks with eyes closed; looks with heart longing, not ego desire.

We are always beginning, and here the herdsman begins again.

In longing the heart hears our teacher: Jesus – human consciousness divine.

Listen to him (without thought): ma-ra-na-tha.

We are with him alone and together.

Let your heart open.

Longing can become consolation.

 


Meditatio House: the Spiritual Art of Weed Pulling

I spent some time this week pulling weeds. The physicality of it made it a spiritual experience. It is the body that grounds us in the here and now, making possible our experience of life and of the Divine in life. God and life can only be now and the body cannot be anywhere else.

Any spirituality grounded in human experience (and any authentic spirituality must be) values the use of the body as a way of practicing attention in and on the present moment.

The extent to which we are not in the present moment is the extent to which we are subject to fantasy and illusion. The past and the future are not here. They may be, for some reason, in the mind and heart, however only the present moment is the present moment. We are made for the present moment. In it there is a purpose and meaning and a full living of life that the past and the future cannot provide.

It follows then that our senses must be trained in staying enough with the body and the now. If we are going through the motions of doing something, without awareness of what we are doing now, then something may get done, however we will not be present to the experience. The gift of life and the gift of the divine life (grace) in life will be lost, unnoticed.

As I pulled the weeds I tried to be aware of what I was doing. I looked at my gloved hands as I pulled; I looked carefully so as not to miss any green shoots; I was present to my body with all its stretching and movement (and eventual aches). I also caught myself in daydreams; sung, whistled and hummed; said hello to the birds and apologised to the worm I accidentally cut in half.

I also remembered another time in my life when I was doing the same thing and was feeling quite lonely and depressed. Rather than repress this memory I welcomed it and accepted it as best as I could. As the sadness rose I experienced it and also experienced a compassion that rose to meet and love it. As I weeded, memories integrated and wounds healed. God was there and I was there enough.

The art of any doing as a spiritual practice is all about the forming of good habit first. Whatever else is given is given as gift. The more time we spend practising attending to the moment is more time accepting that each moment is the only true place and is the place to be. In this way we have a much better chance of staying alert, awake to the now in the day for longer. A good present moment habit practised daily sees us less in fantasy and more in reality.

Before enlightenment: hewing wood and drawing water; after enlightenment: hewing wood and drawing water. (Zen proverb).

The path to enlightenment is all about practice, practice, practice – with whatever is at hand. As we practice we come to see that everything is contained in the present moment, so we continue to do the very same things that helped us into the present moment. Anything done with attention teaches the present moment and keeps us there.

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints.. (Ephesians 1:17,18).

This prayer attributed to St. Paul can only be realised in the present moment. The enlightening of our heart’s eye – the mysterious gift of Divine life and understanding – can only happen in the now.

Meditation is only present moment when we are still enough in mind and body and our attention is on the mantra. It is at this now time of meditation that the enlightenment of the heart and the transformation of the soul happen. We must transcend all within us that would keep attention from this moment. However, we cannot transcend without God. The Christian needs Christ – the human enlightenment of God – if we are to transcend that within us that keeps us from the now: the ego and its use of distractions.

It does seem that the ego would prefer not to pull weeds or do the housework because activities like this have within them the potential of the present moment. Life and divinity in the present moment undermine the ego’s preferred position as the centre of attention. Consequently, we can often experience the same kind of inner resistance around housework (for example) as we do around meditation.

If we must do the ego prefers doing in a daydream, spending the time in the past or the future, or in some kind of alternate ‘now’ (fantasy).

If we are to be with God and grow in love, then an important part of this adventure is weed pulling – or chores of any kind, indeed anything that divinity can use to draw attention into the present moment and into the Divine Life itself.


Meditatio House: Incarnation and Divinisation

During the Christmas season the words of Meister Eckhart are never far from my mind. Eckhart (1260 – 1327/8) was born in Erfurt in Thuringia (Germany). He is one of the better known Rhineland Mystics. A recurring theme in his work is that of the eternal Word of God not only being born in time and humanity through Jesus – it is also that this Word is born in time and humanity through us. Eckhart’s German Sermons in particular highlight this birth of the Word in the world through Jesus and us. For example:

Here in time we are celebrating the eternal birth which God the Father bore and unceasingly bears in eternity, because this same birth is now born in time, in human nature.

What does it avail me that the birth is always happening, if it does not happen to me? That it should happen in me is what matters.

The Christmas tree at Meditatio House

The Christmas tree at Meditatio House

In Christian theology, the eternal Word, this creative movement of the divine life, is that manifestation of the divine life that brings all of Creation into being and existence, and which eventually became incarnate (personified, embodied) in the humanity of Jesus. This Word, as a manifestation of the divine life, is uncreated Love creating.

For Eckhart this Word is always seeking birth and expression within Creation. It did not stop in Jesus. It is a condition of our humanity to have this Word in us seeking a conscious birthing in the world through us. It is a condition of the Word as Love (other-centred and giving) that it be always seeking this expression.

What is in us that can stop this birthing of Love did not stifle Love’s reality in Jesus. As a result Jesus, both within himself and in his actions, lived a radically human and loving life. In this, Jesus shows us that to be human is to be loving. And in Jesus humanity has become a full participant in the divine Love-life of God. The resurrection of Jesus is the Gospel witnessing to this full participation.

God now “unceasingly bears” the both human and divine Word in God’s own life and in us. And so, this human and divine Word can now be birthed in us – if we want it. God can be birthed in us because God was born in Jesus.

This is how, in effect, Christianity ‘gets around’ the creature/Creator distinction that is so important to its theology, while still maintaining the integrity of this distinction. With the human and divine Word of Jesus God unifies this distinction in God’s own life. This ‘unified distinction-in-God’ then becomes the catalyst through which the divine life can deify our earthly human nature. Divinity can make us divine because Divinity became human in Jesus.

To be deified, or divinised, is to have the life of God already in us be born in us. It is to allow this Word, this Christ, this Love in creative action, to transform our whole humanity so that the image of God that we each uniquely and mysteriously are can be lived by us and clearly seen by others. This is the process of a lifetime. It is Eckhart who says: ‘The more and more clearly God’s image shows in us, the more evidently God is born in us.’

It is our lack of faith and belief that this deifying can actually happen to us that stops this divinisation from happening.

Christmas, for me, as well as being the celebration of this Word incarnate in the birth of Jesus, is also about the potentialities of this creative Word in us. In the Incarnation our divinisation here and now becomes possible. It is this divinisation that makes possible the revealing of this Word, this Christ, in the world through us. In the words of Peter:

By his divine power, he has lavished on us all the things we need for life and for true devotion, through the knowledge of him who has called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these, the greatest and priceless promises have been lavished on us, that through them you should share the divine nature and escape the corruption rife in the world through disordered passion. (2Pet 1:3,4).

Disordered passion in this sense can be the way in which we attach and cling to the material and the temporary of life as if these were God. To be both deified and material is to walk through the world consciously sharing in God’s immortality, being sensitive to that of us which transcends the material of life. The temporary of life is no longer a divine surrogate for us because we are living in Divinity as deified and earthly humanity.

In the simplicity and stillness of our meditation practice the promise of our earthly human nature becoming divine is quietly being realised. The discipline of our gentle returning to the mantra after distraction is the prayerful way through which we are deified. As the mantra sinks with attention deeply into our heart and being, we grow in a silence that resonates with God’s life in us. In this resonating our humanity and Christ become one. It is in this way that all the desires of life become a divine and human expression of the Love life of God (that is, not disordered).

The internal conditions for our divine birthing described by Eckhart share a striking similarity to the conditions promoted by meditation:

The soul in which this birth is to take place must keep absolutely pure and must live in noble fashion, quite collected, and turned entirely inward: not running out through the five senses into the multiplicity of creatures, but all inturned and collected and in the purest part: there is His place; He disdains anything else. (Eckhart, German Sermon 1).

Meditation, as contemplative prayer, is the practice of inturning and recollecting our senses towards God. The more we can turn attention inward and live life inwardly turned towards God, the more this birthing, this deifying, takes place.

May Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word we carry in our hearts, continue to be the catalyst for our divinisation in the year to come. His Spirit, God’s Spirit, is with us. We already are God’s children. Divinisation is the birthing of this reality in the material of our life.


Thing of Beauty: Hothouse Flowers. Seeing With the Eyes of God

Seeing life as beautiful, the ordinary of things as things of beauty, is a wonderful fruit of the spiritual life. To live a human life something like this is to be living from the spiritual core of a human life. To be human is to be spiritual. We cannot help this, even if we don’t give the world ‘spiritual’ to these experiences as many do.

Seeing life as a thing of beauty is the result of a shift of consciousness. We come into a space of being where self-consciousness is forgotten – if even for a moment – and we become centred on someone or something outside of ourselves. We discover, through experience, the way in which God sees all the time. Divinity has ‘self-emptied’, or forgotten its own life in the ongoing act of loving that is Creation. That’s what love does. Christianity says God is love, so God is like this all the time – simply seeing the beauty of all.

Thomas Merton, 20th century spiritual writer and mystic, tells us the story of an experience like this:

In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness. The whole illusion of a separate holy existence is a dream….

Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed…I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other. But this cannot be seen, only believed and “understood” by a peculiar gift. (Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander)

This song is coming from the same place as Merton’s experience, that place of the gift of divine sight – a ‘super-ordinary’ way of seeing that is open to all.

It is ‘truth sight’, seeing things as they are in all their imperfect splendour, their ‘broken holiness’ and knowing deeply, intuitively, that all is beautiful, glorious.

It is living life with love-sight, far enough away (in that moment) from the noise of our inner lives and seeing life with the eyes of the heart.

It does not exclude the problems of the world as if we are seeing somehow naively, or choosing to ignore the pain and suffering that continue to happen within and around us. This way of seeing embraces all this and experiences beauty even while accepting the deep paradox of beauty and suffering existing together. And so seeing beauty can become a two-edged sword: it can possess us, and then compel us into compassion. Beauty mysteriously present to suffering can draw us into living a life that serves the transformation of suffering into a plain-sight seeing that is life fully alive in glory.

“A thing of beauty is not a thing to ignore”. Once in touch with our contemplative hearts – the ‘no-place’ of our deep communion with God – we are seeing, in our own human ways, with divine eyes. We have forgotten ego and the illusion of separateness. Life is within the consciousness of Christ. This is Christian enlightenment.

A Christian contemplative prayer practice, whatever it may be, is about the realisation of this Christ consciousness within life. Globally there is a recovery underway in contemplative seeing and living. Christian contemplative practice is but one aspect of this recovery. The recovery is being documented in songs like this one from Hothouse Flowers.


Deeper Well: Emmylou Harris. The Beyond in Life and for Life.

The philosopher Charles Taylor speaks about a “three cornered battle raging in our culture” today. For Taylor, each of these corners is occupied by secular humanists, neo-Neitzcheans, and “those who acknowledge some [transcendent] good beyond life”.

Secular humanists seek the fulfilment of human potential while excluding any notion of transcendence. A true experience of life, they say, contains no impulse to move towards any reality beyond life itself. There is only life. There is no God.

The neo-Neitzscheans emphasise Nietzsche’s idea of ‘the will to power’. To grow involves struggle, a struggle of the will to preserve itself, survive and thrive. It is a struggle happening only within the reality of a person’s earthly existence. There is no afterlife waiting. This material life is all we have. We are all a will using power to grow, to become.

The third group embraces the reality and experience of transcendence, seeing it, ultimately, as a source of goodness. It can be as specific as a belief in God, or be more generalised like a mysterious sense of something ‘other’.

Secular humanists hold the view that we do not need this transcendence to fulfil human potential. Neo-Neitzscheans hold the view that we are our own transcendence. Christian spirituality says that the Divine Life itself is the source of this transcendence. It is a divine dynamic intimate with creation, working for the good and fulfilment of all (whether implicit or explicit, known or unknown), doing so in ways that life by itself cannot do.

This song from Emmylou Harris, for me, is a song about a human journey affected by this divine transcendent dynamic within life. Through it all she sings of looking for water from some mysterious “deeper well”. There is a thirst for this well’s water in the experience of life. Nothing else satisfies. At first the search is full of the will to power – “I went…I fell…I looked…I saw…I found”. It’s a search that “rocked”, “rolled”, “rattled”, and raged – a search that attempted to find in the experiences of life its own dynamic of transcendence, that is, its own way to move beyond life and into something more deeply satisfying.

This attempt ends in the “terrible sight” of a life hitting rock bottom. No material experience, in itself, is this deeper well. For many of us there is a thirst for life that cannot be quelled simply by living life. The eternal of life needs, in some way, to be given attention.

Finally, at the bottom, there is a “reaching out for a holier grail” – something in life that is part of life yet more than life. This reaching out is often the fruit of a fruitless search. Hitting rock bottom can be the discovery that we are finally in the deeper well. After the search exhausts us enough we can be ready enough to accept something of this divinely transcendent dynamic within us. Grace waits in our struggle and search, respecting our freedom, until, through struggle, we become free enough to glimpse and experience what we most deeply hunger for.

Buddy Miller’s guitar work is raw and powerful, giving thrust (and at times desperation) to the search. Emmylou’s vocal is delivered with determination and edgy grace. Her band, Spyboy, when it was together, was a wonder to behold. Grab a copy of their 1998 live album Spyboy to hear more.

Christian spirituality names this deeper well as that mysterious place within us where the Divine Life dwells. The water itself is this Divine Life, a living spring, the wells source. This Divine Life is the source and the fulfilment of all earthly transcendence. Our thirst for this living water is a natural human and spiritual response to the presence of this living water – the heart’s deepest desire. Our thirst, our dissatisfaction, is often our companion on the way to the well within us.

A practice like Christian meditation maintains our attention at the deeper well. Regular practice has us drinking this living, divine water. As we experience this water rising up from the centre of us and all creation, we learn just where else this water is for us in life.

…but no one who drinks the water that I shall give will ever be thirsty again: the water that I shall give will become a spring of water within welling up for eternal life. (John 4:14).

The contemplative drinks of this water in and through their life and prayer practice. The contemplative comes to understand deeply that life is life, God is God, and that God is the water of life. We can all be contemplatives; we can all sing “I drank the water from a deeper well”.


Tell Me The Truth About You: Midnight Oil. Christmas and Transcendence.

Christmas is a time of year when reports about the human search for meaning and purpose have a turn in the media. Two recent pieces in the Sydney Morning Herald, one on December 21st (see here), the other on December 24th (see here), are examples.

On December 21st, Barney Zwartz, former Religion Editor for The Age, wrote an article with the headline ‘A hunger for the spiritual: the Australians finding new meaning in Christmas’. In this piece he explores what the spiritual quest is for many in contemporary Australia (note, for example, the emphasis on the surge of meditation practice currently underway in Australia). As it has been in many Western countries for some time, more and more people on this quest are not turning to Institutional Religion for answers to their questions, hungers, and restlessness. Institutional Religion is still seen as too rigid, too fixed in doctrinaire ways for many to risk their search within stiff ‘old school’ structures. Today’s quest is more generally human than this. Many are seeking outside Religion what Zwartz and others in his article name as the transcendent experience: an experience of going somehow “beyond ourselves”, “beyond the material”, for something (ultimately Divinity) which is “beyond the material world.”

But is this transcendent experience that many seek so far removed from the material? Do we really have to shrug off the ‘yoke’ of what we can touch, taste and see to have a real experience of the transcendent? Towards the end of his article Zwartz, perhaps unknowingly, hints at the answer no in his look at beauty and in his treatment of the cartoonist Leunig’s approach to transcendence. Leunig prescribes going “down towards what is truly grounded, in slowness, in small things, in peace rather than stimulus, small elements of beauty rather than great excellence, to do what is possible and not to overreach”. In this article it is Leunig who speaks to perhaps what the Christmas story is most profoundly about: God, the Divine, personally and fully in the ordinary and the common of human life. It is precisely there where humbling experiences of transcendence can be had. We don’t have to leave the material, to leave it unvalued, to experience the immaterial, the spiritual. The reverse is true.       

Ross Douthat’s December 24th piece ‘Seeking a glimmer of hope in the manger’ (originally published in The New York Times) names this ordinary dynamic of Christmas-inspired transcendence very well. He emphasises the Christmas image of Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus all in the stable as pointing human life and psyche directly to the transcendent and transcendence experience “in the ordinary, the commonplace, the low.” Douthat questions whether specialists in Religion, Science, and Philosophy, at least on their own, can point us to this reality in the low of life.        

Like Douthat and Leunig, Christian Spirituality affirms that transcendence, this ‘moving beyond’, happens when we ‘move into’ the stuff of life. This is the great paradox of an incarnational spirituality like Christianity – transcendence of life and transcendent experience is about engagement with life, all of life. Any experience of the immaterial is simply not possible without the material.

We may know of the Christmas story, whether it be front and centre or echoing dimly. What we may not know is that a manger is where domesticated animals go to feed, and that the messy and painful event of Mary’s giving birth happened not in a stable as we may know it today, so much as a space out the back where animals were often kept in mess and filth. Christianity has Jesus being born into offensive mess, into a reality not ideal. What does this tell us? That Divinity is with us, completely and fully, in the reality of our messy and far from ideal lives – especially in those spaces and places within and around us that we would prefer to avoid and/or reject. It is often those very places and spaces we reject and repress that stop us from living. Divinity so wants to be with us, the whole of us, loving us completely, wanting to see our human and divine destiny’s fulfilled, that this Divinity, in Jesus, has become one of us that we may experience something of what being human really means, discovering and experiencing our own incarnate transcendence in the ordinary stuff of life.

The band Midnight Oil has always struck me as a group of rock musicians keenly aware of the ways in which we are challenged to grow in love and compassion for creation and each other. Their song ‘Tell Me The Truth About You’ is no exception. For me their music has often resonated with the mind and intentions of God. Their music, so regularly ‘muddy and bloody’, and speaking to what being human is about, is wonderfully incarnate. It speaks to me often in the same way that Christmas can – as a vehicle for a deeper truth fully with us, challenging me to be ready for authentic experiences of other-centred transcendence amid the stuff of life.

So could this be the truth about us: that we are human beings becoming divinised, that is, being transformed over the course of life by Divine Love to embody and become this Love in the world, and that transcendent experience is somehow part of this? Christian spirituality says yes. Christmas says yes. Being made divine is simply the way of becoming love. Divinity became human to guide and enable us into our own unique expressions of embodied divinity. Divinity is our human destiny. God affirms this and makes this possible in Jesus.


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