Whitenessing the Truth

My response to Sera Beak’s “Redvolutionary” theology has been pretty passionate, and I’m planning a post on programming to let things cool down. But before I do, I’d like to elaborate the claim that I made yesterday: “There’s so much more for you than that.”

Perhaps the most popular spiritual autobiography at the opening of the 20th century was that of the “little flower”, St. Terese of Lisieux. While I was at first disturbed by Terese’s testimony to desire to die so that she might embrace Christ, I have come to understand that her recorded life was probably a last parting from those that were bound to her in family, in particular her father.

What was she releasing herself into? The answer is given to us in her revelation of a vision: Terese found herself in the company of three veiled women. One of them, Teresa of Avila, was the founder of her penitent order, and a woman who famously experienced an erotically ravishing love from Christ. Teresa parted her veil for the daughter of her grace, and Terese reported being bathed in the purest light. With an embrace, Teresa offered this paean: “Christ is well pleased with you.”

Why do these women hide their light from us? I offer a parable in that regard in Golem. We here on earth are a mixture of grace and corruption, a mix that cannot be sundered easily. When the pure light of truth shines upon us, the corruption must flee or be destroyed. The light is veiled because, as Moses was warned in Exodus, those not prepared to receive it will by destroyed by its power.

With the saints encountered by Terese, so it is with Christ [NIV 2 Peter 3:9]:

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

And so to experience life in the fullness of its beauty. Can you imagine, ladies, what it would be like to have souls passing through the healing cauldron of your womb, not in a brief spasm, but as a steady stream that grows into a mighty river?

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.

[NIV Rev. 22:1-2]

Please follow me here: Eve had her own gifts to tend, and to share them with men was never going to work. You, O woman, were meant to manifest the Tree of Life.

Women: Being Loved by Christ

When Jesus first taught in the synagogue in Jerusalem, his neighbors received him with skepticism verging on outrage [NIV Mark 6:2-6]:

“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.

This contrasts with the events just prior with a woman who had bled for twelves years, and was healed simply by touching Jesus’s clothes. Shocked by the experience, the woman hid in the crowd, but Jesus persisted [NIV Mark 5:33-34]:

Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

How does this work, spiritually? The aura that forms around the head of a saint is generated by souls pressing against their minds in the hope of discovering meaning and purpose. Meaning and purpose are discovered most readily in the saint because they have surrendered themselves to love of the world, and the world in turn reveals itself to saint’s examination. It is as said by Tagore:

Power said to the World, “You are mine.”
The World kept it prisoner on her throne.
Love said to the World, “I am yours.”
The World gave it the freedom of her house.

The saint looks into the world and sees its spiritual needs. Among the souls that surround the saint are such that can fulfill those needs. The saint has the privilege of facilitating the union of the two parties. But where the party in the world (the soul currently “living”) seeks instead power, the union fails. The souls choose to remain to the company of the saint. That saint, honoring the compact of their company, accepts them back.

Spiritual union can be ravishing, having many of the aspects of intercourse. For this reason, Catholic nuns once referred to themselves as “brides of Christ.” But the union can be a tenuous thing. If Jesus had not been present to voice his approval, would the hemophiliac woman have maintained her cure?

When I encounter woman struggling with this dynamic, I offer the encouragement, “Believe in yourself!” There are angels in the air wishing to enter into you to heal the world. Yes, it feels wonderfully sensual, but you don’t need sex to receive them. You don’t need the approval of a father. Spirits becoming angels yearn only for the spiritual union we know as “Christ” that found its steward when Jesus took up the cross. To receive them, you need only their approval, an approval gained most powerfully through a commitment to love and heal the world.

The Indications of Atheism

In explaining the dangers of spiritual agency to young children, I used the example of an electrical bus bar. The power of love flows through us, and if we resist it, we can get hurt. But if we let it flow through us to those that need it most, the limit to what we can transmit is the capacity of others to receive from us.

Here’s a picture of somebody struggling with that problem:

The yearning to love is not commonly understood as the desire to be filled with God. The emptiness itself is recognized by Chris Rice in “Big Enough”:

When I imagine the size of the universe
And I wonder what’s out past the edges
Then I discover inside me a space as big
And believe that I’m meant to be
Filled up with more than just questions

But he believes the answer is in direct awareness of God’s presence in our lives, rather than in surrender of ourselves as a tool through which God enters the lives of others.

Mother Theresa, the great servant of the poor, struggled with this paradox in middle age. She felt God’s presence within her for many years, but entered into spiritual aridity at the end of her life.

Why is that? It’s because as that “space as big” is filled with love, we stretch. We feel a glowing inside of us, and a tingling as that love attaches to the people that we serve. Through that connection, we are aware of the beautiful healing that divine love brings to them. There’s an incredible rightness to it.

But when that love is firmly established in us, and flowing through us at the limit of our capacity, we become habituated to its presence. We become a fount from which others drink, and are filled again so rapidly that we may not even be aware that our pool was disturbed.

A Catholic priest shared with me that he decided to take orders after a visit with a nun. When he returned years later to tell her that he had found peace in her presence, she said that she was not even aware of the interaction. Similarly, though perhaps scandalously, a young donor to Mother Theresa’s work came away from a meeting to say that she “was the sexiest woman alive.” I am certain that she had no such intention in interacting with him: he was just overwhelmed by her energy, and channeled it into the most familiar form of self-love that he knew.

I have described the progression of the traditions of Abraham as the development of discipline through the practice of law, which flowers into spiritual intermediation between God and our community. In Jesus’s time, the pool of candidates for that graduation were limited. But in the intervening centuries, a large number of people were allowed the opportunity to devote their lives to religious orders, and the contemplation of the mysteries and magic of living a life in Christ. Two of the most beautiful lives so recorded are Mother Theresa’s predecessors: St. Teresa of Avila, and St. Terese of Lisieux.

The Apostle John was an earlier exemplar of this way of living. In the Book of Revelation, he describes the progression from the other side of the process: the change in the relationship between God and the angels that Jesus claimed to be working to transform. It begins in a throne room, with God in the central seat surrounded by angels [Rev. 4:2-4]:

[T]here before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian. A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne. Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders.

As I describe in The Soul Comes First, twelve of the elders are the masculine angels that guide the tribes of Israel, and the other twelve are feminine personalities that accompany the Holy Mother when she descends to earth. When the work of Christ is done, John describes the “New Jerusalem”, with angels at twelve gates, and a tree of life bearing twelve crops of fruit. He then explains [Rev. 21:22-23]:

I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.

And [Rev. 22:1] the tree is fed by

[T]he river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb…

Where once the presence of Unconditional Love is separated from the angels as a king on a throne, in the end it is woven into every aspect of our shared existence.

So what does the experience of the saints foretell about our experience when we surrender ourselves fully to love? Well, at some point we no longer know where we end and love starts. The reincarnated nun might say “I feel guided by compassion from within, that has no source that I can discern.” Or the reincarnated monk might react to fear and hatred in those that profess faith by saying “Yours is not a god that I would choose.”

The best thing that a person of faith can do to bring such a person to awareness of the ultimate source of love is not to upbraid them for reflecting the standards of Christ back upon us. Rather, it would be to engage them in solving the biggest problems that humanity has to solve, and then to let them rediscover (in this life) the magic of Christ’s presence when those problems begin to overwhelm them.

You see, a profession of faith is only to say “I have God within me.” What Christ wants, however, is for us to seed the entire world with him.

Is this a model for all atheists? No, there are those atheists that seek only to destroy Christ and his works. But there are a good number of them – in my experience a majority – that seem honestly to feel that Christians aren’t upholding the ideals expounded by Jesus of Nazareth. We should not take their witness as an attack, but as an exhortation to do better.