The Contemplative Companion for Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The lectionary reading for today from Colossians chapter three is a symphonic powerhouse. It’s one of the epic passages of scripture that reveals the spiritual possibilities and purpose of a lifetime. Listen carefully and notice if you can hear the practical wisdom and invitation for your spiritual journey:

V.3: For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

Vv. 9 – 11: Stop lying to one another, since you have taken off the old self with its practice and have put on the new self, which is being renewed, for knowledge, in the image of its creator…For Christ is all and in all.

Contemplative author, teacher and mystical theologian Bernadette Roberts, has born witness more clearly and deeply than anyone else I’ve come across, about the process of this “death” and diminishment of “self.” In her profoundly important book The Path to No-Self, Bernadette suggests a key shift in our perspective. Here she is in her own words:

“But looking deeper, I ask: Is our deepest union with God made at a single point in time – a moment of vision, perhaps – or does this union already exist, and is it simply revealed to the soul at one point in time? To ask it another way: Is the contemplative journey a process of becoming one with God, or is it the process of stripping away the superficial layers of self in order to realize, in all its great reality, a union that has always been there?” (p.33).

Poet and novelist Anne Michaels once wrote that “geologists are like surgeons folding back the skin of time.” Adapted, I apply her insight to our spiritual journey this way: the Spirit of God is like a surgeon folding back the self to reveal the presence of Christ. Time is a factor in this process – but like geology, the unloading of the top layers of self reveals what has been there all along: the divine center, the heart of light, life and love holding all things together as a centerless center; the Essence of our Being; the Image of God.

Thus, a practical take-away for our day-to-day experience, is to relax into the process. It’s pure grace. You are already in divine union – you just may not be aware of it. And that is why we sink into the silence; it’s a primary mode for remembering. The silence helps us remember, return and realize.

Again, wisdom from Ann Michaels helps here: “the great mystery of wood is not that it burns, but that it floats.” Similarly, as I see it, the great mystery of being human is not that we die, but that we are raised to new life. This dying and rising happens every time we forgive our enemy. Every time we resist reacting unconsciously. Every moment we hold our tongue instead of lashing out with anger. Every time we don’t give our will to being stuck-in-the-muck of our negative emotions. Every time we consent to let the word of Christ dwell in us richly, joyfully, patiently; instead of repeating the same words of defeat and despair so sadly, poorly and pugnaciously.

Yes, we play a part. A massive, passive part – like a string on a cello played by a maestro in an extraordinary symphony.

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