Baptismal Oneness

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From Brigitte Kahl’s Commentary on Galatians in The Fortress Comentary on the Bible: “How might Paul’s baptismal oneness of Gal. 3:28 translate into today’s society that is no longer split into “Jew” or “Greek/gentile,” but into black and white, poor and rich, aliens and citizens, inmates and free people? Around eight million people in the United States are presently incarcerated, on probation, or on parole. Compared to the overall population, this is not only by far the largest number in any country of the world but also includes a disproportionally high number of poor people, African Americans, and immigrants. …From Paul’s perspective, this status quo might look like another version of the dehumanizing and therefore godless imperial model of “divide and rule” he was confronted with in his own day. The waters of baptism for him have “drowned” this entire system, washing away the distinction markers that give “us” (the nonimprisoned) a sense of self-righteousness and legitimate superiority, which is derived from the existence of unrighteous others: This is how for Bob Ekblad the Pauline theology of justification by faith rather than through works of the law starts to develop its transformative power. Ekblad reads Paul, including Galatians 3, with people in jail, in particular with undocumented immigrants at the US-Mexican border who know all too well the “curse of the law” (Gal. 3:10) that perpetually condemns them as illegal. For him, Jesus is the “Good Coyote” who crosses people over the border into the kingdom of God, against the law, despite the law. “In the waters of baptism into Jesus’ death and resurrection the borders are brought down, and there are no longer distinctions between the law-abiding and criminal, US citizens and foreigners, legals and illegals, brown and white, chemically dependent and clean and sober, poor and rich, male and female—all are one in Christ.… We’re all wetbacks, and must even count ourselves as fellow ‘criminal aliens’ ”

Roger

Open

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From Pema Chodron’s The Places and Scare You: “Sometimes egolessness is called no-self. These words can be misleading. The Buddha was not implying that we disappear—or that we could erase our personality. As a student once asked, “Doesn’t experiencing egolessness make life kind of beige?” It’s not like that. Buddha was pointing out that the fixed idea that we have about ourselves as solid and separate from each other is painfully limiting. It is possible to move through the drama of our lives without believing so earnestly in the character that we play. That we take ourselves so seriously, that we are so absurdly important in our own minds, is a problem for us. We feel justified in being annoyed with everything. We feel justified in denigrating ourselves or in feeling that we are more clever than other people. Self-importance hurts us, limiting us to the narrow world of our likes and dislikes. We end up bored to death with ourselves and our world. We end up never satisfied. We have two alternatives: either we question our beliefs—or we don’t. Either we accept our fixed versions of reality—or we begin to challenge them. In Buddha’s opinion, to train in staying open and curious—to train in dissolving our assumptions and beliefs—is the best use of our human lives….In the most ordinary terms, egolessness is a flexible identity. It manifests as inquisitiveness, as adaptability, as humor, as playfulness. It is our capacity to relax with not knowing, not figuring everything out, with not being at all sure about who we are—or who anyone else is either.”

Roger

Water into Water

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From Wendy Farley’s The Thirst for God: Contemplating God’s Love with Three Women Mystics: “In the fifth century, Pseudo-Dionysius [speaks of] the divine Eros as the energy that creates the cosmos and restores the soul to its original lucidity.  Religious desire is not an extrinsic emotion. It is not like wishing for something external to oneself—food, pleasure, security. It is a heart-energy that transforms the substance of humanity back into the divine image. Longing is not only for God; in a sense, it is God. It is through love that we abide in God and God in us (John 15). Speaking of God’s lovers, Pseudo-Dionysius says, “their longing for the Good makes them what they are and confers on them their well-being. Shaped by what they yearn for, they exemplify goodness.” For Pseudo-Dionysius … desire is not entirely self-generated. Humanity desires God because God desires humanity. Desire flows between us and unites us as water is poured into water. Human desire flows from divine desire: “The divine longing is Good seeking good for the sake of the Good. That yearning which creates all the goodness of the world preexisted superabundantly within the Good and did not allow it to remain without issue.” Modern Christianity has tended to focus more on belief than desire. Fundamentalism is the extreme example of this: salvation depends on believing certain things. Unfortunately, too often this emphasis on belief fails to translate into a loving heart. But for theologians such as…Pseudo-Dionysius, it is the heart that matters. Belief and praise are ways to orient the heart toward the divine, but beliefs cannot themselves transform us into the divine goodness. Their theology is an attempt to find words for the awakening of the heart by love.”

Roger

Water

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From Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Heart of Buddha’s Teachings: “If you look deeply into the person you love, you’ll be able to understand her suffering, her difficulties, and also her deepest aspirations. And out of that understanding, real love will be possible. When someone is able to understand us, we feel very happy. If we can offer understanding to someone, that is true love. The one who receives our understanding will bloom like a flower, and we will be rewarded at the same time. Understanding is the fruit of the practice. Looking deeply means to be there, to be mindful, to be concentrated. Looking deeply into any object, understanding will flower. The teaching of the Buddha is to help us understand reality deeply. Let us look at a wave on the surface of the ocean. A wave is a wave. It has a beginning and an end. It might be high or low, more or less beautiful than other waves. But a wave is, at the same time, water. Water is the ground of being of the wave. It is important that a wave knows that she is water, and not just a wave. We, too, live our life as an individual. We believe that we have a beginning and an end, that we are separate from other living beings. That is why the Buddha advised us to look more deeply in order to touch the ground of our being….”

Roger

Thirsting

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From Augustine’s Confessions: “Thou hast made us for thyself, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”

And from Wendy Farley’s The Thirst for God: Contemplating God’s Love with Three Women Mystics: “Though modern people may not realize it, desire was a key theme in Christian theology and contemplation for much of its history. The fourth century theologian, Gregory of Nyssa, collages biblical imagery to evoke God’s desire for humanity. For Gregory, desire is the “wound” received by the bride in the Song of Songs. This “wound” opens the heart to union between the soul and God. The “Bowman” who wounded her is Love. Scriptures teach that God is love and that Christ is his “chosen arrow (Isa. 49.2)” with which he “unites to the Bowman whomsoever it strikes.” “Indeed it is a good wound and a sweet pain by which life penetrates the soul; for by the tearing of the arrow she opens, as it were, a door, an entrance into herself. For no sooner does she receive the dart of love than the image of archery is transformed into a scene of nuptial joy.” Here Love is God, God’s messenger, and the wound that draws God’s beloved back into union. Love is the desire born in humanity for her Beloved. Desire circulates between lover and beloved and erodes the duality that separates them.”

Roger

The River

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From Wendy Farley’s The Wounding and Healing of Desire:”Weaving Heaven and Earth: “The fruit of contemplation is this and perhaps only this-the deepening experiential awareness of [God’s] love. As we know ourselves as lovers of Christ, this same love radiates through us to the world. This love is like water that moves from the Divine Eros to us and back and at the same time through everything created, bathing everything in this one love. But it is so hard to take it in. As Meister Eckhart says, it is sometimes only when we are deprived of the capacity to do good works or perhaps even work of any kind – that the radicality of Christ’s love for us can become apparent. The economy of exchange, of reward and punishment, of pain and pleasure, does not let go of us easily. Sometimes the economy of Eros has to be written on our bodies, in hopes that it will penetrate to our hearts, minds, and spirits. When our bodies are incapacitated and yet we feel the rush of Erotic love more than ever, we may begin to understand that it is nothing we do that makes the Divine Eros flow through us and among us. Our “work” is to learn to rest in this river. It is from this rest that whatever good we can do will flow.”

Roger

Why the Cross

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From Donald Senior’s Why the Cross: “For the cross of Christ to be seen as both sign and means of salvation, there is another assumption that needs to be taken into account. As noted previously, the Gospels portray the death of Jesus on the cross as the final expression of his mission. Jesus, in effect, dies because of the way he lives. Jesus’ characteristic actions of healing and exorcisms, his association with sinners and the marginalized, his interpretation of the law concerning Sabbath observance and cultic purity, and his prophetic condemnations of what he judged to be hypocrisy or injustice—all of these are met with opposition that ultimately climaxes in the condemnation of Jesus by the religious authorities and the execution of Jesus by the Romans. Thus the crucifixion of Jesus is not portrayed as an unanticipated tragedy that breaks into the gospel drama without preparation or warning. It is, rather, the final and most definitive statement of Jesus’ commitment to giving his life for others—a self-transcendence and act of service already evident throughout his public ministry. Thus the saving significance of the cross of Jesus finds meaning, in part, through the character and commitment of his life…This emphasis on the cross of Christ as the ultimate expression of his mission has become an important note in current theology. For some, a theology of the cross that appears to be isolated from the ministry of Jesus can distort the Christian message and reduce it to a drama in which God seems to arbitrarily deliver Jesus to a cruel death in order to atone for sin or to exact a payment for humanity’s debt of sin. The cross can become a kind of theological shorthand whose full message, when teased out, leaves Christian theology with an image of a God who is cruel and vindictive, exacting the death of God’s own son as payment for human failure or to avenge God’s honor. At the same time, the purpose of Jesus’ life can be interpreted solely as a march to death rather than a mission to bring life. Both of these dimensions—the outcome of resurrection and the connection to Jesus’ ministry—need to be at work in constructing a theology of the cross.”

Roger

Compassionate Mind

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From Thich Nhat Hanh’s Four Establishments of Mindfulness: “When the mind of compassion arises, we have to find ways to nourish and express it. When we come into contact with the other person, our thoughts and actions should express our mind of compassion, even if that person says and does things that are not easy to accept. We practice in this way until we see clearly that our love is not contingent upon the other person apologizing or being lovable. Then we can be sure that our mind of compassion is firm and authentic. We’ll recognize in ourselves some of the beautiful signs of the compassionate mind: (1) our sleep is more relaxed, (2) we do not have nightmares, (3) our waking-state is more at ease, (4) we’re not anxious or depressed, and (5) we’re protected by everyone and everything around us. The person who has been the object of our meditation on compassion will also, eventually, benefit from our meditation. His suffering will slowly diminish, and his life will gradually be brighter and more joyful.”

Roger

Why the Cross

Q-8From Donald Senior’s Why the Cross?: “While for his opponents, the condemnation of Jesus of Nazareth to crucifixion represented the ultimate rejection of Jesus and his mission, for Christians Jesus’ suffering death on the cross gives new meaning to the experience of human suffering. Thus the cross, from the perspective of Christian faith, symbolizes a variety of powerful realities. Jesus dies on the cross and therefore his genuine humanity is unconditionally affirmed. Because Jesus, God’s own Son, also faced abject suffering, the Christian is able to find meaning even in the midst of suffering and loss. Yet, at the same time, the fierce commitment of Jesus to heal and overcome the evils that afflict humanity guides the followers of Jesus to first oppose and alleviate human suffering in all its forms; death, as Paul declared, is the “last enemy” (1 Cor 15:26). The death of Jesus on the cross also makes it a symbol of opposition to all unjust suffering and oppression afflicted on the vulnerable, an evil that the Gospels ultimately judge as demonic. Like the Crucified Jesus, the Christian is to confront and alleviate all human suffering. And finally, the Gospels, drawing on the rich heritage of Judaism, make room for the paradox of human suffering and the searing questions it poses, allowing the faithful followers of Jesus to lament the reality of suffering and to search for God and the meaning of suffering in their moments of darkness.”

Roger

Light

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From Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Four Establishments of Mindfulness: “Mindfulness is like a lamp illuminating ourselves. As soon as the lamp is brought into the room, the room changes. When the sun rises, the light of the sun only has to shine onto the plants for them to change, grow, and develop. The light of the sun appears not to be doing anything at all, but in truth it is doing a lot. Under the influence of the sun, the plants produce chlorophyll and become green. It is thanks to the growth of plants that the animal species have what they need to survive. If the sun keeps shining on the bud, the flower will open. When the light of the sun penetrates the flower bud, the photons transform it, and the flower opens. Our mindfulness has the same function as the light of the sun. If we shine the light of full awareness steadily on our state of mind, that state of mind will transform into something better. Thanks to the illuminating light of awareness, we can see the roots of our anger. The point of meditation is to look deeply into things in order to be able to see their nature. The nature of things is interdependent origination, the true source of everything that is. If we look into our anger, we can see its roots, such as misunderstanding (or ignorance), clumsiness (or lack of skill), the surrounding society, hidden resentment, and habit (or our conditioning). These roots can be present both in ourselves and in the person who played the principal role in allowing the anger to arise. We observe mindfully in order to be able to see and to understand. Seeing and understanding are the elements of liberation that allow us to be free of the suffering which always accompanies anger. Seeing and understanding bring about love and compassion. They are the balm of the bodhisattva’s compassion that cools our hearts and mind. As we have already seen, our anger is a field of energy. Thanks to our mindful observation and insight into its roots, we can change this energy into the energy of love and compassion—a constructive and healing energy.”

Roger