Friday, March 5, 2010

This turning world

The Transfiguration, the subject of last Sunday’s gospel reading (Luke 9:28-36), usually is used by preachers as a “proof” of Jesus’ divinity. The homilist where I attend Mass, Abbot John, refreshingly drew a different lesson:
The task of discipleship is not to build tents and houses for Jesus. Jesus is not to be housed and worshipped. . . .
As spiritual writer Richard Rohr notes, if religion is not fundamentally about transformation, it is pretty useless. [The Transfiguration] only makes sense in the light of transformation.
Abbot John was talking about OUR transformation.
. . . to give consent to the Spirit to transform us,
to move us toward the white light,
the gifts of the Spirit more visible;
not the gifts we want,
but the gifts that are given.
He addressed “the spiritual poverty of postmodern culture,” and I add that fundamentalist literalism is one example. It reacts to information that stretches us past our accustomed religious information and imagery in a defensive way, threatened by the unfamiliar.

The scholar Karen Armstrong has taught us that fundamentalist literalism is a modern phenomenon. Before the historical Jesus was distinguished from the mythical Jesus in the nineteenth century, Christians simply drew meaning from their stories without bothering to ask themselves whether they were factual. Armstrong stresses that they “were less interested in what actually happened than in the meaning of an event.” When the gospel writers put words into Jesus’ mouth, they weren’t being deceptive and they weren’t setting out to faithfully record history.

They were being faithful to the inner Christ, of which Jesus is the image. The mystic voice in the Gospel of John bears the name Jesus, but the same voice speaks in the Hindu Baghavad Gita, where it bears the name Krishna. For this reason the Hindu writer Ravi Ravindra could say he is “much moved” by the gospel, which always leaves him “in an uplifted internal state.” [Read more in God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky.]

Our challenge is to find meaning for our lives in the twenty-first century, not to defend ourselves against diverse, equally evocative but unfamiliar, religious images coming from other traditions. This requires quiet time away from our frenetic consumerist culture and hearkening to the inner voice of Christ and Krishna, the Buddha and the Tao.

It requires letting ourselves be transformed as Jesus was transformed.

3 comments:

Green Sufi said...

Well said and Amen!

Florian said...

But distinguishing between a historical Jesus from a mythical Jesus is also a modern phenomenon.

Christians did care about what happened. You know that. Paul said that if Christ was not raised, then our faith is in vain. For all we know, Paul might also have said that if Christ was not transfigured our faith is in vain.

Though there is truth in Armstrong's quote that Christians “were less interested in what actually happened than in the meaning of an event,” they nevertheless did believe that the events happened. Judeo-Christians of the first century took for granted that there is no meaning to an event unless there is an event.

Jeanette said...

Florian, distinguishing the historical from the mythical Jesus is our modern challenge, yes. It requires expanding our awareness past the literal belief of simpler times. Unfamiliar? Uncomfortable? For many, yes.
Letting ourselves be transformed is how we grow in wisdom and understanding.